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Q & A with Del Seymour, Tenderloin Expert and Walking Tour Guide

Del Seymour

Del Seymour photo by Carly Schwartz

Originally published as part of My SF on Huffington Post SF

Nobody knows the Tenderloin like Del Seymour knows the Tenderloin.

The 65-year-old Army veteran landed in San Francisco's center cut some three decades ago and has seen the area from all angles: as an addict living on the streets, as a taxi driver, as a husband (for only fifteen minutes--his self-described "Hollywood marriage"), as a volunteer at one of the many service organizations.

Ask Seymour anything about the 50 square blocks, from the architectural inspiration behind the now-shuttered Hibernia Bank building to which street corners are preferred by which drug users, and he'll eagerly launch into a long tale. He reads every local paper and knows everyone he passes on the sidewalk, whether it be a politician or police officer or hotel worker or homeless person.

Three years ago, Seymour launched Tenderloin Walking Tours, a free guided trip through the neighborhood, as a new outlet for sharing his encyclopedic knowledge. HuffPost SF decided to tag along on a recent sunny afternoon.

Over coffee at A Temporary Offering's pop-up cafe, he told us about his own journey west, the origins of his one-man operation and his hopes for the future of his beloved neighborhood.

You're originally from Chicago. How did you end up in California? I came home from the service in 1969 and it was 31 degrees below zero, 16 feet of snow on the ground. I went straight to the airport and asked for a one-way ticket to California. The ticket agent asked me if I wanted round trip and I said, "I'm never coming back! Do you see that snow on the ground?"

When did you first come to the Tenderloin?
I bummed around from job to job and got into the street scene...selling dope, using dope, drinking. I woke up one day and was in the Tenderloin. Don't know how I got here, but here I was in the Tenderloin. I loved it. I never left.

What made you love it so much?
I'm from Chicago, which is a street city. It's as urban as you can get, with the rusty El trains going through, the drugs, the gangs. I'm real sharp from the streets, so when I got to the Tenderloin I became the sharpest of the guys. These California guys dont have the street knowledge that I have. I loved that I was sharper than everyone.

Were you instantly on top? At one point I lived outside in a six-by-ten refrigerator box. But after I got sober I became real self sufficient. I had a lot of, what do you call them, hustles. And when you get some money you can do one of two things...you can move to Beverly Hills and be the lowest guy on the pole, or you can move to the Tenderloin and be the highest guy on the pole. Which would you rather do, go there and get stepped on, or come here and step on everyone else? It was good.

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