Meet Your Vendor: Daniel Peña

I came to San Francisco about twenty years ago ‘cause jobs were kind of scarce for me. I came to California to change myself and find more opportunity and cause I didn’t like the snow too much in Toledo, Ohio, which is where I’m from. I mean its nice to look at from the window but I don’t like to be in it. When I was a kid I didn’t really have a lot of time to myself cause I came from a family of ten. I have 7 brothers and 2 sisters; I’m the seventh of ten children. My mother passed away around the same time as my father got sick. He was a strict father, but he had to be. My mother was a lot more easy-going; she had pretty blue eyes long dark hair, very ivory colored ‘cause she was from Virginia and my father was from Texas and I’m half Aztec Indian on his side. It was kind of a Lucy and Ricky thing. I love my family; we used to have Thanksgiving dinners together every year and I’d cook for everyone cause I’m a pretty good cook.

It was a lot of fun growing up, I had chances to visit aunts and uncles in Virginia. I remember being nine years old visiting my cousin Junior in Virginia (We were both the same age.) and one time he decided to play a trick on me. He said he would show me how to ride a horse. So he’s showing me and I get on the horse. We’re trotting around. I tugged to the right and it goes right, tugged to the left and it goes left, give it a bounce and it goes a little faster pace but then I said,“Junior, how do I get it to go faster?” and he tells me to kick the sides and I believed him. I flew off that horse, and my butt was sore for two days after.

I’ve done a lot for a living. I’ve been a cab driver, I’ve been a truck driver, I worked as a cashier at Burger King, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell. The one that I liked the most was when I worked for Best Western. One time when I was working, the Temptations came in and were staying at our hotel. At that time my bellman wasn’t on duty, so I met the manager and took them to their hotel room, and they liked me so they gave me an $80 tip. That job I liked ‘cause you could give people discounts too so the nicer you were to me, the nicer I was to you! I also worked as a chef and went to cosmetology school for a while.

Something I’m most proud of is writing the article I wrote in the Street Sheet in May 2012.It’s called “Letter from the Street,” and it’s about me living in Oakland and Richmond as well as here in the city of San Francisco. It has a lot to do with having faith cause I’m also a Catholic, I’ve been going to church for 30 years. A lot of people liked it, I had girls coming up to me crying when they read it!

I’m proud of the volunteer work I’ve done; I think volunteering is important. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work at Saint Vincent DePaul in Oakland. Even if it’s volunteering and you’re not getting paid, later on there might be greater incentives. I’m also glad I’m not dead cause I’ve been shot before too, I had a bullet in my foot.

Photo/Robert Gumpert

I’ve got friends all over the city. There’s a man named Chris, he’s gotta be 6’7 who works as a chef at Park 55 who gives me ice water whenever I ask for it. Then I’ve got my friend Suzie and she works in the gift shop. I get around on the block, believe me! Some of my friends are like family to me cause I spend a lot of time with them. I think it’s important to have friends, to have a structure in the community. I’m proud to have friends, it’s not always easy to keep good friends. My friend D just told me about a man named Steve, he works at a laundromat, who will do your laundry for free at nine in the morning on Fridays. I’m glad I had friends that would tell me about that, and now I get to tell my homeless friends about it. That’s true friendship right there.

I ended up leaving San Francisco for a little bit to go to Oakland for a few months. I worked across the street from the Oakland Police Department as a janitor. I liked Oakland a lot better cause the people in San Francisco are, y’know, a little more snooty and over there they’re more calm. When I was in Oakland I was doing more AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings ‘cause you had to do AA meetings every week in the program I was in. I ended up leaving though because my job in the program wasn’t enough money. They paid me $5 a week and that just wasn’t enough since I was still a drinker even though I was going to AA meetings, so it was either that or trying to borrow money from folks which I didn’t like to do. I left that job and got one in Labor Ready where they had me making tree stands for Christmas trees and we got paid better money. One day I got an idea to check out this agency that did temporary services, Certified Temp Agencies. I got a job through them doing outdoor lighting for companies like Kmart and they gave me my own office.

I had moved to Berkeley ‘cause my job ended due to budget cuts, and I was staying at a shelter when my friend said, “Daniel, if you ain’t working, you need to draw unemployment.” And I said, “Well, I don’t really want to draw unemployment, I’d rather find a job.” But I gave it a shot and within a few weeks I had a check coming in. So I just did that for about a year and a half, but in-between that time I moved back to San Francisco and that’s where I met my friend TJ. He came up to me and I was smoking a cigarette and he asked if he could have a cigarette. Next thing I know, everywhere I go I’m seeing him. He was about 22 or 23 and he would not leave me alone, so we hung out for eight years and we hung out almost day and night. Wherever he was, I was. And one day he goes “Daniel, why don’t you sell Street Sheet?” He was already a vendor. I said, “I don’t know,” ‘cause to me it felt like panhandling which I wasn’t into but he kept mentioning it to me so after a week I decided to try. And that’s how I became a Street Sheet vendor.

He coached me for two weeks straight and I give him that credit cause he really helped me out. The first couple times we were down in the Powell BART station selling and he’d be circling around me going, “I can’t hear you Daniel!” I’d just tell him to shut the hell up, which I could do cause I knew him but if anybody else tried, they wouldn’t be able to get away with it.

I ended up coming up with my own ways to sell and it was working out better! I’ve been doing it for almost five years now I think. I’ve written, I even worked the front desk for a while, and I sell Street Sheet.

Some people say I’m pretty and I agree that I’m handsome but I also want people to know that when they walk by me or come up to me that I’m going to say hello and if you stand next to me, I’m going to ask you your name, I’ll believe it, and I will remember it. 

A Letter from the Streets by Daniel Peña

To exist in this world, I’d say you have to utilize your time wisely. A good way to do that is to volunteer at an agency that has a connection to the homeless community like St. Vincent De Paul, Henry Robinson in West Oakland or your church. I volunteered at St. Mary’s Cathedral helping prepare sandwiches for homeless people. I’m currently homeless myself. I stay at Sanctuary at Eighth and Howard. It’s a great place for anyone who needs help.

I believe that God really loves us because he knows there are some really good people on this Earth that He has given us to help us be successful in our ways. If we are sensible, we can be better people.

I believe in helping people to be better in our community. I have lived in Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and now San Francisco. I have volunteered in all those places where I’ve stayed and I’ve gained a lot of friends in those communities. I have great respect for most of the friends I’ve met in those four cities. I really and truly enjoy helping out the communities in those areas.

I also believe that providing services such as volunteering can help people that are in a recovery transition. It would be constructive to their lives and conductive to their treatment. Believe me, I have to say, I’m living proof. Sharing our time with one another is essential.

I just recently visited some friends Jason and Ryan of mine whom are homeless and I’d say that they are in pretty good spirits. They are pretty impressive because you see my friends play the guitar and are excellent with it too! Each one has a unique way of playing the guitar I have to mention that they play at different locations to earn extra money. Some time when you are walking by, take a second to notice them. Pay a little attention if you would and say hello to them and hear the style of music that they play. It only takes a minute out of your day, if you will that is. It’s really nice. I have some friends that are great in playing the Piano also; similar to Bach or Beethoven.

I have spent some time with my friend Tony J. who is one of my significantly special friends in my life who I really care about as a person and is truly a special friend to me. I am trying to get him to come to the shelter but he won’t. I would like to see him off the streets. He is too much more than that to me. I guess he is okay with being outside, you know. So we walked a few blocks uphill, because he wanted to rest in a safe and quiet place, and were worn out. We found one. It was nice and peaceful, you know. We had great conversation and a nice time reminiscing about old times. It was so cool to me and I believe to him also. I really care about my friend so much and God knows what I’m talking about too.

My friend starting singing this rap song and I really enjoy his singing I think he is awesome, you know. He’s got rhythm and soul and he rhymes well with clear meaning in his music. To me, he is one of many hidden talents we have here in San Francisco.