By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
But rumor has it that Johnson recently had a stroke or heart attack, and as soon as Bushman #2 found out, he set up at Bushman #1's prime locale in front of the boat tours. "He didn't miss a beat," said Kenny the Clown, another wharf fixture. "That's what's so cold about it."
"He wants to be me so bad he can taste me," Johnson said over the phone from his St. Francis Memorial Hospital room in June, where he denied he had a stroke, adding no clarification.
Gregory says he didn't think visiting Johnson in the hospital would be good for the latter's health — the two have traded punches before — but Bushman #2 was enjoying his stolen location, holding up an inch-high stack of folded bills he'd made in under an hour. "One man's loss is another man's gain," he says with a cackle.
The Misunderstood Artist
Territory: Valencia Street, these days on the steps of the Social Security building
Costume: Long animal-print rock cape, heeled boots to boost his five-foot-four frame, guitar, shades
Omer is strutting down the Valencia sidewalk in zigzags on a June night, guitar slung across his back, long hair flying out behind him, when a pretty petite woman in a peacoat and wedge platforms requests "Your Butt's Too Big," his musical comment on American obesity.
"It's my favorite!" she fawns.
Omer lives for moments like these. "I like when people act like they love me," he says. You just have to read the scathing indictments of his late-night jam sessions on Yelp.com to see that some don't. He admits he makes only about $10 a day in tips for three sets of originals and some Johnny Cash, John Lennon, and Christmas carol covers thrown in. He's still waiting for the day he'll reach greater heights of rock fame than infamy, 20 years after he was arrested for lowering himself on a rope onto a fire escape to slip into Yoko Ono's New York City apartment and lived to tell the tale on Howard Stern (and leave angry messages for reporters who still bring it up).
Inviting us to his bare-bones crib at the Altamont Hotel, Travers still seems a little unhinged at times, especially when he lets out his demonic laugh, heaving air through a cigarette-tar-caked voice box, rocking back on his behind, and flapping his hands in front of him like a Muppet. But he later called us back, very serious indeed, to talk about his image.
"I have been described as the cutest bum on the block," he says. "It pisses me off to no end, because I am an artist. ... I'm so fuckin' San Francisco, it creeps me out. And I don't really like San Francisco that much."
Why not? "Because they piss me off. They act like I'm a bum in a doorway. I hate it when cute girls think I'm a bum."
Why? "Because I'm never gonna get kissed!" (For his unkempt appearance, Omer certainly is vain. Pantene Pro-V Sheer Volume Conditioner sits in his medicine closet for his long locks, and he fuels his "temple" — his body — with a constant stream of salmon, avocado, and vitamins.)
But you do stand in doorways and sing for tips, correct? "Don't cloud the issue with facts. I want to be a star. I just haven't found out how to do it yet."
The Dirty Old Man
Territory: He rides from his hotel near 16th and Mission streets to General Hospital, Golden Gate Park, City Hall, or the Embarcadero
Costume: Denim coat that reads "California Nudity Association," wheelchair with an "I love oral sex" sign on the back
First you spot the wheelchair, looking like an adult version of a kiddie car with its aluminum enclosure you best not call a house: "It's not a house," the man inside snaps. "It's a wheelchair cover."
His name is Angel, and with the Southern-drawled sex talk and sizable gut reaching out nearly to the chair's console, he seems more likely to be blazing down an Alabama highway atop a motorcycle (he's done that, too) than down San Francisco sidewalks in a giant wheelchair. But then Angel adds that he's bisexual and claims he started an adult toy company in Hollywood specializing in dildos and breast pumps back in the '60s, and the guy starts to sound like he fits right in around here.
Angel got his electric wheelchair about five years ago after losing sensation in his feet from diabetes, and built the structure on top after getting soaked in a rain that sent him into the hospital. Then came the extras: voodoo-like witch faces scowling, skull-handled whip blowing like a demonmobile straight out of Hades. Why all the macabre fixings? "I'm an artist," he says. "Even though I haven't been recognized by the art society of this city."
Before settling here, Angel says he zipped around the country in the '90s in a Chevy van, dispatched by clergy via CB radio to transport folks infected with "the virus" (his term for HIV) back home. He was diagnosed with the virus himself in the late '80s. He figures there's only one explanation for how he caught it, which he has turned into a public service message: "If anyone has anal sex, you better get used to wearing diapers after you're 50 years old, because you lose all control of that part."