Tag Archives: San Francisco

Bay City Runaway


Walking Home On a Foggy Night - William Buckley Jr

She didn’t move.  She didn’t even blink.  She just stared back at me with a single question in her weary eyes . I still wasn’t sure if she was actually there.  After downing five drams of single malt some time earlier, I had passed out and had only just awoken at the sound at the window–actually, my body still slumbered in a scotch induced stupor, but my eyes were awake, and the shock of seeing someone at my window in the middle of a cold night had set my ears ringing.  But even still, I understood what she was asking.

I could just make out her face in the dim, halogen porch light of my Powell Street home on the edge of China Town.   I’d seen her earlier that evening down the street outside of Foley’s when I stepped out into the foggy night for a smoke.  She’d approached me, ghostlike and wordless, communicating her desire to bum a cigarette with a faint hand gesture.  I didn’t speak and I barely even looked at her, save a single moment of eye contact as I lit her cigarette, then she walked away glancing back at me once.  In her eyes I could see her need, and on her face I could see the bruising of a cruel hand.

A dilemma had frozen me in the stare, our eyes locked in an unanswered plea.  I’d met my share of hustlers in this bay city, but,  she was so lovely that  it would almost be worth the hustle.  But no, the need on her face was real, and she couldn’t have been more than seventeen.

But why me?  Why would she follow me?  Why not a friend or family…or a shelter?  Jesus! I was a stranger to her–a drunken, lonely bastard of a man on the street; too young to be her father, too old to be her lover.

I broke the stillness with a nod.

She was pale and shivering from the cool, damp night.  I watched her intently and silently as she passed over my threshold into my living room.  No words had come to my mind, so I did not speak, and even if they had, my tongue would have been too slow to form anything but foolishness.  She sat on my couch, and I handed her a heavy woolen blanket.

She had not been on the street for long, I guessed.  She didn’t smell badly–only of damp, night air and Marlboro.  Her clothes looked relatively fresh–jeans, hoodie, backpack, and sneakers.  I poured her a brandy from a crystal decanter–the one thing I kept for myself–and sank back down in the leather club chair where I’d just moments before been sleeping and had been every night since I’d moved in three weeks earlier.   She put the glass to her lips, her eyes never leaving mine.  Her mouth showed only a trace of grimace from the strength of the drink as she swallowed.

She broke the silence.

“I’m Amy.”

I took a sip of  scotch, and cleared my throat a bit.

“Hey, Amy.  I’m Brian.”  The words hung around my spinning head as if they weren’t mine.  “How can I help you?”

She shrugged her slender shoulders.  “Can I crash here tonight?”

“Why here?”  I replied, clumsily, perhaps even coarsely.

She shrugged again.  “I guess you were nice to me in front of the bar?”

“Look,” I started, “if this is a hustle,  I….”

“It’s not a hustle!”  she shouted, her voice breaking.  “Listen, I just need a place to stay tonight.  That’s all.”  Silent tears began to rolled out of her eyes pleading for just an ounce of mercy.

“Ok, ok.  Relax.”

Gesturing toward me, she said, “I guess you seemed–I dunno–like you’re running away from something, too.”   Her body relaxed into a slump as she dried the tears on her hoodie sleeve.  She sniffed and  took another sip of brandy making a sour face this time.  She put it down on the coffee table between us.

“Do you need to call anybody?”

She shook her head, and pulled the blanket close around her.

“Amy, are you ok?” I asked, my tone softening.

She nodded and settled back into the couch.  She seemed so at home…or maybe just too exhausted to care.

I watched her sleep for a while and listened to her breathing–almost peaceful– unconsciously timing it with the ticking of the mantel clock.  Asleep, her face was a child’s, spoiled only by the green and purple bruise under her right eye.

She was gone when I awoke the next morning, the runaway.  The blanket was folded on the arm of the couch exactly as it had been when she’d arrived, brandy snifter put away.  I might never see her again, and I wasn’t really certain I’d ever seen her at all.

As I let the steam from my freshly brewed coffee rise to my face, I pondered her words:

you’re running away from something, too…

part 2


Lost and Found Street Hustle


Stepping off the curb onto a dim lit street, Connor dropped an expired Marlboro and crushed it with the sole of his boot as he continued across.   He was not sure where he was heading at all– just heading–thoughts of life and age, and shoulds and shouldn’ts on his mind, cold, damp bay air nipping his ears.

Too old to start smoking, too lost to care.  Up the hill or down?

He turned down the San Francisco street not looking ahead, just down.  On he walked, past house gates, over steamy sewer grates, across quiet side streets and further into the night.

“Hey!  Hey, man.  Slow down.  Lemme aks you somethin’.”

Connor turned to see a scruffy, street-worn black man of indeterminate age.  His light brown skin was punctuated by dark freckles across his nose and cheeks.

Great, more street hustle…fine..nothing better to do

“Yeah?  What do you want?”

“Hey hey, man…relax.  I don’t want nothin’..shiiiiit.  I just wanna aks you somethin'”

“Ok, so ask.”

Connor kicked the gritty sidewalk with his foot watching the tip of his boot and discreetly touching the pocket that contained his wallet.

“Come here, man.  I ain’t gonna bite you.  Shiiiiit.”

Every phrase he uttered broke into a raspy cackle which caused him to bounce and shake his head.

“I’m standing right here in front of you, man.  What the fuck do you want?”

The man took a step toward Connor as if he were about to intimate something to him.  The smell of cheap musk cologne barely masked his stale bodily filth.  Connor held his ground, but sharpened his senses for anything.

“You from around here?”

Connor shrugged.

“You got any weed?” the man asked.

Connor shook his head, keeping his face darkened by a brown, corduroy driver cap.

“Why?  You know where to get some?”

“Shit, man.  If I knew dat, I wouldn’t be askin you.”  What teeth were remaining gleamed yellow under the street lamp.

Connor relaxed his posture a little and smiled.  “Sorry, man.  Got nothing.”

“Das alright.  You just look like the kinda dude who might be able to help a brutha out.”

Connor chuckled.  “Oh yeah? Whatever you say.”

“Hey, listen.  Check dis out.  Man, you ain’t gonna believe dis shit. I’m gonna show you somethin you ain’t NE-VAH seen on no brutha.”

Connor held up his hands and took a step back, still smiling, “Whoa!  Now hold on!  I don’t need to see nothin!”

“Nah nah nah…it ain’t like dat, yo. ”

The man reached up, and with all the flare of a magician offering his audience a slow reveal, pushed the front of his raggedy toboggan hat up over his forehead.  Connor squinted and took a step closer as the man pointed with a dirty index finger protruding from his finger-cut glove.

There on the mans wrinkled forehead was a scratched-in homemade tattoo of a symbol that Connor truly was surprised to find:  a tiny swastika.

“That is fucked up! That is sincerely fucked up man!”

For a moment, they were just two men on the street laughing at the surprise and oddities of life.  The man laughed and wheezed at his own bizarre joke.

Wanting to know why a black man would have a swastika on his forehead, but not wanting to linger any longer on a lonely street past midnight with a bum, he looked further down the street and then back at the jovial beggar, he said, “Ok, man.  Umm…yeah…thanks for that.  That what truly weird, but I’m smiling, so thanks.  See you around, brother.”

“Ha ha!  Alright, yeah, I will.   Hey, but…maybe spare a few dollars?  Just need to get me a burger or something.”

“Shoot, I’ll do you one better.”  In a moment of rare clarity, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his pack of Marlboro Reds, a lighter, and a ten dollar bill and extended it to him.

“Alright, brutha!  Das what I’m talkin about.  Sure you ain’t got any weed?”

“Yeah, man, I’m sure.  Later.”

Before Connor had even taken a step, the man was lit and taking his first puff.

As Connor reached the next crossing light, he could hear the mans voice echo after him, “Thaaaanks!”

And Connor walked on, this time headed for his hotel, ready to give up his wandering…at least for tonight.



Corndog Angel


inspired by a true event.  thanks, Doug for your creative, compassionate heart!

“Corndog Angel” – David Wilson-Burns © 2010

This wasn’t the most extravagant corporate party I’d attended, but it was no small event either.  We were entertained and amused by a live, tiki-carving, alternative surfer band.  We were perplexed and somewhat titillated by a gaggle of  seventies-inspired rollerskating girls.  Beer and wine were flowing freely.  And food…the food was everywhere; more food than we could possibly consume that night.

There were tables and tables of chinese food, chili dogs, mexican food, fresh fruit, and my personal favorite, corndogs; hundreds , possibly thousands, of piping hot corndogs stacked up in massive heated metal pans.  It was a little nippy that night, so the corndogs also had a very pleasant warming effect.  We drank beer and filled our guts until we were loud, laughing, and stuffed.

The party, however, was not exactly taking off the way we were.  It’s difficult to throw thousands of software developers and database administrators together with weird surf rock and beautiful skating girls and prevent them from spending the entire time carefully documenting everything with their iPhones.  No one danced and many were too shy (and too busy documenting) to even speak to each other.  So, we decided to make our exit.

That’s when my buddy Doug was struck by a bolt of inspiration.  He picked up a couple of paper baskets and boldly shoveled a pile of corndogs into them.

“Hey guys!  Let’s give out corndogs on the street!”

Yes!  Why should we let all of this good food go to waste when the streets of San Francisco are full of hungry people?  I decided to follow suit.  I admit that I felt a little anxious about it.  What if someone questioned me?  Is it rude to take so much food and then just leave?   I cautiously eyed the corndog tray and the two servers who were working the buffet.  Would they stop me?  Even after half a dozen beers, I hadn’t lost my rule-follower mentality.

But it was time to leave and I wanted this to happen.  I  grabbed two paper baskets, just as Doug had done, and scooped up about ten huge corndogs and walked away.  When we got to the street, I began looking for people who might be hungry.  We were loud and bold as we made our way to our favorite little pub on Powell.   It wasn’t long before we came upon a man sitting on the sidewalk leaning up against a building.  He held out a cup,  his head hung, and his spirit low.  I was first up.  I squatted down and held out the basket.  I spoke softly and cheerfully, “Hey.  Wanna corndog?”  He looked up at me and laughed with a street-roughened voice.  “Thanks!”  he replied and grabbed one from the top.

We moved on up the street with our little gang, handing out corndogs as we walked.  I wondered how someone who might not be homeless might react if I offered one.  I mean, a corndog’s a corndog, no matter who you are and what your circumstances may be.  A guy on a skateboard stopped beside me at the cross walk.  I uncovered my pile of corny gold and held it out to him, “Dude!  Wanna corndog?”

“No way!  Are you serious?  For free?”

“Hell yeah! Take one!  They’re still warm!”

“Right on!  That’s awesome!”

He grabbed one and skated off with the changing light.

As we turned onto Powell, I only had one dog left.  The five of us were nearing the zenith of our evening revelry, which we would most certainly reach after a few hot irish coffees at the pub.  I nearly tripped over a man sitting on the street corner.  He was very nearly invisible.  He wasn’t speaking, playing drums, holding a cup or a sign.  He had a blanket around him.  He was holding himself, trying to keep warm in the chilly night.  It would only get colder.  I squatted down as I had done before.  I uncovered the last corndog.

It had been fun and games up till this point.  Weren’t we clever, and oh so compassionate, handing out corndogs that would get a hungry man through only a few hours on the cold, hard street.   Yes, we felt great.  And it truly did lift our eyes to some of the harsher realities of this city that we were being given only the best of.  But this was real now.  This was a real man, with a real problem, on a real street.  We would soon be in a warm, friendly place and would make new friends and have a few laughs, then we would crash in warm, comfortable, luxury hotel room beds for the night.  But he wouldn’t, he would be sitting right here where he was right now, alone, cold, and hungry.

I picked up the corn dog by its stick and spoke to him through the haze of beer and joviality, “Hey, brother.  Have a corndog.”

Something happened in that moment.  Maybe it was just a trick of the street lights, maybe it was the beer.  But I wasn’t the only one who saw it.  The man lifted his head slowly until his eyes met mine, nothing but a corndog between us.  His face melted into a smile.  His eyes glistened.  There was something happening in that moment that cannot be described.  There was a light or an energy…a glow.  It wasn’t coming from me.  It emanated between us, in our brief contact.  I don’t remember if he spoke, but his eyes expressed his gratitude as he accepted my humble gift, a warm corndog.

“Dude!  You were like the corndog angel or something.  That was weird!  Did you see that?!” exclaimed one of my buddies with a tinge of awe in his slurred state.

No, I thought, I’m not the angel here.  I thought of a story that I’d heard recently in church.  A guest preacher, Shane Claiborne,  spoke of a woman who lived on the street who said,

“I used to shine!!

I used to SHINE!!!!

but it’s a COLD

dark

world.”

For just a moment, on a cold, dark, night on the streets of San Francisco, I wondered if I had seen an angel, who’s light was all but extinguished by our cold, dark, world.