All photos by Assistant Photo Editor Michael Ortiz.
The sun baked boardwalk outlining the east harbor next to San Francisco’s Fort Mason is Bob Embrey’s favorite place to read. His closest companions sit below him, quietly panting under the shade of their master’s large shopping cart stuffed with the bulging trash bags of the days gathered recyclables.
Embrey’s toothy grin rarely breaks. Despite his struggles with homelessness, his optimistic attitude is infectious as the locals who pass him call his name with a smile in return. Many joggers, bikers, sailors and walkers have helped Embrey to live a peaceful, quiet life while dog sitting the two Newfoundland’s by the seaside.
“I’ve been here so long that I probably know all the boat owners and everything. Most of the time I don’t have to worry about food because all the boaters and everything, they have parties over the weekends and stuff and bring me back food from everywhere,” Embrey said.
Outside of scrounging what money he can from the recyclables he finds, Embrey stays busy maintaining a good relationship with the community while pet sitting the two massive black animals.
“I am a dog sitter. The owners have males and females. When they go into heat the males fight each other and try to kill each other for dominance to breed with the females. So I keep the females when they’re in heat; that way they have no faults,” Embrey said.
There is rarely a leash to be found on the two dogs, who both stick close to Embrey. They obey every command and call from their sitter’s side. Although locals who reside close to the bay are familiar with Bob and his Newfoundlands, Embrey has experienced several surprised reactions from other people in the city while collecting recyclables.
“I was on the other side of this building coming around. I have them hooked to the cart, I don’t worry about them because they don’t hurt no one. It was just getting light, two joggers, one in front of the other come around the corner. He stops, looks and yells ‘Bears! Bears!’ They took off right on down the park and they’re pushing and shoving and trying to go the other way and I say, ‘Dogs! Dogs! And they’re friendly!’” Embrey said.
Embrey claims to have grown up with dogs throughout his life. Embrey has watched the two Newfoundlands, Piggy and Nike, for ten months now. Both the pooches and Embrey continue to make friends and inspire grins everyday along the bay. Embrey’s story stands out from the majority of the homeless in San Francisco, who typically reside in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood in downtown in the flatlands on the southern slope of Nob Hill.
At the East Harbor, Embrey garnishes a friendly reputation that erodes some of the stereotypes affiliated with the poor and impoverished who can’t afford a living in the city by the bay. Whatever the future holds for Embrey, it appears with his two friends near him and a metal shopping cart filled with uncertainty, that the world will still shine bright another day.