Drive-by clowning

Pub date July 30, 2008
SectionSF Blog

By Sam Devine

“I sit and watch as tears go by …” –Mick Jagger

It was a lovely day on Columbus Avenue in the heart of North Beach. No one suspected they were about to be clowned.


There was hardly a cloud in the sky and the heat wave had brought a lunch-hour rush of tourists and locals alike to the street-side tables of North Beach. At Café Grecco, patrons sipped coffee on the shaded side of their tables – the first inkling of shade that the awnings would provide for the day. A family chatted while an old man next to them hunched over a newspaper.

The noises of road construction drifted up the hill from Broadway and foot traffic pressed through itself on the sidewalk. A motorcyclist had just pulled his ‘70s model Beamer away from the curb when the distinct, sound of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown” came marching through the gentle breeze.

A white, boxy Scion cruised by, calliope and drums blasting from its open windows. Behind the wheel was a man in a plain T-shirt, probably in his early 40’s, wearing a clown nose and white and black frowning make-up around his mouth.

“Wow!” said a child.

“How ‘bout that?” said his mother.

“You can’t make something like that up,” said a young man nearby.

The old man looked up from his paper, saw nothing, furrowed his brow and then hunkered back into his pages of print.