Skyrocketing rent prices, lack of space, mild weather and liberal policies have led to a homeless epidemic in San Francisco that’s apparent around almost every corner. And contrary to what small-town conservatives might think, I’ve seen practically every walk of life wallowing in the gutter. Aggressive white kids. Old black guys. A well-dressed lady from India breast-feeding a kid while another sleeps nearby in a stroller. Some are daily fixtures. Some seem to be just passing through. They all make you feel guilty about something—like sometimes not feeling guilty at all.

I don’t have an answer. I’m not even sure where to begin asking questions. But I’ve adopted the routine of a typical, heartless asshole: I don’t hand out money and I generally don’t even engage in conversation. It’s not lack of empathy, it’s more like a general feeling of helplessness.

Tough act aside, my early-morning treks to work are the outings that bother me the most. My rush to get to work coincides with the sleeping schedule of many of the homeless in the neighborhood. The vulnerability and harsh reality of having no place to go really smacks you in the face when you see someone curled up next to a building using a trash bag as a blanket.

Destitute people snoring outside stores full of expensive, mostly worthless stuff is one thing, but it was the absurd irony of seeing a homeless guy sleeping in the doorway of a mattress store that really got me a few days back. Seeing his head resting on the cement while a row of fluffy white princess beds sparkled just over his shoulder sparked a feeling of disbelief and hopelessness that my feeble mind had trouble processing.

I stood there for a second or two and nearly got rear-ended by a fast-moving pedestrian trying to take a client call on the sidewalk. The sleeper began to stir as the fluorescent lights inside the store came on row by row. Life kept moving and so did I—reminding myself to never take my fluffy bed for granted again.

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Subject to interpretation.

Smart phones can be the great equalizer among a wide range of age groups. As long as you’re spry enough to scroll, humans from 3 to 93 can stay connected to a world of digital happiness.

Best case scenario? People from all walks of life have an opportunity can share ideas and cross paths.

Worst case? Lack of hipness leads to an awkward situation. Which is essentially how a Lyft ride went for me last week.

We were on our way to a live show. On a Monday. Balcony seats and earplugs aside, we were ready to rock out like a couple of twenty-somethings. We got in the car and the small talk began.

“Where you guys headed?” asked the Lyft driver.

“We’re gonna go see a band,” I responded, assuming he’d probably never heard of the headliner.

“I love music, but I’m mostly into oldies…” he trailed off with a hint of shyness in his voice.

Surprised by the combination of a young guy and the unexpected genre, I responded enthusiastically. “Right on, man. Me, too. I’m a big Elvis fan. Carl Perkins? Chuck Berry? Even stuff like the Everly Brothers and Patsy Cline. Wow! So cool.”

There was a long pause. As if the poor guy was suddenly deprived of oxygen.

“Oh, well, I didn’t mean oldies like that, I meant like Prince and Michael Jackson…those oldies.”

No one in the car said much after that. Trying to back track and establish any common ground at that point seemed like more work than it was worth for momentary bond. A few days later, I celebrated my 39th with a little Elvis on the turntable. Some true oldies for a guy who’s almost old enough to know the difference, I thought about the kid driving the car and adding some Prince to my vinyl collection.

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Now that I’ve joined the bridge and tunnel crowd that floods into San Francisco each morning, I understand the robotic nature of the downtown population better than ever. It’s a boring, monotonous cycle—commuting to get to some gig at a company. So everyone generally falls in line, heads down, hands in pockets, hearts and minds safely tucked away.

But every so often a random junkie, homeless person or purple-haired office dweller knocks me out of my trance. It’s a welcome distraction from the day-to-day work routine. And one guy I encountered last week found the perfect captive audience at the crowded corner of Market and Beale.

I heard the metallic rumble of his shopping cart as he approached. People stared at their phones, impatiently waiting for the walk signal. He began his performance.

“None of this matters, people! Because…guess what…YOU’RE ALL FIRED!”

There was a maniacal laugh as he sifted through the crap in his basket. He still had 15 seconds.

“That’s right…you…and you…and you…YOU’RE ALL FIRED! FIRED! FIRED!”

Eventually the light changed and everyone rushed off into oblivion, but the whole scene made my day. Technically he was wrong, I wasn’t fired when I got to work, but it was a great reminder that life is never as predictable as you might think.

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The kindness of strangers.

When you have an unpredictable dog in your life, counting on the generosity of others becomes standard operating procedure. Even while that dog may be attempting to hump, playfully bite or dominate the generous stranger’s well-behaved canine. It’s a ritual I know well with Woody the black lab. Contrary to his incredibly sweet appearance on Instagram, he is an animal in the most primal sense.

This all came to a head last week on an early-morning walk. The timing was premeditated—my hope being that we’d avoid other dogs and people. But alas we ran into one of each just as two tennis balls went flying through the air. A situation I didn’t fully comprehend until it was too late, I helplessly watched as Woody went bounding toward the unsuspecting dog and its toys.

Those of you who know Woody’s history, know his taste for consuming objects—especially crushable, edible tennis balls. The routine is frustrating and predictable. He steals the ball and runs in circles until he can get it down his throat. Naturally, he won’t come anywhere near me during the process.

But I was lucky on this particular day. The other dog owner took an interest in the situation (and the possibility of getting her ball back). I talked her through the process of sneaking up on Woody, speaking to him in a soft voice and then grabbing his collar with a firm hand. She executed the moves beautifully and within seconds the glob of mucous-covered, pre-digested ball was in my hand, rather than Woody’s stomach. A $5,000 savings!

I always appreciate the courage of others and especially feel lucky when those people are random strangers. Sometimes things work out. Now I only hope I encounter this generous person again some day so I can express my gratitude and offer to replace the ill-fated ball that nearly resulted in yet another very expensive trip to the vet.

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Coming right up.

The average city dweller makes a number of sacrifices in the process of personal urbanization. Cars and the parking places they require. Indoor space and the square footage dressers, tables and three-ton sofa sleepers quickly fill. And usually, almost always, outdoor space.

Right now, however, we have a whole lot of the latter. Our yard is like a park. An overgrown, poorly landscaped park, but a park nonetheless. We acknowledge our good fortune with regular games of dog fetch, all sorts of potted plants and lots of time grilling. And as the world continues to spin further off its axis, the simple task of cooking meat over charcoal is more than a way to make dinner—it’s my way of finding a little peace on a noisy planet.

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