By the next morning I was leading a parade.
On my trek ‘til dawn, I picked them up one by one: a runaway teenage girl, a flute player, a wayward marine, and a rumple-suited drunk businessman.
The flute player was a sprite named Willie, a really sweet, gentle guy. I’d run into him before, and I liked him. He was dark skinned, but with a very intense case of the pigment loss disease Vitiligo, that you noticed right off. . Though he wasn’t dressed like it, he seemed to have money, or come from money, anyhow. Or maybe he was just makin’ stuff up, about hangin’ with Elizabeth Taylor and other super famous stars he referred to by first name. “Keith, Mick, Liz,” etc… endless stories. It didn’t bother me. There was a lot of that going around. He was the first to join the procession. We’d met in front of an all-night donut shop, downtown, shared a joint, then
I’d pulled out my guitar and we began jamming on jazzy minor key chords, in a doorway.
This attracted the runaway girl, a young, blonde, troubled kid from Walnut Creek, looking at us out of the corner of her dreamer’s eyes, trying to act street smart; she’d wanted to be near us, I’m guessing, for the comfort of the music and the protection of a group on this dark and increasingly foggy night.
She, in turn, attracted the drunk. This became a wandering party, as we headed through the empty streets of the Financial District, for North Beach, on foot, singing, playing, joking, passing around a bottle. Our spectacle beneath the streetlights was the magnet for a physically powerful, emotionally intense, demanding and scary dude: Hair cut Marine Corps high and tight, in street clothes, barefooted. He told us straight out he was AWOL from the Corps, that the police were after him that he was bound for jail, and he didn’t care what happened. He let on he was going to fight the cops to the death. In fact, he wanted to fight everyone he saw. People passing by were accosted by him, and ran off. Right before sunrise he chased off the business-drunk. Willie just smiled, and refused to acknowledge his existence, which seemed to work. All of this in the completely empty streets of North Beach, so late it was early. I was getting that gritty, wasted, coming-down-from-an-all-nighter exhaustion, but there was nowhere to go, so I just hung with it. It was nightmarish, but also exciting, an adventure: this was living, to be ecstatic and terrified at the same time.
The sun came up. We were waiting outside of Vesuvio’s on Columbus, for it to open at six, so we could go in and drink. The marine was giving me the creeps, and now he wouldn’t let me out of his sight. A couple times I tried to slip off and he caught me, kind of browbeating me into hanging some more. I didn’t know what he wanted, and I couldn’t seem to give him the slip.
After Vesuvio’s the whole circus followed me down Columbus Avenue to Fisherman’s Wharf, where the busking day was just beginning. The sun was getting up in the sky; you could tell it was going to be a clear and beautiful day. Street artists were setting up their easels, getting there early to save a spot. The restaurant workers were mopping the floors at the Cannery, sidewalks were getting hosed down, a few tourists were starting to make the scene, and we come around the corner and there was Crazy Horse Danny Ray, wearing a beautiful Hawaiian shirt, jeans, and flip-flops, playing the most beat up old Stella guitar imaginable, hoarsely singing a Sam Cooke song to a couple passing by. I was really happy to see him.
The Marine Corps took the opportunity to get right up and into Danny’s business, trying to bum some money out of the guitar case. Danny just told him to buzz off. The listening
couple scurried away in terror. The girl was talking to somebody she knew and was about to leave on another adventure. Willie was pulling out his flute again, ready to jump in uninvited with Danny. I saw my chance and took a dive, right around the corner and out of the neighborhood; I figured they’d have be having more fun with Danny anyway.