The 49ers need cash, the people of the city have it, and the challenge is to get the folks to hand some over.
Essentially, then, the 49ers’ plea for assistance in building a new stadium and mall is a sophisticated form of panhandling. Implied in every panhandling transaction are two promises from the recipient:
1. To spend the money wisely, as in, “I won’t buy cheap liquor,” or, “I’ll build a really cool stadium and mall.” In other words: Trust me.
2. There will be an eventual payback, in karma or cash. In the 49ers’ case, cash.
The problem for the 49ers is that similar to the way they came into this deal naive with respect to local politics, they’re also new to panhandling. I think they could use some help. So I went out and panhandled for panhandling tips from the experts.
For a nominal consultant fee, several of San Francisco’s savviest sidewalk solicitors shared their expertise.
“Any advice you could offer the 49ers?” I asked a young woman named Jeannie on Market Street.
“Being a fund-raiser myself?” she said, grasping the concept.
“Looking people in the eye and making them feel guilty,” she offered, looking me in the eye and making me feel guilty for not feeling guilty. “Sizing people up, being intelligent about who’s capable of giving and who’s not. Although sometimes people surprise you.”
The 49ers, especially recently, have been playing the guilt card. Do you want it on your conscience when we’re forced to move to Los Angeles and win Super Bowls for a bunch of movie producers who sit in the stands and make cell-phone calls to vapid starlets?
At the Union Square garage exit, a gent named Cecil has been operating a successful solicitation campaign for the past eight years.
“Just be nice,” Cecil advises. “I just smile. People come at me with bad names, the ‘n’ word; I don’t say nothin’. Goes in one ear and out the other.”
Are you listening, Willie Brown, Carmen Policy and Eddie DeBartolo? Because lately you’ve been getting kind of thin-skinned, snapping back at people who use the ‘g’ word (greedy). You’ve gotta roll with the punches, like Cecil.
Also, Cecil provides a service. He directs traffic at the garage exit, an often-frantic confluence of cars and pedestrians.
“There hasn’t been an accident since I’ve been here,” he boasts.
The 49ers already are onto this one. They’ve hired a new coach who promises to direct the team’s offensive traffic so efficiently that Steve Young won’t be flattened routinely by two-legged trucks.
Maybe there’s a service Eddie or Willie could offer, like reading palms or tarot cards. I see a bleak and empty future for you. I see your beloved football team packing up and leaving you flat, unless …
Another valuable tip: Simplify the message. Near Macy’s, Carlton interacts with passers-by via a cardboard sign, “Hi” on one side and “Smile” on the other.
“I just let ‘em give if they want to give,” Carlton says. “I just ask for a smile. No gimmicks or B.S.”
What kind of reaction does he get?
“Some people give me a hard time. ‘There’s nothin’ to smile about!’ I tell ‘em, ‘Bein’ alive.”’
See, 49ers? Some people naturally are grumpy. You shouldn’t take it personally. Keep waving that “Smile” sign in their faces, and eventually you’ll wear ‘em down. They’ll come to your side. Or they’ll rip up your sign and stuff it into your back pocket.
Actually, a sign might work. An explanation of your plight. “Ran out of money on way to Super Bowl.” Or, “Our stadium sucks.”
Gimmicks can be effective. I haven’t seen this one for a while, but one trick was to carry a large shrub, hunker down behind it, then pop up and scare the tourists, who would either suffer cardiac arrest or laugh and hand over some change.
That might not work for the 49ers, though. These days, too many citizens are packing pepper spray or worse.
How about a wishing well? People are suckers for a wishing well. On Powell near the cable-car turnaround, a young man named Michael sets up a small cardboard “Wishing well” and rakes in, he claims, $10 a day. At that rate, it would take the 49ers 27,397 years to raise the $100 million. By then, Jerry Rice will be retired.
But the 49ers could do what Michael plans to do.
“I’m gonna build a bigger wishing well,” says Michael, a big 49ers’ fan. “They could build one, catch people’s attention.”
Music, of course, is a staple of street-corner fund-raising. The two-man Michael Shaw Band has been pumping out blues from sidewalks of the city for 10 years, and Michael Shaw himself says, “All we ask for is love in the air. Hopefully the quality of the talent will prevail. If not, we ask ‘em not to throw tomatoes.”
Shaw added his own 49ers’ pitch: “They should have a new stadium. They are the city. The city is alive when the 49ers are winning, so help ‘em keep winning.”
He figures the 49ers need a campaign anthem. As we’re talking, Shaw picks up his guitar and writes one, a funky plea to the voters. Calls it “The 49er Blues.”
So get your violin or accordion, Eddie D, and grab your bagpipes, Mr. Mayor, and get to work.
My consultants can hand you guys the ball, but you have to run with it.