Kelli Christensen's long hunt to reconnect with her homeless father ended at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday when she walked up to a Muni bus shelter in front of a Market Street 7-Eleven store downtown. There, sat a man in an orange baseball cap with his head down.
Her cousin, Caine, who drove with her from the Central Valley that morning to start their two-day search, asked the man for a cigarette -- just to get him to look up. The homeless man raised his head, and after 20 years, two trips to San Francisco, two articles in our paper, a news
segment on KTVU, a Google map created by a SF Weekly reader, and more than
30 tips from readers -- Christensen found her dad, Marty.
"Oh, good lord," Marty said in his typical good-natured grumble, as he stood up to greet them. "And you must be Kelli." She gave him a hearty hug and broke into tears. "I thought you'd be taller," he told her. "The last time I saw you you were three years old in the Fresno Bee sitting on Santa's lap."
"What are you up to?" he asked, then added, "Well, looking for me, huh?"
Marty said he'd been expecting his daughter. Three people had shown him the article in our paper this week about Christensen's search for her dad, one of whom spotted him on the Muni as they read the story.
But Marty doesn't have a cell phone -- and even if he did, he wasn't sure exactly what he would say.
Christensen, 23, hasn't seen Marty since she was a toddler, when Marty drifted away from the family. Her mother recently googled "Marty Christensen" and found SF Weekly's September cover story on the chronic homeless who lived at the Transbay Terminal.
Marty had made his home at the terminal for a decade, settling into a comfortable rut of homelessness. Christensen says she got more than 30 phone calls since we started writing about her search, and she traveled to the city on Sunday morning to -- once again -- follow the leads.
Christensen and her cousin had chatted with some homeless residents outside the Starbucks in Fisherman's Wharf. One of the homeless men claimed he talks to Marty all the time when they are both in the Market Street area. Desperate to find her father, Christensen even showed Marty's photo to a police officer passing by her. They then made a quick loop of Justin Herman Plaza, where even more homeless people said they recognized Marty in the photo.
Finally, Caine and Christensen walked down Market Street, studying all the homeless people around as they headed toward the 7-Eleven where Marty told SF Weekly he always gets coffee in the morning. The cousins had set aside two days in the city to look for Marty -- and they found him in less than two hours.
"I'm glad he didn't turn away and run," Christensen told us today. "He said he didn't know how I'd respond to him being gone for so long. He assumed we didn't want to see him. I think he may have felt guilty for not being around."
After Caine and Marty made small-talk about the family back in Kingsburg, they decided to head to a nearby Denny's for breakfast. They spent the whole day talking, and Marty stayed with the two at their hotel last night -- taking the opportunity to shave and take a shower.
The city had placed Marty in a residential hotel on Nob Hill the week before the Transbay Terminal had closed. But after a piece of sheet rock fell out of the ceiling, the city decided to move him. Marty says he didn't want to relocate, and he instead went back to living on the streets.
And that's where he plans to stay.
Christensen and Caine offered Marty the chance for change: He could come back with them to Kingsburg and live with his brother, Christensen's uncle. But Marty said he'd rather live on the streets -- one of the most vexing problems the city faces in its quest to solve homelessness.
Christensen said she wasn't surprised by his decision -- it's his comfort zone. Marty gave her his P.O. Box number so she could write to him and perhaps plan a family reunion in Fresno.
Although her father's situation won't change, Christensen seems satisfied with the outcome. She was just happy to see her father, who she says is exactly how she guessed he'd be -- friendly and funny.
"Just like his brother -- very outgoing and tries to be funny," she said.
She noted that last night at the hotel, her dad gave her another hug -- but this one was much bigger. "He thought he stank when he first saw me and hugged me. But once he shaved he gave me a hug and big kiss on the cheek," she said.
Today, the three were going to buy a disposable camera, and snap some photos in front of the 7-Eleven in the financial district where they first met before Christensen and Caine head home.
Marty, by his choice, will stay behind on the streets where he has lived for the last 20 years.