San Francisco 1976: Sleeping by the Dock of the Bay

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If you squint your eyes real hard you can see me sleeping there in my sleeping bag. I actually had a real nice down bag back then.

It me today that I hadn’t been over to San Francisco in over 10 years. Even though it’s only minutes away, right across the other side of the Bay. And I suddenly felt an urge to visit my old haunts. Even as one of my Facebook friends cautioned me that “It might make you cry.” I guess San Francisco circa 2019 might be a bit of a bring-down from the San Francisco of my hey-day, back in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

The first place I’d want to see — as if driven by some homing pigeon instinct — is my old camping spot on the Fremont Street off-ramp. It was a great spot, almost completely hidden away from the rest of San Francisco. And in the year I camped there I only saw 2 other people come back there the whole time. To get there you had to walk up the Fremont Street exit the wrong way. And then walk along this narrow grassy path on top of this steep hill — which was too steep for people to climb up from the street way below. So it was a completely secluded spot.

I camped right underneath the Bay Bridge. Put my pillow right up against the slab concrete pillar of the bridge. Way above my head I could hear the traffic from the bridge, the cars endlessly whizzing back and forth from San Francisco to Oakland. And I had a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay, and beyond that the skyline of Berkeley and Oakland way off in the distance, and this big endless sky over my head. Years later when they built expensive condos on the street below me, a big advertising pitch was “the million dollar view.” Of course I had it all to my own back then, and for free.

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I dragged up a mattress to sleep on. And I even had a little campfire where I would cook up my hamburgers. Something I wouldn’t do now in a million years. But I had the place pretty much to myself. The homeless population was relatively small back then, and they mostly clustered around 6th St. and a couple blocks of the Tenderloin. So they rarely wandered down to my neck of the woods. Though my pal Fearless Frank would occasionally camp in the bushes by the Union 76 tower.
The area was mostly a wharehouse district. So after 6 in the evening when the workday ended, and on the weekend, it was like a ghost-town and I had the entire neighborhood pretty much to myself. It was the perfect spot for me to hang at when I was 19 (in retrospect the only thing it lacked was feral cats). It was a place where I could sit and lick my wounds, and see if I could formulate some kind of a plan for what to do with the rest of my life.

That would be the first place I’d visit if I ever went back to San Francisco. To see if the ghost of Ace Backwords Past was still lingering in the air.

(You can see my old campsite in this photo, it’s the strip of greenery on the right of the bridge, straight across from the Union 76 clock.)

4 thoughts on “San Francisco 1976: Sleeping by the Dock of the Bay

  1. Ever considered what you would do if you had a time machine and could return to that spot when you were young?

    1. Yeah, I often fantasize about going back in time. Or doing my whole life all over again (and THIS time I’ll get it right!).

  2. i lived near there for a few months in 1980 or 81, in an old beer vat, had circular concrete tanks. Built to withstand atomic blast I was told. it was near there. Do you remember an old guy named Bill Meshekey? He was native American, moved back to Dakota I think. We did some rock posters together, he was a very good artist. It was for “Weedstock” a concert benefit for putting legal pot on SF Ballot in 1980. He did some posters for Peoples Park shows also, special lettering. That San Francisco is gone, also Emeryville, Berkeley, gone. I seen the google maps streetview. Makes me sick.

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