The Inherent Kindness
Now I myself am not a smoker. I tend to smoke in bars, or join in with others so second-hand smoke doesn’t bother me. For most intents and purposes, I’m a fervent anti-smoker. I don’t want to be subjected to others smoke when I myself am not in the mood – or if I’m wearing a jacket that needs to be dry-cleaned.
But tonight, I found myself in a mood. I bought a pack of smokes at a corner store outside of 111 Minna, and got a book of matches, and found myself cussing in the wind as I tried to light one. I sought shelter in an ATM vestibule, and went through about 8 matches before I decided this was a sign I should give up. Then a stranger spoke up behind me and said, “YOU need a LIGHTER,” and handed me hers. She also warned me not to set my hair on fire.
I realized that while smoking is clearly terrible for you, and I understand why you can’t do it in workplaces or restaurants, there is a certain kind sensibility that comes with the practice. A shared experience – where people offer each other lights. I don’t know what’s replaced that, and it’s a little sad. I suppose it could be offering someone a quarter if they don’t quite have bus fare, or giving someone directions if they look lost – but not many other opportunities to step in and help a stranger out.
While San Francisco is by and large a non-smoking city, smokers seem to have created their own small society. They congregate outside office buildings, or bars late at nights, or other corners at odd times of the day. Besides the physical craving for the nicotine itself, the subculture itself must provide its own lure to keep people from deciding the health benefits outweigh the social benefits.