Gay travel agent dies
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Even as Jonathan Klein's depression, housing troubles, and other problems finally overtook him, the beloved Castro travel agency owner sought to help others.
"An hour before he jumped off the bridge, he was thinking about people," Peter Greene, who launched Now, Voyager with Klein almost 30 years ago, said Tuesday, April 9 – one day after Klein, 61, apparently plunged to his death from the Golden Gate Bridge.
"Through everything, he kept helping me in my situation, even though every day must have been torture for him," said Greene.
Greene, who frequently broke down in tears Tuesday, said that Klein, who was gay, sent an email Monday morning "that gave some indication he was going to do something."
But "even in his last moments," Klein was trying to "make it easy for everybody," Greene said. He had even closed out the most recent sales report for the business, at 4406 18th Street, so that Greene wouldn't have to deal with it.
After he received his longtime business partner's last note, Greene called the police.
"I told them he's probably in his car, and I suspect he might go out to the bridge," he said. "I guess they found him out there shortly after."
In an email to the Bay Area Reporter Tuesday, Lieutenant Keith Boyd, assistant chief deputy coroner for Marin County, said, "We are working a case involving Jonathan Klein ... who is a suspected suicide related to the Golden Gate Bridge."
Greene and Klein met on a gay bike trip in China in the early 1980s and started Now, Voyager, which is named after a Bette Davis film, in 1984. Klein bought out Greene's half of the business about 20 years ago. Greene lives upstairs from the agency and had continued to help Klein with the work.
At one time the bustling travel agency had five employees, Greene said. It was an exciting time as gay men and others could look to Klein's knowledge in booking trips, including gay cruises.
The convenience of the Internet brought challenges for Now, Voyager, but Greene said people were still "flocking" to the business, drawn by the expertise of Klein, who had been a leader in the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.
"Jonathan still came to work every day and held the hand of everyone who needed help," Greene said. "His combination of smarts and kindness kept people walking in the doors for almost 30 years, even in the age of online travel."
Klein lived on 17th Street in the Castro for several years but, after being threatened with an Ellis Act eviction, he took a buyout. (The state Ellis law enables landlords who want to go out of the rental business to evict tenants.)
After the move from 17th Street, which Greene estimated was in the fall, Klein had lived in his Palm Springs home and also stayed with friends. He had just moved into a new place in San Francisco's Bernal Heights neighborhood, Greene said.
Greene repeatedly highlighted his friend's depression, which he said Klein had lived with since childhood, and he also indicated that Klein had struggled with getting older and bad financial investments. The mix presented "a perfect storm," Greene said, but despite everything, "most people had no idea he was suffering."
Passion for travel
Upon learning of Klein's suicide, longtime friend Audrey Joseph said, "I can't imagine why he would do that. Jonathan was the most not depressed human being. He was always happy." Joseph, an event producer and San Francisco entertainment commissioner, had traveled with Klein to Thailand and other countries.
"Traveling the world was his passion," she said.
Joseph recalled meeting Klein when she first moved to the city, around the time Now, Voyager opened. She was buying her then-girlfriend a ticket to return to New York.
"I just walked over to 18th Street and went into Now, Voyager Travel and met Jonathan," she said. "We became fast friends."
When Klein, who she said was diagnosed with HIV years ago, would have problems, "he'd kvetch to me like one little old Jew to another."
State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), said of Klein's suicide, "This is tragic news to hear."
"I've known Jonathan for many decades, initially as we each started our own small business at about the same time," Leno, who is gay, said. "He loved his work. He provided a great service to his clients and to the community. I always knew him to be a perfect gentleman, and this is a great loss for all of us."
Greene said that Klein loved the opera and classical music. He had a strong baritone voice, his friend said, and had once sung with the professional men's singing group Chanticleer.
Greene himself is facing housing displacement. He said the building that houses Now, Voyager and his apartment has been sold. He hasn't been evicted from his home, he said, but he's been given relocation money. Greene, who indicated he has until May 9 to leave his apartment, had planned to stay with a friend in Palm Springs, but he now seems unsure of what he'll do.
Klein left Now, Voyager to him, Greene said, but whether the agency stays open "remains to be seen, because we don't know what's going to happen with the rents in the building."
Information on a memorial wasn't available as of late Tuesday afternoon.