“I must be Peter Pan,” Guy the Flower Man says. He’s standing on the corner of Noe and 15th Streets, the same corner he’s occupied for the last 38 years. A rainbow of flowers surrounds him – roses, lilies, orchids, irises, carnations, sunflowers, peonies, tulips and dozens of exotic blooms.”
Guy’s corner is only a block away from Market Street, one of the busiest thoroughfares in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, but it’s a quiet oasis. There’s a green leafy canopy over this head, usually sprinkled with sunshine and the cheerful conversations between Guy and his customers keeps the corner lively.
“Every day out here feels like the first day,” Guy Clark continues. “I’ve had two heart attacks and a stroke, but I still can’t wait to get out here every morning. I sweep up the corner and arrange the flowers. It’s a production and I enjoy every minute of it. Flowers all have different fragrances and can put one in a trance.
“It’s amazing how being on the corner has kept me involved with the community. People come by and share their lives with me. They tell me their joys and hardships, their philosophies, stories of their families and children. Some of them bring me a morning cup of coffee. I see so many diverse people, all of them speaking from their hearts - beautiful people, walking their dogs or out with their friends and children and sweethearts.”
Guy is a generous soul, giving away flowers to children, older folks and patrons low on cash. “I hope I don’t sound crazy, but I’m a spiritual being in human form. I studied music, thinking of becoming a jazz singer and took business administration in college. After graduation, I decided to travel around Europe. I worked for the British Army in Berlin, went to a language school in Paris and hitched from Norway to Greece. In Athens, while I was working for an advertising agency, I stayed with a person who lived across the street from the Temple of Zeus. I mentioned all the flower vendors around the square in Athens. He said, ‘If you go to someone’s house, you bring flowers. If you’re thinking of someone, you give them flowers.’ I thought that was a nice way to live – giving flowers to the people you care about.”
After getting back to The States, Guy settled in San Francisco. He bought nine buckets, filled them with flowers and set up a stand on the corner of Haight and Fillmore. As he was closing up on his first day of business, the police came by. “They were very friendly and told me it was great to sell flowers, but maybe not on this particular corner. ‘See that guy across the street, with his arms folded across his chest,’ they said. ‘He’s standing in front of his flower store and he doesn’t appreciate the competition.’ A friend, who was helping me, drove up in his pick up truck and the cops helped me load the flowers into the truck. We drove around the city until we came to the corner of Noe and 15 th street. I told him to stop. I unloaded the buckets and went into the medical lab on the corner. I asked them if I could set my stand on their corner. They said it would be lovely to look out the window and see flowers. One of the women who worked there told me I’d need a permit. She helped me get down to city hall and fill out the forms. That was 38 years ago. I feel like is was cosmically ordained.”
Clark found an apartment on Noe Street and a neighbor rented him a garage to keep the flowers in. With all the development going on in the city, he was recently evicted from his apartment and garage, but another neighbor let him have space to store his flowers. He now commutes from a new apartment every morning. “I still get fresh flowers almost every day,” Guy says. “As long I stay focused on what I’m doing and share the flowers with the people, it works. When greed is involved, it doesn’t work, but the spirit tells me how many flowers to buy and, if I get too many, I give them away to hospitals and bars. I’d rather give them away, than throw them away. The spirit inspired me to sell flowers and I’ll be on this corner as long as I’m able to stand up.”