Andrew had been sitting beside his cooler on the Dolores Park bench for just a few minutes on Saturday when a man walking down the path approached him. The guy knew exactly what he was up to.
“You sell some ice cold beer?” he asked.
Andrew did, in fact. He, along with many other vendors, comes to the park for the crowds that form on busy weekends. The passerby bought a beer from him and asked Andrew, jokingly, if he accepted Bitcoin.
“Not yet,” Andrew said.
But it wouldn’t be that outlandish, not in Dolores Park, where some regular vendors even have their own Yelp pages. Andrew might have been the least elaborate seller in the park that afternoon. Another man, who declined to be interviewed, was selling bags of Starbucks coffee, arranged in a semi-circle on the ledge by the 20th street J-Church stop.
And not too far away, on the hill overlooking the playground, another man had an elaborate set-up: he crouched in front of two coolers, which formed a sort of makeshift bar, as he mixed drinks with the rapidity of an expert. Beside him were five jugs of juice. He wore an apron and even had a laminated menu with at least 10 tropical-themed drinks on it, including a Caribbean rum punch and a Hawaiian rum punch. Prices ranged from $15 to the $32 “fishbowl.”
(“You get a lot of drank!” the menu claimed.)
When he finished mixing, he poured the drink into a hollowed-out pineapple, popped a couple of colorful bendy straws into it, and handed it to a patient customer, along with a plastic lei and a pair of sunglasses. The customer paid him via Venmo.
The vendor, who declined to be named, comes to the park every weekend. “If it’s not raining,” he said. He said he invented his drink recipes through a long process of trial and error.
“People always say, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen you,’ and I’ve been coming since September, so they obviously don’t come as often as I do,” he said.
When asked if he made a lot of money, he said, “Not much. Just enough to make ends meet to live in San Francisco.”
Most of the vendors I spoke to were weary of revealing their identities or being photographed; without a license, they risk being fined.
This happened once to a man who introduced himself as Chris when he was selling comic books in the park one day. Today, he patrolled the flat, northern part of the park, his hands full with canvasses. On weekends, and some sunny weekdays, he drives up from Half Moon Bay, where he lives, to sell his art.
“On good weekends, I’ll make over $100 bucks,” he said.
Sometimes, he said, he sets up shop by the playground and lets children make their own art. He makes money from tips the parents give him.
On the canvasses were colorful cartoon characters. He’d also painted over a couple of records. He planned to sells these $40 dollars each. “Really, it should be $250 to $300,” he said.
But Dolores park is a good spot, he said. Sometimes, he also sells whiskey. As he said this, a bottle of it fell out of the pocket of his hoodie.
Meanwhile, others in the park hoped to use the case of beer they’d brought as a bartering tactic. The four members of the folk rock band We Arsons had set up shop on the hill facing Mission High School. A guitar rested in the sun, a drum kit—and a case of beer. They had a camera set up on a tripod. They were filming a music video, they explained, and had come to the park hoping to get shots of people dancing in exchange for beer. They’d even taped a sign to the light post:
So far, they’d filmed about 10 people, Greg, one of the band members, explained to me, including, he said, some French tourists, another group who’d driven up from Southern California and a very shy dog who kept turning away from the camera. Right now, they were taking a lunch break, and lounged in the sun with some Bi-Rite sandwiches.
“We’re about to go search the park and try to bribe some people,” Mike, another band member, said.
A man—who was wearing a lei and sunglasses from the man selling tropical drinks—came up to them.
“Hey, what are you guys doing?”
The band explains their concept, and the guy nodded excitedly. “We’ll talk, we’ll talk,” he said, before heading down the hill.
“Bring friends!” the band yelled after him.