Interview of Anti-Bushman: Copycat of the World’s Most Famous Panhandler

RETRACTION – Subsequent research has proved that I have been had.  The man in this interview is not the original Bushman (David Johnson), but rather someone known locally as anti-Bushman, someone who copied the Bushman act.

According to a review on one website, in 2005 “the two crossed paths, crossed words, and came to blows just outside Benneton.  Police arrived, not sure whether to arrest Anti-Bushman for impersonating Bushman, or Bushman for being himself.”

It is the exact same act with the same results, but credit must be given where credit is due.  The man interviewed in this article is anti-Bushman.  Apologies for this reporters gullibility.  The title of the article has been edited to reflect this development.

SF Bush Man (7)

I was back in the center of the anthill.  Downtown San Francisco is a loud and busy place for a country boy like myself.  Everyone seems to be in a hurry, but having a sense of purpose and looking good along the way.  Cabs and buses roar along crowded streets that never seem to quiet down, and the sharp dress of the people bustling along is contrasted with the shabby rags of the homeless hustling on the sidewalks.

This is the home of the world’s most famous panhandler, known as Bushman.  He works on the northern side of the city, in the Fisherman’s Wharf district.  I was a bit blurry, coming off a 3 night bender with foreigner travelers, and weary of the man finding me before I found him.  You see, his bit involves scaring the shit out of you, then wanting money for it.

After taking a cable car, visiting the Pier 39 seal lions, and flirting with some Israeli girls selling zipper-purses, I found someone who pointed me in the right direction.  Bushman was sitting on a milk crate next to a trash bin.  The rare sight of fresh green branches in this concrete jungle stood out.  He sat still and silent behind his camouflage, but it did not take long before he had his first victim, a couple teenage girls, unaware of what lurked behind the bushes.  With a quick thrust of the canopy and a gravely yell, they screamed, then started laughing.  “People give me money for this ya know.” Bushman said, but they walked on.  He would have to wait to get a tip until next time.

I stayed on the sidelines taking in the scene with some photos and video, before approaching.  “Hey, I saw you taking pictures.  People who take pictures usually throw in a couple bucks.” he said.  I tossed in a few bucks, a free drink token from the Ambassador, and a cough drop.  He agreed to the interview, but not until he went on break in 15 minutes.

We sat down in front of the Subway nearby, and the following conversation took place.

Ole Ole Olson – Where are you from originally?

Bushman – Arkansas.  I’ve been here about 45 years, so…[stops talking]

Ole Ole Olson – When did you engineer the whole Bushman routine?

Bushman – Unbelievable, I mean believe it or not yesterday was my 27th anniversary.  27 years…what a way to make a livin’ man.

Ole Ole Olson – I’m not sure if you know this, but you’re pretty world famous…

Bushman – [interrupts] I’m world known, I don’t know if I’m world famous.  Over the last, I’d say 5 years, I didn’t realize myself how popular I had gotten, so in fact if you want to buy a souvenir, t-shirts, dreadlocks and all. [big smile] But if I had known 20 years ago, I would have done a lot of marketing stuff.

Ole Ole Olson – Well, I think you’ve become a fixture not only of the Fisherman’s Wharf area but of San Francisco in general.

Bushman – I am.  People actually do look for me.  A funny story, a couple came last summer and I remember them because for the last 6 or 7 years someone would come from New York.  So 2 summers ago, she said Bushman, you almost cost me a divorce.  Her husband wanted to go to Florida, he said we’ve been there (to San Francisco) 7 years in a row.  She said, no, I want to go back there to see Bushman.  He almost went anyways, and I said don’t blame me!

And a lady from Australia.  She was pregnant at 18 years old.  I couldn’t tell, because I don’t do pregnant people or people with a handicap.  She came back 8 years later and she had a little daughter.  They both came back about 10 years later and her daughter was pregnant, and last summer she brought her daughter…3 generations man.

Ole Ole Olson – Did you induce labor?

Bushman – Oh no, there wouldn’t be no more Bushman.  But ya know that’s 2 of my most loveable stories.

Ole Ole Olson – What’s the strangest, craziest, or most outlandish reaction you have ever got from somebody?

Bushman – A few 14 or 15 year old girls, laughing, having a good time.  The louder the scream, the more reaction and the more tips I get.  So the reason I am where I am now is because across the street they play music and I get up and dance.  So these girls walk by, I threw down my bushes and started dancing.  The girls screamed, but one of them just started shivering and crying.  I mean terrified.  So I went up to apologize and another girl stopped me and said, it’s OK Bushman, she didn’t know and you didn’t know.  They was from Pittsburgh.  2 weeks before a black man had jumped out the bushes and raped her.   I didn’t work for a month.  I mean the thought of me making her relive that…I almost stopped for good right there.  It’s not like I’m going to injure them, I mean there’s a chance, I’ve had one injury in 27 years.

Ole Ole Olson – Did you poke somebody with the bush?

Bushman – No, I said I haven’t had one injury in 27 years.  I pick my victims carefully.  I’m lucky the city gave me a permit, because this is on the verge of being illegal you know.

Ole Ole Olson – Somebody told me you have 42 tickets.  Did you recycle them?

Bushman – Tickets?!  I’ve probably got at least 280 citations.  I didn’t keep all of them, but I kept at least 200.  I think all of them actually went to court, the DA threw most of them out.  One of them was assault and battery with attempt to frighten.  (Another was) littering, leaving leaves on the sidewalk.  Public nuisance. [contemplates more]

Ole Ole Olson – I think it’s counter productive for them to do that, because you’re a fixture of San Francisco and a lot of people come here and you’re one of the things they want to see the most.

Bushman – Most of the tickets were in my first 10 years.  Now I have a permit and a business license, so they can’t cite me anymore.  I have an agreement with the city and the police here, if I get more than 2 complaints in a day, I quit for the day.  That’s just a bad day, you know?  Many people probably don’t know this.  I’ve been doing this 27 years, and my wife is a 24 year police officer.  Can you believe that?!  Opposites sure do attract.

Ole Ole Olson – I bet she can get you off the hook sometimes.

Bushman – Never.  Anything you do you have to put in your badge number, because in the past wives and cousins and friends, they fixed it so you wouldn’t get tickets, but now you can’t do that.

SF Bush Man (5)

Ole Ole Olson – What’s your given name?

Bushman – Gregory Jacobs.

Ole Ole Olson – How did the four winds blow you into this place originally?

Bushman – Believe it or not, I was a professional football player with the St. Louis Cardinals.  I’m telling my age now, but I was a third stringer so I wasn’t getting much playing time and the salary wasn’t that great.  The World Football League was throwing money around, so I jumped to the WFL.  In fact, I played in Memphis with Tom Cook, Chip, [Paul] Warfield, the whole Miami Dolphins and part of the only team to go undefeated [in 1972].  It lasted about 2 seasons then folded.  Then I got a trial with the 49ers, that’s what brought me here, that was in the 1970’s.

Ole Ole Olson – I assume now you have a roof over your head, but when you were starting out were you living on the street?

Bushman – No.  I was a Chef at the Cliff House, one of top 4 best restaurants in the city.  I was in the bar one night, I had closed down a couple of bars so I was lit up pretty good.  It was kind of overcast, some misty rain, and a lot of fog in the air.  So when I got home and tried to open my door, it had swollen up and wouldn’t open, so I had to bump it.  I had hedges by my door, and some birds flew out of those bushes and scared the living shit out of me.  I mean dude, I’m half drunk.  Later on I was taking a shower and I couldn’t stop laughing, and was thinking if any of my neighbors saw me, it had to be the funniest thing in the world.  I said, a-ha!

Ole Ole Olson – Lightbulb?

Bushman – Lightbulb.  I was in stitches.  The next day, after I got done with my shift at the clubhouse, now I’ve refined it and I tell jokes, but that’s how the Bushman got started.

Harry_Perry Venice Beach strand 2Ole Ole Olson – There’s a lot of interesting panhandling gigs on the street.  I was living in Europe when the the very first living statues started appearing, and now that’s exploded, it’s everywhere.  Then there’s Harry Perry down in Venice Beach, that’s a very original act, but I think your routine takes the cake.  I know your break is almost over, so just 1 or 2 more questions.  What’s the most unusual tip you ever got?  Any girls flash you or guys give you a bruise for a tip?


Bushman – I was in front of Joes Crab Shack when it was Bobby Rubino’s.  Very slow night, I had $11 the whole night.  There were 2 tables with 8 people in the whole restaurant.  2 men came down and put something in the tip bucket.  They had on overalls and were a bit grungy looking, ya know?  After they went back up, I looked down, and I had $211 dollars.  Two $100 bills.  I said to myself, I’m going go wait for these guys to come back down the steps.  That totally made my night.  Eventually they came back down, and I reached out to shake his hand.  He pulled it out of his pocket, shook my hand, and I felt something.  He said you enjoy this and have a good night.  You don’t know how much entertainment you gave us tonight.  I looked down and it was an ounce of some of the best marijuana I’ve ever smoked.  They was from Humboldt County and had come down to make a delivery.

Ole Ole Olson – That’s like a tip on top of a tip.

Bushman – I said you want your hundred dollars back? [raucous laughter].  I’ve had phone numbers.  I’ve had girls drop their room key in the bucket.

Ole Ole Olson – Sweet.

Bushman – I went on one, then I thought, well I got leery, ya know?  I mean I make ya laugh, then you want sex too?

SF Bush Man (11)


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