Tale of the Gutter: Off the Road with Donny and Dave
I mentioned them at the end of my last column, but let me officially introduce Donny and Dave. I met these two fellows up in the mountains a few weeks ago. Donny walked up first, and by his shuffling stroll, disheveled garb, and red-rimmed eyes, I presumed him to be a quintessential gutter punk. He was shitfaced at 2pm, trading swigs from a plastic bottle of vodka and canned Keystones. He approached me and my friends in this park where we were hanging out and asked us if we had any rolling papers. We did not, but someone handed him a pipe and he sat down and muttered non sequiturs and jabbered nonsense at us and to himself for a while before I really struck up a conversation with him.
I kinda wrote him off initially. He was, in fact, the kind of “creature” I alluded to (however offensively) with my first column. He was burly, dirty, drunk, bumming beers and cigarettes, bitching about the ticket price to the weekend-long festival we were waiting to get into and talking about jumping the gate or sneaking in somehow. He sat with us for a few hours as we killed time together, and we ended up having a long talk, he and I. Informal interview may be more apt. I told him about this column and drilled him with questions, most of them personal. He was eager to talk but when I pulled out my camera, he was definitely not having that, explicitly asking me not to take his picture which, of course, I obliged. His short story is this: He grew up the son of Bay Area hippies who were an extended part of the Grateful Dead family, and has spent the majority of his adult life in hotel rooms, living the transient life of a tour kid, following any number of hippie jam bands (the Dead, Phish, String Cheese Incident). He was the kind of fixture on the scene I used to be awed and be intimated by during my singular forays into that tour culture as a teenager, reverently wondering how the hell these kids managed to make it on and off the road for months, years, on end.
Only Donnie is no “kid.” He is in his 40s and is married, though he leaves his wife behind, at home (where that is was never quite defined) because he apparently can’t stand her constant blabbering. He spoke of his “sickness”, one less ambiguously known as “alcoholism.” He never once used the word “drunk,” as noun or adjective. He simply said he needs to wake up with a bottle of booze in hand, or he gets really sick. He was friendly and warm, if crude and unintelligible at times, and I was finding myself commiserating with him when he talked about the abuse the street kids on Haight face as a result of profiling. I told him my side of living in a neighborhood rife with aggressive young panhandlers, but agreed that stereotyping against them is pretty fucked. I admitted I was guilty of it myself. I don’t think he judged me for it, but who knows. By this point, we were pals.
After witnessing a friend suffer real, physical abuse at the hands of the cops in a liquor store on Haight, Donny allegedly was a contributor (or co-writer; he was not being very clear about his actual involvement) of a “front page” San Francisco Chronicle expose which accused cops of unjust abuse and harassment of gutter punks. This was all before the sit/lie law. Despite my thorough online searches for said article, I couldn’t find it, but that certainly doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Maybe Donny was a voice of his people. He is no dummy. Nor was his friend Dave, who joined us later, with pot to share and a pit bull to pet. He had an especially sweet and open demeanor. I liked these guys. They humanized the gutter punks for me. Though we weren’t talking on the sidewalk outside my house, they had all spent time on that sidewalk. Not to bum money. To bum rides.
Gutter punks? Now I think not.