One guy told me he’d been working as a plastics engineer in Detroit when he developed marital problems. Following his divorce, he'd decided to take some time off, and flew out to San Francisco for the beginning of a vacation.
He was walking across Market Street in broad daylight when he was blind-sided by a taxi, and nearly killed. He was unconscious—in a coma—for a month, and there was some doubt that he’d even live. He’d been a very fit man, a weight-lifter before the accident.
When he finally recovered, he’d been missed back at his old job with General Motors, and was presumed disappeared or dead. After 5 months in the hospital, he was a shadow of his former self, and he decided to stay in San Francisco for a while. Work was hard to come by, he was on general assistance. He took any kind of part-time work he could find. He was hired by the owner of an old apartment building in the city to sit in a dark basement and shoot rats.
After a while, he developed some mysterious infections, which the doctors couldn’t diagnose. It turned out that while he’d been in the hospital, he’d been given blood transfusions, and he’d gotten the AIDS virus. This was in the early days of the disease, and he tried various kinds of medicines, none of which quite worked. But he persevered, and managed to stay alive.
He’d also been a serious amateur jazz pianist, an interest we shared. He greatly admired Errol Garner, whom he said he heard play several times. He was astonished at how fast and accurately Garner could play octave trills and leaps—one of the hardest feats at the keyboard. He even got a few gigs himself in some dive in the city.
He’d been a polymer physics researcher at GM. He was philosophical about his plight, accepting the hand fate had dealt him. He wondered what might have happened to him, if his wife hadn’t decided to divorce him.