Arriving as he does every day for the 6:30 a.m. opening, Roy Mottini is Caffe Trieste's most regular customer. But on Monday, he was about an hour late.
Mottini had a good excuse: Not 16 hours before, he had been shot.
The day after he took a bullet to the shoulder from a still-unknown assailant at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Vallejo Street, Mottini was the talk of the tight-knit North Beach.
It figures, since the neighborhood fixture has a longstanding relationship with the police, politicians, poets and others who frequent the legendary Trieste — despite a mental illness that sometimes leads to Mottini showering friends with verbal abuse and, at least once, smashing the shop's window with a fist. But the San Francisco native who is believed to be in his late 60s is mostly known as a harmless eccentric with a severe case of paranoid schizophrenia and exactly one vice — thrift-store clothes.
Discharged from San Francisco General Hospital on Sunday evening, Mottini was in good enough spirits to hold court at the coffee shop Monday afternoon, sporting a purple bruise under an eye and four stitches sealing a gash near his left ear on top of the gunshot wound.
Mottini said he doesn't remember getting shot. He does remember what happened just before.
Mottini was headed south on Columbus Avenue, crossing Vallejo Street with the aid of his cane about 2:30 p.m. Sunday when he started yelling racial epithets at a young black man driving a silver Mazda SUV stopped at a red light at the intersection, according to witnesses and Mottini's own recollection.
“I yelled at him, 'Roy, stop doing that before somebody kills you,' or something to that effect,” said Kim Burrafato, one of the Trieste baristas. “And not five seconds after I yelled it …”
That's exactly what almost happened.
After Mottini took a swing at the car with his cane, the man exited the vehicle and hit Mottini in the side of the face with a handgun.
Mottini then raised his cane to swat the gun away when he was shot, said Chris Holden, who was sitting outside at the corner at the time of the incident.
The bullet shattered a window at Buster's, the cheesesteak shop at the corner.
The motorist sped away up Vallejo Street, past the Central Police Station and toward Oakland, where on Monday police recovered the SUV, which was reported stolen, San Francisco Officer Grace Gatpandan said.
As for Mottini? He wandered up to the coffee shop, yelling and swearing and demanding a place to sit down. It was the responding paramedics who informed him of the bullet wound, Burrafato said.
On Monday, in true village fashion, he sat and received well-wishes from friends and acquaintances as well as total strangers and the local police captain, who arranged for Mottini a ride home to his Broadway residential hotel.
He rode shotgun.