My first experience with San Francisco was with my dad. But it was too much. There was no context. It was like a foreign language. So little of it meant much, and I don’t recall anything.
Then I went with school friends. Again it was too much. But I recall visiting Twin Peaks. I had been there with my dad. It is amazing at night.
As for my new experiences. The trip to the city was taken with a group. We were going to the gathering. At least we planned on going to the gathering. The first leg of the trip was to San Francisco.
The bus was so crowded. And when we got off it felt so unreal. I never imagined I could feel comfortable. We were on Haight Street, near Ashbury. The epicenter of the old hippie culture.
There is a GAP there now. Most of the hippie street kids gathered at Masonic and Haight. The first night was a blur. I recall camping on a hill in the park.
But only for one night. The big park is Golden Gate Park. But at the other end of the street is Bueana Vista Park. I spent less time in the city. And I camped in fewer locations. But still the timeline is a bit of a mix-up. If my memory isn’t too bad we camped in Bueana Vista Park.
The first trip to the city was a failure. I wanted out. I felt trapped. I don’t recall how long the visit lasted.
Later trips to the city were more of my choice. I got to know the city more. It became what I imagined it couldn’t, comfortable. I still miss the city sometimes. Not in the same way I miss Santa Cruz.
The camp site in Bueana Vista Park was just off a main trail. But behind some bushes. We stayed there until I had enough and returned to Santa Cruz.
On a later trip I camped with a group in Golden Gate Park. Walking around the city with all your blankets was too much work. So I stashed mine during the day. Except one day I recall they were gone.
This actually started an interesting night. I walked back to Haight Street and ran into a friend. Her name was Jamie. She also needed blankets. We wondered around trying to stay warm. It was late but she rang a doorbell, someone yelled from a window.
Towards morning we met a man in a car. He took us to the Castro District. Jamie and him did drugs and I tried to sleep. Then we went to his house. They went in and did cocaine. I slept in the back seat.
It must have been a friend of hers who invited us to sleep in the van. It was the van of a friend of a friend. She slept in it, and I slept in it and a few other people. It had been parked, but was getting tickets. So it was moved. It wasn’t stolen, but it wasn’t clear who owned the van.
At one point me and Jamie were at a drop in center. They sometimes refer people to shelters. We started talking about the funny story of the van. They joked about referring people to sleep in the van. Eventually I was asked to sleep elsewhere.
I think I went back to Santa Cruz.
One of my favorite camp spots was on the sidewalk. There was a small wall around a gas main. Easy enough to jump over, there was a gate which locked. On the other side was enough space to lay down, I liked being able to make a cardboard roof with the corners of the wall. At this spot someone got into the habit of leaving me two dollars every day. They just put it in my shoe.
It also wasn’t far from Haight Street. Another spot was along side a building. There was a small walkway. But it ended in a wall without a door. It was wide enough to lay down. And a small wall provided some protection from the sidewalk. One morning while waking up a woman though I was peeing. She asked me to pee somewhere else, I thought, “yeah this is my bedroom.”
Once walking along Haight Street I had a large flat piece of cardboard. “Nice mattress you got there,” a friend joked.
Thinking back I feel like I must have had other places I camped. But I don’t recall. I know as I got to know the city I explored more areas. But I always went back to sleep near Haight. I spanged on Castro.
One night I took a sign to Castro Street. If you don’t know it is the gay district in San Francisco. My sign said, “Jokes for a Quarter.” I made over $100 in a night. But such money was rare.
Sometimes I would go downtown. Walking around the city at night was interesting. It always felt safe to me. And I don’t know if it was, or I was just stupid. One night me and a friend looking for a party got lost in Hunter’s Point. I knew this was a bad part of town, but we made it through.
The only hassle I ever got in the city was near Fillmore and Haight. A friend of mine had an apartment. I had a hard time locating it based on the address. A youth at one point told me to get lost, I didn’t belong in his neighborhood. He must have thought I was trying to sell drugs.
Pot wasn’t a big deal in the city. One morning while sitting on the street a woman came out of her shop. Looking down she exclaimed, “hey look, pot.” She picked up the bag and offered it to me. I took it thinking I could sell the pot. But I got nervous and gave it to a friend. She told me about trying to quit speed.
I met M in San Francisco. A cold night walking along Haight Street. There was something of a game. The police would come along and asked people gathered to move. We were trespassing. Everyone would get up and disperse. But overtime new groups would begin to form. If they got to big or sat too long, the process started all over.
We had just been asked to move on by the police. I was turning to talk to someone behind me. My blankets rolled in my arms in front of me.
I Bumped into her. She was looking for someone to talk to she said. We went to Bueana Vista Park and looked at the stars. “Don’t let me have sex with you right away,” she said. The next day we left for Santa Cruz.
I took a number of people from San Francisco to Santa Cruz.
One night me and a friend named Cowboy were bored. So we started walking up and down the street looking for our friends. “Have you seen our friends,” we asked. “They had dreadlocks, are wearing a hoodie sweatshirt, patchwork corduroy pants. They smell a little and may have been seen getting into a VW bus.”
I think you get the picture. The joke was “our friends” could have been almost anyone on the street. But we did meet China and her friends. She was pretty. We went to Bueana Vista Park and talked. In the morning they went home. I met China again years later at a Rainbow Gathering.
There was a car Cowboy and I slept in with another friend for a short period.
At one end of Haight Street was the hippies. But the end closest to the park was where the gutter punks gathered. Most people on the street didn’t keep only to one end or the other. I had gutter punk friends and hippie friends. Near the part was a McDonald’s where people would often spange. Also there was Cala Foods grocery store.
I met my street sister Raven in front of the McDonald’s. It also plays an important part in a future story. Once me and Jamie went to Cala Foods. She wanted to show me how to steal and get away. She took a juice and drank some, but someone saw her. She stashed it in the paper towel isle. And we walked around more. As we were leaving she was confronted and told not to return.
The only thing I ever stole from Cala Foods was a bottle of water. I was so thirsty, and tired. And not even thinking. I walked in and slipped it in my pocket and walked out. It was in the middle of the night. Afterwards I would often pretend to be stealing. Just to keep them off guard. I didn’t think stealing was right. But if they had to watch me, they couldn’t watch someone else.
There was also a Cala Foods near Castro. Once at the Castro store I was talking to the cashier. She also worked at the Haight store. She recognized me and we chatted. “Everyone there things you’re stealing,” she told me. I found it so funny.
I could tell you more stories about Jamie. And I will in a later chapter.
Haight Street felt dirty most of the time. The city of Santa Cruz cleaned their sidewalks. San Francisco did not clean sidewalks.
I never got in trouble in the city. In Santa Cruz early during my experience I got two tickets. But in San Francisco I had mastered lying to cops about my name. One night I was sitting against a pole on Haight. A cop came along and started asking me questions. “What is your name?” I lied. “If there isn’t a record we’ll take you downtown.” I called his bluff, even though he pressured me. In the end he knew it was pointless and left me alone. The cops knew street kids lied about their names.
One of my friends told me a funny story. He had been sleeping on the front green of Golden Gate Park. After the police awoke him they gave him a ticket. But he wouldn’t sign the ticket. So they took him to jail. In the morning, he got breakfast and a shower. Then the let him go. The next time he wanted a hot shower, breakfast and a bed for the night he joked about knowing what to do.
Speaking of cops, I remember a cop in Santa Cruz. At one point I acquired a sweat shirt for Aptos High Girl’s Volleyball. And I wore it all over the place. This cop got to know who I was a little. When he saw me he’d ask, “how’s the girls volley ball team doing?” Even after I parted with the sweat shirt. But I liked thinking he was familiar with me. And feeling he trusted me. It was all friendly.
I had a lot of unusual experiences in the city. One guy invited me to his apartment. I went cautiously and he started hitting on me. So I left. Downtown a guy offered to let me stay with him for the night. Then he kept saying I could sleep in the bed with him. Again I left. Or the poor mentally ill man who let me stay one night. I took a shower. In his bathroom was a broken radio. In the middle of the night he flipped out and said I had broken the radio. I left.
Nothing bad ever happened to me.
Food in the city was easy. Drop in centers would feed sometimes. Or you could beg for money. Random people would often give away free things. One night I found someone giving away pies from their car.
It was at a drop in center downtown I watched the movie The Fan. One of the characters is a knife salesman in San Francisco. “Did he try the Tenderloin District,” someone joked. At least when I was in the city, The Tenderloin was a sleazy area. When you wanted to insult a guy, a joke about working Polk Street did the trick.
One night I was on the beach close to the park. I started walking and walking. There were a lot of thoughts in my head. And I loved the beach. By the time I chose to walk back to the land, I was in Daily City. Lucky for me a friendly bus driver let me ride back to the city for free.
San Francisco was an exciting place. And there were so many different neighborhoods. I think if I ever had the chance to return and live in the city, I would do it in a heart beat.