If you go down to the Wharf today, you're in for a big surprise...
March 5, 2014 1:18 AM   Subscribe

If you have been one of the thousands of tourists drawn in every day to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, you may have been walking down past Tarantino's restaurant, taking in the tourist-trap sights, when one of the bushes on the sidewalk -- come to think of it, the only bush on the sidewalk -- suddenly jumps at you while growling. Congratulations; you are the most recent wharf-goer to fall victim to The World Famous Bushman.

Wharf visitors have been surprised by one of two men, Gregory Jacobs and David Johnson for the past 36 years. One of the most unique busking concepts in the wharf area, what appears at quick glance to be a bush is in fact a man crouching by a trash bin holding tree clippings; as visitors pass by, he shakes them and yells, startling the visitor. While this seems like a pretty simple trick, the amusement of seeing someone else fall for the same thing you just did has a certain resonance; Jacobs reported an annual income of $70,000, although he may not be the most reliable narrator.

Not everyone on the wharf has been supportive of the act; in 2004, in response to business complaints, a number of public nuisance charges were filed against Johnson; the DA eventually dropped the case.

While Jacobs started out over 15 years ago as an assistant to Johnson, the two had a difference of opinion and began working separately, with Jacobs recently being accused of aggressive panhandling and lewd remarks. Last week, he passed away at the age of 60 of a heart ailment. David Johnson continues to lurk behind his bush, startling new visitors to Fisherman's Wharf.
posted by Homeboy Trouble (19 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I see what you did there... you static klingon...
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:24 AM on March 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

Seriously; first Worf, now woofing at the Wharf. I fully expect a post on warp and weft in the next hour.
posted by resurrexit at 1:30 AM on March 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

This is some serious worfing! Is there an accompanying gif?
posted by Edgewise at 1:34 AM on March 5, 2014

The Mods are still gaining on us. Worf/WORF/Whorf/wharf/warf Factor 5, Mr Hulu.
posted by pracowity at 1:39 AM on March 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

The only time I've ever raised a fist in anger: walking to In-N-Out, having seen this scenario play out so many times, I still nearly run into a random piece of shrubbery on the sidewalk. I had my fists up in a "no, fuck you!" posture before I even realized what was happening or what I was doing.

I'm still disappointed in myself, though animal-style cheeseburgers do take away the pain, somewhat, but slowly at that.

RIP, Mr. Jacobs.
posted by hototogisu at 2:30 AM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I remember him from back in the late eighties when I lived in North Beach. Hell, this was even before the sea lions took over the docks there. You only got caught once of course and it was more a jovial "damn, suprise human" type of startle than a "the call is coming from in the house" terror. I'm sure there are those that didnt appreciate it but it was more fun than those fake jaywalking ticket charity jerks.
posted by vapidave at 2:32 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Among the complaints made to the police by people who have sustained injuries after being ”bushed” have been the man who suffered a heart condition being “half scared to death” by him, a retired woman who fell back and twisted her ankle and another woman who jumped back and smashed her mother in the jaw.
What fun! Let's give him money to encourage this!

posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:11 AM on March 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

What fun! Let's give him money to encourage this!

I have some bad news about literally everything that is fun or enjoyable.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:13 AM on March 5, 2014 [13 favorites]

the DA eventually dropped the case.

It would seem that the DA only dropped "the case" after failing to convince a jury that the guy was a public nuisance.

"Nonetheless, now that a jury has cleared Johnson, chief Assistant District Attorney Russ Giuntini said "the community has spoken," explaining why his office decided to pull the plug on the remaining complaints."

That, of course, doesn't explain why they inserted the plug in the first place, but still.
posted by three blind mice at 4:23 AM on March 5, 2014

Lulzy derail attempt aside, here is your animated gif.

I also remember first experiencing these two in the early 90s during a visit to the City with my cousins from Marin. Ever since then, the Bushman has held a special place in my mental image of the city that I love so dearly. I have fond memories of hanging out across the street a few times when I was in university, just stopping for a while to watch the scene play out with both clueless tourists being spooked and those savvier spook-proof folks who were more aware of the world around them.

I never actually realized the Bushman was actually a two-man act which then diverged into double Bushmen, so these articles are really interesting, thanks for the post.
posted by KatlaDragon at 4:38 AM on March 5, 2014

What fun! Let's give him money to encourage this!

On one hand, after watching the aggressive panhandling news report of Bushman 2.0, I agree that the new guy was getting a bit carried away, and yeah, I wouldn't ever have given him money. But on the other hand, as the Chronicle notes, the original Bushman has mellowed out in recent years, and:

... he still provides a service when he jumps out and scares people.

"It's a valuable lesson," Burns said. "You're in a big city - you can't trust the bushes."

posted by KatlaDragon at 4:43 AM on March 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yelp: The Bush Man is permanently closed

And on the point about the legal case against the Bushman eventually being dropped:

That, of course, doesn't explain why they inserted the plug in the first place, but still

Kamala Harris, who is currently the CA Attorney General, was serving her first year as DA of SF at the time and was arguably working to establish her political cred, as she was still widely thought of amongst city residents as former 'Da Mayor' Willie Brown's long-time girlfriend. In 2003, she was campaigning for the post amidst the mayoral race to succeed Willie Brown, which was an incredibly intense and close race between Democrat Gavin Newsom and Green candidate Matt Gonzalez, who inspired all this passionate support amongst idealistic younger voters who were previously not at all politically active, in what I later came to see as a foreshadowing of Obama's success with this demographic.

The result of this extraordinary support being expressed for a third-party candidate triggered a desperate response from the Democratic Machine that just barely saved them the election, with incredible amounts of money being spent and Bill Clinton sent in at the 11th hour to drum up support. So there was a lot of big-(and small)-business-political-donation money floating about at the time, and while I don't know anything about how well the Harris campaign did in this political climate, I do remember being less than surprised to later discover that the DA's office was pursuing charges against the much-loved World Famous Bushman on behalf of Fisherman's Wharf business interests.
posted by KatlaDragon at 5:34 AM on March 5, 2014

posted by leotrotsky at 6:11 AM on March 5, 2014

KatalaDragon: That was a crazy election. It was bizarre and enlightening (unlike that Walking Dead episode - boo Netflix blurb writers!) to see the relative shift of Democrats to Republicans and Greens to Democrats, in terms of just how far left SF was at the time. Care Not Cash, anyone? Newsom still makes me scowl.

As for Bushman, he will forever have a special place in my heart for making my stepfather scream like a small child.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:34 AM on March 5, 2014

Flagged as WharfFilter, and WorfFilter, and hilarious.
posted by Mister_A at 6:47 AM on March 5, 2014

When I was in SF, I wandered into his area, and stopped to figure out why an old man was crouching on the sidewalk with a moving branch and a tip jar (it didn't see like much of a gimmick), only to be yelled at by a crowd of giggling people watching from across the street to KEEP MOVING so as not to draw attention to him. That's when I realized it was a spectator sport.

This was a year ago, and he did not yell at anyone, just mildly shook his branch and caused wee little startles.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 7:26 AM on March 5, 2014

posted by larrybob at 12:09 PM on March 5, 2014

This dude jumped out at my kiwi-samoan friends and yelled "welcome to america!" at them, they were so stoked.
posted by supercrayon at 3:31 PM on March 5, 2014

I watched this guy for awhile from across the street a few years back. My main question is, how does this guy not get the living hell beaten out of him every day by the people he scares?
posted by hearthpig at 7:48 PM on March 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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