My view from across the street.

They were surrounded. From afar, I couldn’t tell what all of the hullabaloo was about. I moved closer and stopped on the sidewalk.

Across the street, a man wearing a red jumpsuit was teetering on the top of a ten-foot ladder. The ladder was free-standing. With incredible strength and skill, the man was balancing on the ladder while his team member held a unicycle—also ten feet tall—upright in front of him.

This wasn’t your usual street performance. I walked across the street.

The men had on headsets and were bantering back and forth, joking with the audience. “Don’t try this at home, folks,” said the man on the ground. “Try i’ at school—then you can sue your teachers if you ge’ hurt,” said the man in red. He had a thick British accent. The audience laughed and gasped as he began “walking” the ladder forward—arms pumping at his sides as though he were running—and moved from the ladder to the unicycle, torso falling forward, then backward, trying to find his balance on the seat.

When he was stable, a woman in black moved the ladder to the side.

“What’s the matter?” said the man on the ground.

“It’s a bit windy,” said the man in red. He pointed to his friend’s baggy pants. They were flapping in the breeze.


Making the switch

“Oh?” said the man on the ground, sarcastically.

“I’m just saying.”

“This is San Francisco.”

“I know, but . . .”

“These people are wanting a funny show, and here you are talking about the wind!”

“Have you seen how tall this is?” The man in red motioned as though to offer the unicycle to his partner. He began spinning around in circles.

“Oh, forget it.”

“You started it.”

“Did not.”

“Did too!”

“Anyway, folks . . .” The man on the ground was not to be put off. “Seriously, now. Don’t try this at home. We do this all the time. We’re pro-fessionals.”

The man was flapping his hands like a bird. “That’s why we work on the street.

The audience laughed.

The man on the ground pulled three batons out of a bag. “Have you ever seen someone juggle?”


Juggling knives.

The crowd nodded.

“Good, well then we can just skip this part, then.”

More laughter.

“Just kidding. Here we go . . . But you gotta help him out! Everyone put your hands together!”

As we watched, and attempted to clap (the man in red called us “white people”), Awolnation‘s “Sail” came over the loudspeaker, and the man on the ground proceeded to throw the man in red first batons and then one-and-a-half-foot (45 cm) knives, both of which he juggled adroitly atop the unicycle . . .

At the end of the show, the performers told the audience that they were a brother and sister from England, and a crazy guy from Massachusetts, who were studying acrobatics in San Francisco—at one of only five schools in the world—and that they did these shows to help pay their way through school. And my heart immediately jumped in my throat . . . I didn’t have any cash. But I wanted to give something. These guys deserved it! And so I rummaged in my wallet for some coins—I couldn’t leave without giving anything—but I left feeling . . .


I walked as far as Ghirardelli Square—jostling through crowds, eying crab and fish tanks, wondering if I was the only person wandering around San Francisco alone that day—before turning around. I had to get back to my car, which was parked at the opposite end of the Embarcadero, and I knew that I was getting sunburned. As I got close to Pier 39, however, I suddenly had an idea. The man on the ground and lady in black were still in their spot. There was an ATM directly in front of me . . .



“The man in red” (Alex) dismounting at the end of the show.


The man from the ground (whose name, I learned at the end of the show, was Kevin) looked surprised.

“I . . . I didn’t have any cash earlier, but I wanted to let you know how impressed I was by your show.” I held out a $20 bill.

“Wow. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

“So, uh,” I was struggling to think of something to say, “your school is right here in San Fran?”


“I have a similar dream—writing—so I think that what you guys are doing is awesome.”

“Thank you,” said the woman who was sitting right by. “We really enjoy it.”

“Riding? Like horses?” asked Kevin.

“No, no—writing. Like,” I made a motion like I was writing on paper. “I . . . I know that it’s not exactly the same, but just the fact that you’re out here going after what you love is really great to me.”

“Thanks,” said Kevin. He looked tired, and the wind was making our conversation difficult.

“Anyway . . . Well, the best of luck to you.”

“Thank you, and good luck to you, too,” said Kevin.


I left wishing I were better at making small talk, but happy to have been able to make my small contribution. $20 isn’t much, though maybe it seems a lot to give to a group of street performers. But, somehow, I didn’t mind. The world needs more dreamers, and these dreamers had put on one hell of a show.

Apparently these guys are pretty well known around Pier 39. Here is a video clip from 2011. I guess one of the brothers was missing in action the day I saw them.

Images: Mine

29 thoughts

    • Give myself a hug, huh? I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work…

      And yes, before you say anything, I’m up late again. I’m up late often these days, so don’t worry too much. ;)

      But, yes, I hope my contribution meant something to them. I don’t have a lot of money these days, so $20 was a lot for me to give! But, like I said, either way, it was worth it… More and more, I’m seeing that the conventional life is not what I want. These guys were anything but conventional, and I wanted to support that!

      • When you tell me “don’t worry too much”… I worry too much! Do you see what time it is!? :-o

        “Convention…” ahh, my arch nemesis.

        Go to bed NOW Jessica! ;)

      • When it’s a million degrees out during the day, and you’re a freelancer, there’s little reason to follow a “conventional” schedule. I worked out between ten and midnight tonight, lol—and it was still hot! Besides, I guess I’m preparing to go abroad again. I’ve made up my mind. It’s just a matter of when… But, “Yes, Dad,” I’m turning out my light. ;)

      • Point is, I’m getting ready for the time difference ahead of time! Lol. But, no. I’ve actually been trying to get on a more regular sleep schedule. Didn’t sleep long last night so maybe it’ll be easier to go to sleep earlier tonight.

  1. To all the dreamers out there, this story is for you… :-) Very well written and captivating. SF is a great city, made great by dreamers I suppose. Have a good week!

    • Thank you so much, Randall. Something tells me you’re a bit of a dreamer, too… I hope you’re having a wonderful week, as well! Did you enjoy the typhoon?

  2. I’m sure I saw this act at the International Busker Festival in Halifax, Nova Scotia a couple of summers ago. You should really check it out, it’s a lot of fun.

    • Really, Danny? Nova Scotia, huh… I’ve never been there. Would *love* to go… Thanks for the recommendation—and for stopping by! It means so much! :)

  3. Where are you intending to fly off to, little bird? Lol… Getting ready for time difference ahead of time, really :p Love the video, they are amazing. And small talk, you did better than me :) I usually give up and walk away, too shy to talk to strangers.

    • I know, Sam! I’m silly! I’m thinking South Korea, but sure yet. I’ll probably be stuck in the States for at least another six months… Glad you enjoyed the video! Not only are these guys incredible athletes, they’re also pretty funny! Thanks for reading, as always… :)

  4. such a lovely story – i watched them perform on video Jess… amazing! it was super thoughtful of you to withdraw the $20 after leaving there … I would have felt the same as you… I hope they appreciated it! x RL

    • At the end of the show, they’d commented that they’d grateful for any contributions, but that if we gave them a $20, they’d go home with us! Lol. Obviously they were kidding, but like I said, giving them something more than just pocket change just felt good. There’s just something about doing something nice for someone else…

      Thanks for reading! Much love to you! Jess

  5. The accent was fun to hear; they sound like they are from ‘Lahn-dahn’ (London), and cockney’s at that! I would have dug deep, too, so good for you for helping them out. Hoping a little of your heat wave reaches Old Blighty’s shores: We’re still at 16 degs!

    • I agree—I love their accent! Of course, I’m not trained to pick out different British dialects by ear… I would LOVE to live in the UK and learn more, though! In fact, I think that that is a dream that has recently been added to my bucket list.

      Also, I’m trying to send our weather your way! I’d be happy for 16 degrees!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  6. Very generous of you to give $20 to them. $20 seems like a large amount to donate – it’s sort of equivalent to about 2-3 lunches ;) It always is hard to make small talk or start up conversations with strangers and people on the street, even when they seem like nice people…somehow it makes you feel intimidated.

    • Yeah, I wouldn’t ordinarily give that much money. This was an exception. And, I know! I guess it’s hard to talk to strangers because you don’t know what you have in common so often don’t have any idea in which way to try to steer the conversation. It’s a lot easier to talk to someone if you know at least *a little* about them; also, when they’re expecting you to try to talk to them. I think I totally took this guy and girl off guard!

  7. San Francisco is the ultimate street performer playground. I was walking down Market Street one afternoon, and there was a guy sitting there, strumming an acoustic guitar (not skillfully). I stopped to chat with him and found out he was not a street performer. He was just a guy who lived nearby, and he was teaching himself to play guitar. He said it was boring to practice in his apartment, so he came down to the street to play. As he was sitting there, absently strumming, a suit walked by and dropped a $20 in his guitar case. That was well over a decade ago, before the economy tanked, but I suppose a crappy guitar player on Market would still be worth a $5 spot today.

    One night, a friend and I decided to hit the street and sing some love songs to Jesus. I grabbed my guitar and she her violin, and we kept our cases hidden so nobody would think we were looking for handouts. When we were done, there was several dollars in change setting at our feet. Hopefully, Jesus thought more of our music than the passersby. :)

    Great post. I got one coming up that is inspired by some of your recent ones.

    • That’s really funny that someone was simply practicing guitar on the sidewalk and people thought he was a street performer! In San Francisco, though, what would you expect? Your comment actually reminds me of my previous post, “heartless, or…?” where my friend Matt said he had an uncle who was a street bum by choice. It’s true that, in some cities, you can make quite a few dollars by working on the street!

      That’s really neat that you and a friend would sing for Jesus on a street corner. I have some friends who are starting churches in Japan and do the same thing in Tokyo. There, I guess it’s illegal, but they do it until they get chased away! I wondered if in SF street performers claim ownership of certain spots? I would think so…

      Looking forward to your post! I’m glad you enjoyed this one. :)

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