I followed a homeless man today. I hadn't intended to; it just kind of worked out that way.
It began as a friendly neighborhood jog. I headed out of the house around 9pm, and it was dusk at best. One of those glorious summer nights where daylight seems eternal, and there's not a cloud in sight - a rarity for San Francisco. As it was relatively late, I ran my usual abridged route down Irving, a mile or so and back. Enough to burn off the Milka squares I had just consumed. There was still a glimmer of light in the darkening sky, so I veered a sharp right.
I have this secret spot that I escape to that I haven't shared with very many people. By day, you get an amazing panoramic view of the city, the Golden Gate Bridge to the north and the Financial District to the west. From time to time, I go there to clear my head, and it does the trick. I can't think of a better remedy. I felt the sudden urge to see the skyline by night. I couldn't resist.
Fear is normally not an emotion I associate with this place, but it was my first time there at night. Being a relatively isolated area, I suppose I could have been dismembered and stuffed in a trunk without anyone noticing, but it's a good neighborhood and I'd rather not think about that. I followed the dirt path up and that's where I saw him.
He was a bearded man - more Cuban dictator than Colonel Sanders - and with him was a striped shopping bag. He seemed in a daze and plodded down the dusty wooden steps the moment I arrived.
I inhaled the cityscape, marveling for twelve seconds. Then I re-assessed the possibility of dismemberment and proceeded to race downhill.
As I neared the bottom of the steps, I noticed the man again. He was a block ahead of me but seemed to be going in my direction. I wondered where he had come from. Did he come here every night, wandering as he pleased? Did he see what I saw? Was this place his lucid haven? I imagined a day spent in Golden Gate Park and lunch on the Haight. Or maybe that's too cliche. Perhaps there were other nomadic friends. Did they travel in packs? He seemed alone.
With each block, I neared home. I had a final destination and a cozy Victorian to call my own, with scalloped trimming to boot. But was he nearing, or was he leaving? To what, from what? Perhaps this was his home, just not in the physical sense as parochial Americans perceive it. And just like that, he disappeared down a side street, a solitary silhouette walking into the horizon. I imagine he was headed down to the Mission district, both coming and going.