My lemon aid stand


By Evalyn Baron
Published September 2011

In 40 years as a New Yorker, I never visited the top of the Empire State Building. I know, I can’t believe it either. One of the world’s top attractions, a short bus ride from my Upper West Side co-op, and I never made it to that famous 102nd floor. I was too concerned with street-level matters, too busy earning a living in theater, to let myself be a tourist for even one day. In Gerard Manley Hopkins’ words, my NYC days were “seared with trade, bleared, smeared with toil,” and I allowed myself very little elevation above it all.

That’s why I’d like to celebrate the tourists who walk past my building on Lombard Street every day. They’re climbing up so they can stroll down The Crookedest Street in the World, that marvelous section of Lombard that snakes its way down from high atop Hyde Street. The entire climb is tough, but as my mother-in-law put it, “It’s those last blocks to the top – they’re a son of a bitch!”

Lombard isn’t actually the curviest street in our city. That honor belongs to Vermont Street between 20th and 22nd Streets in the Potrero Hill neighborhood. But because Lombard’s descending curves are so lushly landscaped, so meticulously maintained, people huff and puff to get there.

These seekers are pilgrims, and if they’re not in need of aid and solace when they start the climb at Van Ness, they certainly need it by the time they reach my building, which is when they realize just how high the Lombard Street climb is. A “deer in the headlights” astonishment glazes their eyes. I call it the “tourist caught in the middle of a darned tall hill” mask of fear. I can almost hear their thoughts, as they look up at what lies before them: “This is supposed to be a vacation? What the heck are we doin’? Whose idea was this?”

“There ain’t no way! Let’s just buy the postcard!”

“Uncle George was the smart one; he stayed at the motel!”

“There’s room in that car over there; maybe I can hitch a ride to the top. Hey, lady! Yeah you, in the Dodge Dart! Save me!”

“I can’t show Fred and the kids my agony. Just keep smilin’!”

“Why did I wear these stupid gladiator sandals? Ow!”
These climbers in Bermuda shorts have gotten into an awkward vacation situation from which they cannot gracefully extricate themselves, and my compassionate San Francisco heart urges me to help them. After all, I was just a tourist here myself not that long ago. So I’ve decided to come to their rescue by creating Evalyn’s Nonprofit Lemonade Stand in front of our building, and stocking it with things the tired and aching may need on their trek skyward. I will hang a quaint sign declaring “Cold Lemonade – Contribute What You Can,” and display piles of energy bars, sunglasses, inhalers, packets of Kleenex for sweat and tears, disposable cameras, bandages for blisters, and suntan lotion to sell at cost. My roving vendors will take lemonade out to the long line of cars inching their way up Lombard on the weekends. If a car runs out of gas on its slow climb, we’ll get a gallon or two from the stations nearby, adding only a slight service fee. If beleaguered visitors need to relieve themselves or freshen up, I will allow them into our apartment (included in their “donation”), supply them with a nice fluffy towel to use, and give them a free “I Took a Shower on Lombard Street” kerchief to help with future perspiration. Then back on the sidewalk, fortified with my cold citrus concoction, they may resume their climb, happy in the knowledge that someone understood their plight and cared enough to help. I think they will like San Francisco all the more for my efforts, don’t you? Of course, my neighbors may object. After all, my block is not zoned for small businesses, and the demand for my lemon “aid” may crowd the sidewalks, making it difficult to residents to walk their dogs. They could also be slightly miffed that they didn’t think of it first. With the proceeds earned from this humanitarian venture, maybe I’ll fly back to NYC to become a tourist myself, see a few Broadway shows, and finally make it to the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building. I hear the view is amazing.

Then, on my return west, I can finally say those words I used to hear so often: “New York City? Great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

Been there, done that.

Besides, I can’t desert my charitable lemonade stand.

I live to serve.