Homeless in San Francisco Felix Wong

Everything had been going so smoothly on Saturday, exactly as planned. Woke up, hit the gym, bought some groceries, washed the car… even had lunch ready by the time Sharon (who had just hiked Mission Peak) was out of the shower. This was followed by a great car show, an uneventful drive home, just enough time (10 minutes) for a quick shower, and managing to catch a BART train just 30 seconds before it left. Got to the city by 6:30pm and the restaurant by 6:42… a little late, but still a few minutes earlier than Merry who, being the b-day gal, was acceptably late to her own party.

Merry looked really good, dinner was great (lots of tapas), and so was conversation with Merry’s friends (most of whom I have not seen or talked with for 6 months or a year), and afterwards a bunch of us went to a club for more conversation and then dancing. This was cool—I had not gone clubbing in over a year, and it was something I’ve missed. Finally, after a couple of hours of this, it was time to go. I’d loved to have stayed even longer, but most of our group had already left. And the club was getting so packed that I started having to dance with my arms above my head, as there was that little space to move!

So time to go home. The BART station was really close by. Just an hour or so and I’d be in my warm bed, I thought. I sat down on a bench in the station reflecting upon what a good day it had been.

This is about when the oh-so-smooth day had ceased, and the big adventure began.

In the midst of my musings, I looked up at an electronic sign in the station, only to see two numbers separated by a colon: 12 and 26. “Holy cow!” I thought. (okay, maybe my thoughts were a little different than “holy cow”, but this is the PG version.) “It cannot be 12:26! That means we had been dancing for two-and-a-half hours? Totally didn’t seem like it.

“And… dang. I missed the last Fremont train.”

Whoops!

I got up and pondered my options. I looked at the BART schedule, and took note of when the next Fremont train would arrive. About 6:00am, it seemed to me. So my first instinct was to take a nap down there for the next 5 or so hours, and then, voila… early morning train. I even fell asleep for about 10 minutes when, the next thing I hear is a cheery “HELLO!” It was the BART station attendant. I calmly explained to her that, unfortunately, I missed the last Fremont train, and that I’d just take a nap until the next one came in the morning. She smiled and then said, “well no you can’t, not down here.” I then promptly got kicked out.

But as I exited the BART station, I noticed there were a bunch of more benches, only a few of which were already taken by some of the other vagrants. “Good, other homeless people,” I thought. “I fit right in!” So I plopped down on a bench, somehow managed to fall asleep for about 10 more minutes, only to be awoken by the blaring of one of the homeless dude’s boom box.

I was getting slightly cold anyhow (imagine being in the middle of a SF summer night wearing just a short-sleeved T-shirt and no jacket), so it was time to move and make a decision as to where to go, what to do. Now, for someone with half a brain, deciding what to do would have been as obvious as 1) call a friend for help at this ungodly hour, or 2) hail a cab to go to Fremont, or 3) find a hotel room. Howeever, for someone with rocks instead of half a brain filling his cranium, those options seemed just too easy, too boring. Never mind that yours truly is also too independent, frugal, and macho (“if these other homeless dudes can survive these SF nights, surely I can”) to choose the obvious solution.

Instead, I chose the “brilliant” idea of livin’ up the night, since I was in San Francisco after all, a city I don’t get to frequent more than, say, 6X a year due to lack of time, distance, and an aversion to spending 20 minutes looking for parking. The first thought was to go look for another club, as surely dancing was a much more appealing (and warmer) proposition than sleeping with my homeless brethren and the boom box.

So I headed towards the Nob Hill area, with the destination of the Ruby Skye in mind (I knew they’d be open at least until 3:00am), which I estimated was at least three miles (or an hour) away, but, ha, it wasn’t like I didn’t have the time! But better get a bite to eat first. No problem… around the corner from Skylark was a Late Night Pizza place.

Let me tell you about this place. For an area/shop that looked pretty ghetto, this joint was amazing. First off, the line was so long that it was spilling out the door. This was probably sometime between 1:15-2:30 (given my record for keeping track of time that night, I figure, putting down such a range is my best chance for being accurate here), and I just couldn’t believe there were so many people there. Or maybe that just shows my age—most people there, it seemed, were either teeny boppers wearing nothing or were going to be wearing nothing a little later on. Ok “nothing” doesn’t exactly equal nothing here, but do you know what I mean (or something?) Anyhow, for a few bucks one got a monster piece of greasy pizza which hit the spot and would keep me warm and energetic for my little excursion over to the more downtown area of San Francisco.

So it was off to Ruby Skye through SOMO. I headed down Mission, where I even passed by a friend’s condo and was very tempted to holler, “yo Kelly, how ’bout letting yours truly, now a homeless bum, crash for the night?” However, I was sure that 1) he would actually be sleeping at this hour like most normal people, 2) he was apt to believe that I really was a homeless bum instead of a friend, and 3) he would call the police. Not that being homeless is something necessarily to be ashamed of, especially since that is what I really was, but still…

In any case, most of the homeless people out there were pretty nice. I ran into a lot of them. Do they even sleep? Some of them had sleeping bags, but they didn’t seem to be sleeping in them, unless they had learned how to sleep while sitting up and saying “Howya doing, man!” (“Just excellent, man!”)

Same could be said for the hookers. Or hooker, as I dealt with only one. Wait, oops, “dealt” probably isn’t the most appropriate choice of words here. But the encounter was pretty cute. I was pretty far into the SOMO area, and two twentyish women wearing almost nothing walked passed me. Unlike with the homeless people, I didn’t so much even acknowledge these two gals as to not give them any ideas that I was, um, looking for something. Actually, I didn’t even really give any thought to either of these people at the time. 2 minutes later, however, I was waiting at a crosswalk, and now one of them (who obviously turned around and followed me), stood next to me and cooed, “whaddoya think, which one [pedestrian light] is gonna let us walk across the street first, this one or that one?”

I just thought to myself, “Are you nuts? These pedestrian lights have COUNTDOWN TIMERS clearly displayed on them, as if it isn’t obvious which light is going to be next…”

But because I am a nice guy (ha), I played along and said, “oh, I’d bet… that one” [Felix points at the correct one…]

To which she replied, “heehee, how ’bout… 50 bucks!” Next thing I know, she is walking side by side with me. And directly ahead was the Marriott’s hotel. Whoops, I should have picked the other direction. Now in something of a quandary, I slowed down, pretending to look at a Tommy Hilfiger ad. “[bleep] Hilfiger!” exclaimed my new escort with a laugh.

But it worked, as now she was in front of me, leading me towards the hotel, only that I wasn’t about to be lead, and walked right past it while she walked on in.

By the time I had found the Ruby Skye (~3:15am), it seemed to be shutting down as people were coming out en masse and no one was going in, and I was starting to get hungry again after all of the walking. Now, mind you, not only was I homeless, but I was also pretty limited on cash after the entire day’s event, and though I had an ATM card, I was loathe to look for an ATM in the middle of the night lest I get pounced on by some sketchy dude lurking in the shadows. No problem, though—a block from the Ruby Skye was… a Jack in the Box. So I got two tacos and a water—just 99 cents, plus tax.

I slowly chowed them down while reading that oh-so-intellectual-and-unbiased SF publication called the Guardian, which contained articles posing serious, potentially life-altering questions such as “Will there be enough condoms at the Olympics?”, which nevertheless put me to sleep rather quickly even while sitting completely upright in the chair. Looks like all of my practice sleeping at work while looking productive came in handy here. Though my sleep was occasionally interrupted by things like:

“Excuse me? Do you have any change? I’m homeless” asked a woman who came in and asked me this no less than three separate times even though I gave her a lot of change (i.e., more than two tacos’ worth) the first time, pretended to be asleep the second time, and the third time, just wryly replied, “SO AM I!”

– and –

[a young urban professional comes bursting in at 4:30am, all frantic while speaking to the cashier] “I can’t BELIEVE what I just did! I just left my house keys AT WORK, and now I have to wait for someone to come in later today so that I can go in and get them!” Poor dude, not only did he have to work until some obscene hour, but then he got locked out. He also ordered two tacos for 99 cents.

Anyhow. So at 5:30am—roughly when I woke up—I walked on over to the nearest BART station, expecting it to open at 6:00am. It was then that I realized that—surprise!—today was now Sunday. And the BART doesn’t open at 6:00am on Sunday, it opens at 8:00am. So still two more hours to kill. (Yes, this is The Never-Ending Story.)

This time I headed over to Carl’s Jr., indulged in a $1.29 special (a spicy chicken sandwich, no mayo), and read yet another quality SF-publication-with-sex-lines-listed-in-the-back, the SF Weekly. This (the articles) only kept me entertained for about 30 minutes, at which point I decided to head down to Van Ness Street, take a stroll, and look for the famed Qvale and Panoz car dealerships.

I never found the Panoz dealer, but I found the Qvale one, and others with Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Lotuses (Loti?), Mercedes, and Bentleys. More homeless people, too (though by this time, it seemed like a much higher percentage of them were actually sleeping). I just have to chuckle about an encounter with one of them—a lady all bundled up in two torn-but-furry jackets, scarf, and gloves.

“Aren’t you COLD?” she asked. Before I could respond by saying something witty like “what makes you think that, just because I am wearing 6 or 7 less layers than you?,” she proclaimed, “Man, I can’t believe you are only wearing a T-shirt!”, laughed, and walked away.

So that’s how far I had fallen that night: from swanky homeowner to now being made fun of by the homeless.

Finally, though, 8:00am arrived, and so did my BART train. I got in it, pumped my fist and thought “Yes! Finally going home,” although my excitement abated a little when I had to get off in Oakland and wait another 25 minutes for a Fremont transfer. I got home at 9:45am, just in time for yet another 10-minute shower, after which I had to drive over to Stacey’s for a scheduled hour-long private breakfast, and then attend Adrian’s “help Evelyn celebrate her birthday by helping her fix up her fixxer-upper” surprise b-day party, in which we painted, unpainted, or demolished walls for a few hours. A BBQ followed, and, finally, by 6:30pm I was home again. For more than 10 minutes this time. Time to make up some sleep.

And hope that Monday would proceed more smoothly than those seven hours of that memorable Saturday night.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider receiving my weekly newsletter. I typically write about endurance bicycling, travel, self improvement, Colorado living, marathon running and epic adventures.



Articles related to Homeless in San Francisco

One comment on Homeless in San Francisco

  1. Comment by Loren

    This was freaking hilarious!! I love that you stayed out all night — what an incredibly cool adventure. I’ve taken random walks through bad areas of SF, but never stayed up an entire night on the streets. I’ll add it to my list of things to do (and I’ll make sure I call you around 2 am to join me since I’m sure you’d have fun doing it 🙂 )

    My favorite line:
    “So that’s how far I had fallen that night: from swanky homeowner to now being made fun of by the homeless. ”

Leave a Comment