The San Francisco Bushman


David Johnson, pictured, is an allegedly homeless man living in San Francisco.  He is also a street performer who makes, in a good year, north of $60,000 per some reports.  His instrument? Two branches from eucalyptus trees, with greenery intact, each about five feet high, which he hides behind while sitting on a milk crate. His gig? Scaring unsuspecting passersby.

Meet the “World Famous” Bushman.

Johnson’s act is simple — scare people while crowds look on.  The audiences cheer in delight when he succeeds, with many tossing a quarter or a dollar into his jug. Repeat often, return daily, and your income grows. He’s been doing this since 1980, and with over twenty years of experience under his belt, Johnson has become very good at it — here are three videos of him at his craft, getting hysterical reactions from his “victims” while scores of onlookers react in delight, and a fourth of him performing his schtick for a video holiday card on behalf of a local advertising agency.

Of course, scaring strangers on the street is not all fun and laughs.  Johnson has been arrested a number of times for causing a ruckus, but these charges have always been misdemeanors and he has always been cleared.  Also, in order to avoid bodily harm to himself and to prevent accidentally scaring the elderly, Johnson once found it necessary to hire a bodyguard/lookout.

But at $60,000 a year — with few other expenses — perhaps a bodyguard is not a terrible investment.

Bonus fact: San Francisco is regarded as the homeless capital of the nation, with as many as 10,000 homeless people among the 800,000 people living in the city itself.  But one group outmatches the homeless population by an order of magnitude: dogs. According to San Francisco’s Bay Citizen, the city has so many dogs (150,000), they even outnumber the city’s children (118,000).

From the ArchivesArrested, Over 1,000 Times: The story of Henry Earl, another homeless man — but one whose avocation is much less productive than Johnson’s.

Related: “The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United States” by Joel Blau.  Two five-star reviews.

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