Bushman Remembered

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In 2006, I told a friend that I had officially become a runner, and that my regular route would be from the financial district after work, along the Embarcadero, over to Fort Mason, and then back to the financial district to catch my bus home.

A more veteran runner with Embarcadero experience, my friend said, "Watch out for the guy who hides behind tree branches and jumps out at tourists!"

The next day, forgetting all about my friend's warning, I took my first run on the Embarcadero, ignorant of any crouching human trees. I was shocked when an apparent sidewalk shrub started growling, and a human figure emerged from behind what was only a pair of leafy tree branches, arranged in such a way to hide the man while he'd been crouching.

The jumping tree man got me. I jumped up and screamed.

Last week, I read the jumping tree man's name. Gregory Jacobs was in the news, which reported that he had performed this feat for 30 years. From his plot of sidewalk on Fisherman's Wharf -- the most touristy spot in San Francisco -- he had spent decades shocking the guts out of people for donations.


Many called him the Bushman, but few reportedly knew that he had an associate, David Johnson, who held the bush while Gregory told jokes to bystanders. Fifteen years ago, the two had a falling out over money, and worked separately from then on.

But that wasn't the whole story. Gregory died two weekends ago from heart problems that had hospitalized him multiple times before his death.

I've been running regularly along that Fisherman's Wharf stretch for the past eight years. One might think I'd have acclimated to the jumping tree man at some point. But on more days than not, my runner's high rendered me unguarded by the time I arrived at his post.

He didn't choose me every time, and sometimes I was ready, creating sufficient distance to protect myself from being a target. But I'd say he has jumped at me about 10 times in all those years, yielding his intended effect with every jump.

Gregory, I will miss our little game. Our city has a tree-branch-shaped hole now, and my running path won't be the same without you.

With a Perspective, I'm Katie Burke.

Katie Burke is a family law attorney and writer in San Francisco.