The King of Chorro Street

The 1300 block of Chorro Street sits along the fringe of downtown San Luis Obispo. Ten separate buildings occupy the block, almost all of them older houses. They are houses that used to be homes, places where people returned to at night, places where people ate their meals, raised their kids, and contemplated life on the front porch.

Over time, most of these homes became offices, the refuge now of attorneys, insurance agents, AIDS volunteers and radio junkies—people who desert Chorro Street at day’s end, heading for different homes on different streets in other parts of town. Cities grow. Neighborhoods change. Houses become offices. Time marches on.

Except at 1341 Chorro, where it still seems like yesterday—where dozens of people walk by daily, and for a minute or two, sample the small town joys of San Luis Obispo. They pause to say hello to the wiry toothpick of a fellow holding court on the front porch, chatting with folks from the comfort of a well-worn chair that Archie Bunker would kill for.

His name is Franklin Heidinger and he’s quite a character. I call him the King of Chorro Street.

***

Frank was born in 1910, up in the gold country of northern California. He lived in different parts of the state, holding various jobs, trying to eek out a living. He arrived in San Luis Obispo 30 years ago when his wife took a job as a nurse at General Hospital. Frank was also hired at the hospital as a janitor and he worked a series of custodial jobs before retiring in 1975. He moved to Chorro Street in 1983. He and his wife divorced. Frank has some relatives, but he doesn’t like to talk about them much.

He’s only been to one Farmers’ Market in the last 11 years—too crowded, he explains. A friend once drove him out to the Von’s store on south Broad Street; Frank had no idea where he was. So now his world pretty much evolves around the 1300 block of Chorro Street, living among the offices. Passers-by stop to chat, to sit for a spell with Frank on his small front porch.

Or watch him work. Despite his age, Frank always puts in a full day’s efforts. He usually gets up at 4:30 a.m. Ask him why and the old janitor in him kicks in.  “Somebody’s got to get up and clean this street.”

And he does. Sweeping the sidewalk. Cleaning gutters. Picking up litter. Trimming bushes. Giving the place his personal once-over.

“The street sweeper comes through here in the morning, right as I’m cleaning out the gutters,” Frank says. “I always yell out to him, ‘Hi big brother, my big sweeper.’ I’m your little guy. I don’t think he hears me.”

***

Traffic zooms by as we sit together on the front porch. As is his custom, Frank says hello to a young man heading for downtown. He doesn’t know the man. It doesn’t matter.

“A lot of people stop and talk. I don’t know most of them,” he admits. “A lot drive by and see me, and I think, ‘Hey, you’re envious because I’m sitting here.’”

More are probably envious because of the physical stamina Frank enjoys at 84. He hates it when people comment about his age. “They always tell me they hope they’re in good a shape at 74. I wish they could step in my body for a half hour. They’d see it differently.”

He scowls. “Then I wish they’d stay in there.” Oh, I forgot to mention that Frank can be a tad grumpy at times. He likes people to think that he’s sour and grouchy, but the neighborhood regulars know better. They just play along.

There will come a time when the 1300 block of Chorro Street is nothing but offices. People will come and go, focused on their deadlines, or sales quotas, or shopping lists. All missing the simple joy of walking down a street. Of having your day lifted for just a moment by the older gent slouched in his comfortable chair on the front porch. The one who offers you a smile, a wave, maybe even a handshake, as he bellows out.

“Hellooooooooooooooo. How are you today?”

Never better, Frank. Never better.

San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (1994)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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