A Traveler's Life for Me: Dropping Out in the Haight Isn't the Same Anymore

"My traveler name's Will Share. Because I will share. You need a cigarette? I'll give you a cigarette. I'll fucking help you out, unlike most of the individualists in this country."

Billy Rosario — Will Share is just his "traveler's name" — sits on the grass, both his posture and manner of dress broadcasting a signal from the peak of Hippie Hill. He wears a plastic heart filled with liquid bubble solution as a necklace, ripped black jeans, and a headlamp. Colorful, beaded dreads dangle around his piercing jade eyes. He looks crazy and dirty, and he says as much.

Believe it or not, this guy used to make your Frappuccinos. In fact, Rosario was a Chicago-area Starbucks barista in his early 20s until he decided to hop on a Greyhound with $27 and a rucksack, searching for a leaner, Yuppie-free life.

Now, he shakes his head at his former customers.

"Stupid Frappucinos," Rosario says. "You don't need that shit. You're fat. They cost like eight dollars, and they don't even taste good.'"

"Granulated," adds fellow traveler Pascualy Guisepi Antonio Cifelli III, alias "Jack Shit."

Guys like Rosario and Cifelli — fuck-the-system, Kerouac types — make for great stories. "I don't pay any taxes at all," Rosario declares, then corrects himself. "Except on cigarettes. And liquor."

Rosario views begging as both an art form and the only full-time job he's ever enjoyed. He and Cifelli laugh about the time they asked somebody for a dollar so they could purchase a monkey to ride to Florida in exchange for some fresh-squeezed orange juice — "Make somebody laugh, that's at least worth a dollar" — and scoff at the duller panhandlers cluttering the Haight. "I hate when I hang out with kids and they're like, 'Spare some change?'" Rosario says, sneering. "Never say the word 'spare' and 'change' in a sentence. Then you sound like a regular-ass bum."

The residents of Hippie Hill illustrate the distinction in the homeless populations of San Francisco. One is homeless by circumstances beyond its control; the other, largely by choice.

"It's a tale of two cities," explains Kenneth Dotson, editor of Street Sheet, the oldest newspaper serving the homeless in North America. "There's very little in the way of homeless services in the Haight area; all of that stuff is really centrally located here in the Tenderloin, so people kind of have to fend for themselves. That makes for a lot of differences in the homeless population."

For instance: the Tenderloin neighborhood has eight homeless shelters, while Haight Street has none, according to Project Homeless Connect of San Francisco. Yet according to a 2012 survey by the Coalition on Homelessness, only around half of the Haight area's homeless would be interested in housing if it were available. Although this doesn't necessarily mean that 50 percent are content to stay that way, Rosario maintains that the promise of a traveler's community lures the disenchanted to Hippie Hill in droves.

No numbers support his claim. But anecdotes are everywhere, from the pages of haighteration.com, the nearby Lower Haight's friendly neighborhood blog, to neighborhood watch meetings, to the casual remarks of merchants and residents. "There is additional [homeless] activity... [but] if a homeless person denies services, there's not much that can be done," Dennis Richards, president of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, told the Examiner earlier this year.

Although Rosario notes the influx of "travelers" has rendered even his legendary panhandling ineffective — "they're desensitized to us now" — he's happy that people are "waking up to reality." None of the men currently on the hill has a cellphone, and only one has Facebook.

Perhaps the reason the Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury areas attract so many travelers is because of its past, despite how that past lives on today. (While the "Summer of Love" happened here in the late '60s, now Jerry Garcia is memorialized in ice cream at the nearby Ben & Jerry's.) But a grassy bump near the park's southernmost edge remains a pilgrimage site.

"I've heard so many stories about Hippie Hill," says 18-year-old Alex Fisher, a greasy-haired kid from North Carolina who stepped off the Greyhound bus two days earlier.

"I just kept asking for Hippie Hill. So many people've found enlightenment on that hill, tripping acid and shit," he says.

He pauses to suck on a joint. "But not so many stories now," he admits.

While Fisher loves the life of a traveler — indeed, he credits it, alongside daily marijuana use, with helping him kick his four-year meth and prescription drug addictions — he readily admits to the burn-out. "I love it, but I definitely couldn't do this for the rest of my life," he says. Such a life would almost certainly be shorter — a homeless person lives 20 years less than the average American. Fisher would rather go steady with a job, hopefully at a marijuana dispensary.

But Rosario doesn't seem to mind Fisher's just-for-now commitment to the lifestyle he views as his calling. He's even stoked about the yuppies, claiming such ignorance can only empower his own community when disaster inevitably strikes.

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5 comments
Jesse Mills
Jesse Mills

My dream in SF was to open up a public learning center for street kids, street performers and musicians, and call it "The Ray Bradbury Center For Arts and Exploration". I had wild plans for what I wanted to do -to the extent of designing floor plans in my head- and with some help from the park branch librarian, a wonderfully sweet lady, (cue scenes from "My Side of the Mountain") I sent a couple letters to Bradbury to ask for his participation and blessing above the door. Little did I know that he was then in his declining years and would die soon after. I've since parlayed that idea into into this small internet community, devoted to actually RIPPING OUT bodily the CGI tentacles from the film and cartoon industry, and steering culture toward something with a bigger handprint than Katy Petty and Finding Nemo 2. I have a lot to say about my experiences among the street culture of SF, and if any reps from the paper would like to talk to me, I welcome the conversation. https://www.facebook.com/groups/219054224788100/

Jesse Mills
Jesse Mills

Read about a guy who went from total destitution -living under a tarp in Golden Gate Park- to playing in front of hundreds in Brooklyn, jamming with the Descendents, and having a song of his used in a commercial in South Africa. I lived in vans, parking lots, and under bridges in San Francisco for eight years. Living nearly every day in Dolores Park, Washington Square Park, Civic Center subway, and devouring graphic novels for inspiration at the Main Branch Library. http://etherandalchemist.tumblr.com/post/2881931333 https://www.facebook.com/notes/jesse-mills/unpublished-interview-for-rag-magazine-by-lindsey-ann-lawless/457178096093

sfreptile
sfreptile

The solutions are comically obvious.  Now that Capt. Greg Corrales is out at park, let him open Kezar for a drug-free rehab. where you check your clothes at the door, and enter a physical training ground, with showers and decent food for a week.  Then, back on the street (with laundered clothes).  JMOP


skyyakfacebook1
skyyakfacebook1

"Perhaps the reason the Golden Gate Park and Haight-Ashbury areas attract so many travelers is because of its past"

Well, bring back the buskers! They signify history and are tourist attractions. The Port manages buskers downtown - and it seems to be effective - why not do similarly in Upper Haight. Busting buskers makes Upper Haight more stoic than Union Street.

 
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