They Do It the Hard Way: San Diegans who refuse to modernize

Deep-blue collar

“You’re in public, in front of a store, and you make a lot of noise, and you start doing a show, and these people, well, you’d think they’d wanna watch, but instead, they don’t even look. Like, you’re going to try to mess with them or something?” Does he think that by not looking, passersby will feel zero obligation to cough up any spare change? “Probably,” he says, “but not always.” Darker forces are at work: “They’re meaner here than they are in other places.”

Bremerthon comes off at first as clear-eyed and friendly and highly intelligent. But after a few minutes, a reporter detects an edge. He is guarded. One gets a sense that one is being sized up. According to Bremerthon, it is the job of a street magician to be friendly, but to project an image that people won’t want to mess with. He talks about downtown drunks wandering into his show and wetting themselves, about people trying to take his money.

“This is a living. Yeah. Definitely. Have you ever heard the term ‘busker’? That’s what we call ourselves,” he says of his fellow street performers. “There’s a lot of us, you know? And, we’re working for a living. One of the first things we try to banish is the concept in people’s heads that we’re panhandling.”

Born in Oceanside, Bremerthon says he left home at the age of 17 and migrated south. He found residence in downtown San Diego. “I went to college for welding — for two years, actually. And then I realized I was a better salesman than a welder.” He found steady work in the malls at kiosks. “I like this better,” he says of being a magician. “This is what I want to do. I didn’t like any of the other jobs that I’d had.” He says he was, at times, homeless.

“I was unemployed for about six months. Then I saw a guy at Seaport Village named Jim Talks-a-lot. He’d been doing street magic for a long, long time. He kind of became my mentor. He’s someone who has almost led our organization.” An organization of street magicians? “We don’t have meetings and talk about stuff, but there’s this group of street magicians, you know, and we all know each other.”

Bremerthon admits to being the only one of the group who works the traffic medians. But instead of a cardboard sign, he has an oxblood suitcase that reads “Magic Show.” While the left-turn light is red, he stands in front of his temporarily captive audience and makes things, such as a blue silk scarf, disappear and reappear. “Everybody asks me if I can pull it out of my ass.” He laughs. Does he oblige? “Never.”

“The rudest thing that ever happened to me at a median was when one lady unbuckled and actually stood up on the seat of her car and leaned over the window and flipped me off.” She’d gotten stalled at the turn light while a patron a few cars up dug around in her purse for spare coins. “No, it didn’t hurt my feelings. I used to be a salesman.” He giggles. “Come on.”

Joseph Bremerthon performs some of his act.

Bremerthon works two or three select traffic medians in La Mesa through all manner of weather, including winter chill, rain, and East County summer heat. “His neck goes from white to purple to red to brown,” says his girlfriend. He works in a vest over T-shirt and jeans and a gray fedora.

“Police have run me off the median quite a few times. A couple of beggars tried to put me off my work spot, too, but I don’t let them. If they were there first, I’m okay with that, but I’m not confrontational. You know what I mean? It’s how I make a living.” He says he tries to earn $50 a day. Can he and his girlfriend live on that? “Barely.” They use public transportation and they share a cell phone. Rent on the shack comes to $600 per month. “We’re behind right now. But it’s all good.”

He says he plans to be a street magician for life. “I picked the street, because it’s the hardest place to do magic. I knew I could get better at my craft [at the street level] than anywhere else.” He says he practices all the time when he is not working. “My act is close-up and with no gimmicks. Everything I use in my show was gotten from a Home Depot or a Walmart. Okay, I got a [fake] thumb. That’s really the only thing that came out of a magic store.”

“When the question comes up, and it does,” says professional matchmaker Elle France, “I establish immediately that I don’t date my clients.”

“When the question comes up, and it does,” says professional matchmaker Elle France, “I establish immediately that I don’t date my clients.”

The Matchmaker

Elle France lives in Rancho Santa Fe. She could pass for a model, even a rock star. “Steven Tyler’s sister. I hear that all the time. It’s my mouth. I have a big mouth. Not what comes out of it, but big in shape.” France is alert, and perhaps a touch wired. “I’m very hyper. I move around a lot.” She laughs easily. “I pouf my hair a lot.” She does. “I’m not an incredibly social person myself, but I love people.” A contradiction in terms? “Yes. I like people, but I like to get in and get out quick.” She does not waste much time on small talk. “I’m very intuitive.”

Retired after a decade of working for No Fear clothing, France works now as a professional matchmaker. She is self-employed. With her glam air, she seems precisely the type of person one would want as representative for the sourcing of their dates. What man, in fact, would not actually want to date France herself?

“When the question comes up, and it does, I establish immediately that I don’t date my clients.” But she admits that the fine art of matchmaking encourages a certain level of intimacy. “They [the clients] tell me things that I know they wouldn’t initially tell their dates, so our relationship definitely takes on a whole different meaning.” Her clients are well-heeled and spend upwards of $10,000 for her services. “I’m like a sports agent, only better, because I know how women think, and they don’t.”

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The "street magician" needs to get a job.

And $10K for a matchmaker?!?!?! I have to wonder exactly what that buys you. All the matches you want until you get married?

This was a brilliant article! I read today while getting outpatient treatment at Kaiser. I love the small and purposeful businesses. It isn't really about modernization as much as it is good hard work, values, and keeping things authentic. Life cannot be lived on a playstation! Studio Engineer and Fish Monger my favotires!! Cuz, well, I love sustainable music & food. I would LOVE to see a fish market in SD!!! When I was a young adult in Sacramento - my favorite market was the one on Saturdays 6 a.m. - 9 a.m. under the freeway - fish, flowers, and produce - that's it.

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