Friday, June 14, 2024

Pushing a Shopping Cart Up Castro Street

San Francisco, May 1996

Castro Street, the heart of the gay universe, is actually quite compact.  It begins at Duboce Triangle and extends six blocks south to the corner of Market, where you can see the Muni Station and the iconic Castro Theater.

Then there are two blocks of bars, restaurants, and boutiques:  Twin Peaks, Orphan Andy's, Almost Home, Thai Thai, the Q Bar.  A Walgreen's Drug Store.  A barber shop.  Two banks.

At 19th Street it becomes residential.  Bright, ornate Victorians with covered dormer windows, crammed together, covering every inch of space for the next five blocks.  The hill becomes very steep.

By 24th you are technically still on Castro Street, but you're not in The Castro anymore.  You're in Noe Valley.

Who actually lived in those Victorians on Castro Street?

They never came up for sale or rent.  No one we met ever gave them as an address.

Maybe they were the original residents of the street, not even gay, who moved in when the neighborhood was called Little Scandinavia and inspired the play I Remember Mama, who didn't budge during the 1970s and 1980s as Gay Liberation happened all around them.

There was no particular reason to go past 19th, so I never did, until the day I saw the homeless guy pushing a shopping cart up the hill.

Around 7:00 pm on a Wednesday in May 1996,  I was walking down Castro at 19th after the gym, when I saw him rumbling toward me.  It was too late to cross the street.

In San Francisco the homeless were everywhere, sitting on the sidewalk, sleeping in doorways, waving their cups and chanting "any change -- any change -- any change."  You ignored them.  If you wanted to help, you donated to a food bank or homeless shelter.  If you gave them money, spoke to them, or interacted in any way, they would follow you and ask for more.  And as word got around that you were a soft touch, you would be mobbed everywhere you went.  I often saw hapless tourists being followed around like the Pied Piper.

But I couldn't help wondering what the homeless guy was doing.  It would take effort to push that shopping cart up the steep incline, and what for?  There were few people in that direction to panhandle, no parks to camp out in.

And, except for the shopping cart, he didn't look like a homeless person.  He was in his 30s, with a round face and a well-trimmed beard.  A red polo shirt and white pants.  A typical Castro Street buffed physique.

 Before I knew it, we made eye contact. Then he stopped his cart and said "hello" before I could pretend that I didn't see him.

I had no choice but to say "hello" back and wait for the "any change?" barrage.

Instead he said "Hot day, isn't it?"

"Better hot than cold," I said noncommittally.

"My name's Jake."  He extended his hand.  I had no choice but to shake.

 Great, now this guy and his shopping cart will be following me around all night!  

"Boomer.  Where you from?" I asked, stupidly.  That was the standard first question in San Francisco cruising.  Everyone was eager to tell horror stories about homophobic small towns.  But you didn't interact with the homeless!

"Berkeley.  My dad is a professor at UC.  Strictly old school conservative -- you should have seen him raise the roof, when I told him I was gay!"

So that's why you're homeless -- your parents kicked you out.  "I don't 'come out' to anyone.  They can figure it out for themselves."

"Have you eaten?" Jake asked next.  "I was thinking of going to Thai Thai."

Great, now I have to feed him!

"Thai Thai is pretty good," I said noncommittally.

He reached out and squeezed my arm and smiled.  "Nice biceps!  Tell you what.  I'll just drop this stuff off at home, and meet you there in fifteen minutes."

"Where's home?  There aren't any..."  I was going to say "there aren't any homeless shelters up there."  But the cart didn't contain a ragtag assortment of belongings and mementos.  It contained two baskets full of neatly folded laundry.

WTF?  This guy wasn't homeless at all!

"Just up the hill.  See you soon."

After dinner Jake took me up to the Victorian just past 22nd Street, where he and three roommates paid an exorbitant rent.  It had stained glass windows, parquet ceilings, and hardwood floors, but no washer and drier. So they took turns carting all their stuff to the laundromat.

 He got a kick out of people thinking he was homeless, getting all flustered, giving him Attitude.

"You're the first guy who actually said 'hello' to me while I was pushing the cart,"  he said, leading me into his bedroom, which had a beautiful view of Castro Street all the way down to Market.  "That's got to get you some Karma points."  He began unbuttoning my shirt.

I didn't want to tell him that I only said "hello" by accident.

In case you were wondering: hairy chest, nice pecs, very thick Bratwurst, into interfemoral and kissing.


  1. San Francisco's homeless problem is just getting worse. Gentrification intensifies.

    TBH, San Francisco always struck me as very bro. You know what I mean? "Whoo, gay rights, women's lib, antiracism, so long as those things don't affect me personally."

  2. One homeless guy I saw last summer was wearing black shorts, sneakers, and nothing else. Talkative af. Looked okay.

    Of course nothing happened, and the dude was so healthy I thought it was a con. I mean, if he was homeless, he was nouveau homeless, all the trap motels were filled up with spillover due to the shelters being overloaded from the initial round of evictions and foreclosures.

    I hope he's okay? I mean, again, if he is homeless, he had no way to evacuate from the orange hell unleashed by Karen's gender reveal party.



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