City Streets: Selfies with Spaceman

He sits on the corner with a helmet high up on his head, demanding change from the people walking down Hyde St. When I shake my head at his request, he said, “Well, how about a hug?”

There are broken CDs taped to the outside of his helmet, and as I hug him, I can see through the clear visor that it’s stuffed with various articles of clothing: a glove, a sock.”My name is Spaceman, and my helmet is good all over the universe. It works in space, but also on bikes and motorcycles and helicopters.”

I ask about about the metal chimes hanging from his chest, and he tells me he uses them to do Hare Krishna.

“Like this,” and he claps them together, beginning at tuneless chant of “Hare Kirshna Hare Krishna.” When a tall young man dances across the street in time with his chanting, Spaceman shouts after him, “Hey! How about some change for the music? I play, you pay!”

Spaceman tells me that he wants to buy something from the convenience store across the street, but he’s nine cents short. When I ask if I can take a picture from him, he insists I give him some change. I relent, but he hears the rest of the change in my wallet, and won’t even look at the camera before bargaining for more.


“Where you goin’ girl? You gonna get on the BART?”

“No, I’m just filling up my Clipper card, then heading to yoga.”

“Oh right, gotta do your yoga. You’re probably a vegetarian and you eat yogurt.”

“I am a vegetarian, but I don’t like yogurt.”

“Yeah, well there are lots of things that you don’t like that you have to put in your body, because they’re good for you. Kids these days, they get drug education, sex education. I’m 64, and we didn’t have none of that when I was a kid.”

“Yeah, ok, I gotta go.”

“Oh, okay. You eat your fruits and veggies.”

“I will. Bye, it was nice to meet you.”

But he’s already lost interest, and returns to badgering anyone who walks by.



City Streets: Selfies with Anthony

He was sitting on the ledge of a stone wall near the entrance to BART.

“How are you doin’ today?”

“I’m well, how are you?” I said as I passed by.

“Good, a little cold over here.” He was sitting in the shade, away from the hot rays of the sun. “Any change?”

I shook my head.”Sorry, I don’t have anything.”

“Have a good day,” he called as I walked away.

When I reached the corner and stopped to wait for the crosswalk signal, I realized I had coins in my change purse. I pulled out some quarters and walked back, sitting beside him and dropping the coins in his cup.


He gave me the two most recent issues of Street Sheet, a newspaper printed by the Coalition on Homelessness and given to homeless people, who then sell it on the street and keep 100% of what they receive.

It was his sixtieth birthday, and he said he was trying to earn enough to buy himself a burrito. I wish I had offered to take him out to dinner, but my mind was focused on getting to the hostel and setting my bags down.

Before I left, he gave me directions to the nearby farmer’s market, where he works two days a week. I hope I run into him again.

City Streets: Selfies w/Pedro

I’d just finished a Zumba class at the 24 Hour Fitness on Van Ness, and I navigated the sunny streets with long strides, eager to get out of my sweaty clothes and take a shower. He was sitting on a corner, under an umbrella attached to his wheelchair. Masking tape held up the hand written signs on his table, proclaiming the good news about Jesus. As I crossed the street, he waved me over.

“Spare change?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have anything.”

“Come sit down, I want to talk to you,” he gestured me over.

I perched beside him, on a low plastic stool in the shade.

Pedro and Me

Pedro and Me

“How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-two.”

“I was twenty-three when I came to this country. Now I’m seventy-seven. It was 1962 when I left Cuba. How many years ago was that?”

He waited for my response, and I tapped the numbers out on my fingers, because doing math in your head is hard. “52?”

He’s pleased with my answer.

“Now tell me, what are your goals– what are your life goals? Do you know what you want to do?”

I gave him the same spiel I’ve been giving to family and friends for the past few months: just graduated from college, currently focusing on traveling and writing, and starting massage school in the fall.

He asked me again, “What are your life goals? What do you want to do with your life?”

This time I didn’t hesitate, and gave him the purpose for my life, the one I carry deep down inside me, the one that guides my dreams:

“To make the world a more beautiful place, through love.”

At this, he smiled deeply. “There you go! Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“Your hair smells good.” He reached a hand out, and when I nodded, he touched my ponytail. “It’s beautiful.”

“Can I touch your hair?” I reach up and pat the poof of white hair on the crown of his head. It felt like cotton and clouds, all softness and air.

Pedro's Card

He grabbed a stack of index cards from his table and handed me one. In shaky all caps was written the information for a local church: address, directions, schedule, even radio station. He then wrote his phone number and his apartment number down for me, and had me read the numbers back to him, so that he knew it was legible. “I am your big brother now. I’ll look out for you. You call me if you need anything. And come to the church.”

He took my hands between his, rough and warm, and he prayed over me, first in English, and then in Spanish. As I left, he asked me again for change, and I showed him my hands, empty save for my phone and my hostel key card.

“I came from the gym, remember? I don’t even have a purse.”