The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review


Monday, October 3, 2016

Delta Snake Review: On The Road With Al and Ivy - Oct. 3rd: A Homeless Journal


"What flattering scenes our wandering fancy wrought...each finding, like a friend...and from each contact new strength and light..."

- Alexander Pope (selected lines from Epistle To Mr. Jervais)

...when a man's fancy turns to food...

I often contemplate food of course, and have realized that "burning out" on food is really a psychological thing...I'd have quit eating spam a long time ago but now it's just a matter of good food the canned stuff for last, when there's no more food and the thought of spam with mustard and ketchup spooned out of the can with a hobo fork becomes fonder than a thanksgiving memory...people joke about how men think with their johnsons, but everybody is a slave to their stomach, and when the fare becomes rare and simple, your body won't betray'll all taste like chicken...

...seeing how the other half lives, life by the river...

One road that leads down to some night its pitch black and not visible unless you know it's there.

There's no actual entrance to the levee area, just some holes in the fence with the actual entrance several hundred yards's a dry riverbed, and quite deep and must have been quite a sight in it's wetter days. All rivers have life, and it's now a refuge for the younger homeless crowd. It's isolated, pitch dark at night, and well away from other camps that shelter an older crowd that sometimes harbor predators.

Closer view of a camp. It's visible from the bridge so it's not revealing a hiding place (I avoided taking close ups of camps). This site will have to be abandoned when the rains come as it's next to a large water run off pipe that's over six feet in diameter.

On one side is the riverbed which has a gravel road separating it from the main tree line, the other side is mainly orchards...there's small trees in the riverbank which are obvious camping spots. When you walk along the road, it becomes obvious how the camps are organized, with the most dense areas along the fence treeline, and scattered little camps in the riverbed. The population looks to be around one or two dozen, and it's mainly a crash area to sleep...there's some signs of permanence...a mattress here, clothes laid out to dry here there, even some books, with the greatest concentration near the actual entrance near a farm field.

This is a view heading the opposite way, towards the actual entrance to the levee in the fence line, which is along the other side of the gravel road.

I'm crossing the area during the day...the scattered spacing tells me it's small groups or couples substituting space for walls and it's just common sense to not enter any of the camps at night...same camp rules as out west during the 1800s; plus I can't see needles in pitch darkness and other items that are often dirtier than you can imagine. During the day, most of the inhabitants are gone. I mainly wanted to see what the place looked like, not look in on their private lives. I avoided close ups for that reason.

It's an ok area to crash in during the hot summers here, the nights are mild, but that's changing with the under the bridge and other places will become prime real estate when the rains start.

Some will head over to the seasonal shelters that open up in the winter, but the young women will tend to move on or only go if they have a male partner capable of protecting her...some shelters are pretty rough places for any young woman.

Most are here because of the drug scene, of course, and live like this because they've often sold everything to keep high (and eat)...I've been told that there's slummers here, that come by to join in the scene from the respectable side of town, and are welcome because they bring money and more than a little of the drugs consumed here.

I mention it because it is a fact of life, and I don't judge it here...I read here and there about drugged out homeless and hear the comments about responsibility and so on; yet society lets celebrities and the wealthy skate with the reasoning that it's a sickness, etc., so I tend to cut homeless drug users the same slack...particularly the young users; there's still a lifetime there not wasted yet. There's no point in writing them off because they're homeless...a more accurate term would be runaways that have fallen this way, out of the reach of what drove them here.

...a little bit of knowledge is dangerous - part 1...

I avoid giving certain types of advice in this blog, as generalizations are often wrong or even dangerous...but there's statements in these journals that could be taken as advice, or should be qualified.

Also, there's a lot of well meaning advice given by the old hands that isn't supposed to be taken as gospel or is just plain wrong.

Rather than write a book on the subject, each blog entry will have some info on what the media or other homeless give out as conventional wisdom.

The most common advice, from my experience is where there's "a good place to park and sleep," or where "the police are cool." In the media, it's often where to go to get services like a shelter.

The subject is frankly a book in itself, but worth covering in parts.

The key thing to remember when some homeless person turns you on to a good place to park and sleep is that the info has a "stale date" and any place mentioned is really a fluid situation. In other words, sometimes the place is good, sometimes it's not, and you often don't know till you get there and try to spend the night.

The reason is that there really isn't such a thing as a good place to sleep. 

Every inch of land in this country is owned by a private party or the government. I say government instead of "public" because even being a taxpayer/citizen doesn't mean one can sleep at a location.

It means that for any number of reasons, people are getting away with sleeping here or there, and that could change any time.

The most common place mentioned is Walmart parking lots, and most no longer allow overnight stays. My experience is that most Walmart employees could care less, and more than occasionally are among the homeless, but the stores are often under lease, and both the city and property owner don't want the homeless there.

Same with the police. They have a hard job to do, and chasing down people in their cars and RVs generally doesn't lower the crime rate all that much and they're smart enough to know it. A homeless murder will get plastered all over the media and cause public concern over "homeless crime," but the fact remains, at least in this country, you're still most likely to be killed by someone you know.

One thing a city government will do is pass stringent ordinances aimed at the homeless, and allow the police to practice "compassionate enforcement," and say that the ordinances will be enforced mainly against the trouble makers and gross violations.

Which is just and humane, but never forget that the public at large is a factor, and if a property owner files a complaint, the police have no choice but to act, though luckily most will just make you move along.

This compassionate enforcement policy also makes police action on the spot a judgement officer might pass you by, another might cite you and stick you with a fine to pay.

When I look a spot over, I'm not worried about the police, they tend to be the kindest to the homeless...I check out the people and neighborhood. That means both the people in the area, and the homeless there. If there's a lot of transients parked, it's generally a place that's become OK to sleep at least a night.

The question that runs through my mind is; do the homeless there appreciate that that area has become a seam in the fabric of the law, or are they like a concert crowd that always has a segment that flouts the law? 

If it's crowded with vehicles, are the people being quiet and sleeping or is there a lot of hanging out, music blaring and partying?

If so, if I can see it, so can people passing by, and it's an area that's at the end of the boom-bust cycle and is going to be shut down.

Don't be like the media and a lot of the public and assume that the homeless are some homogeneous's always going to be a mix of personalities, some good, a few bad...some areas stay quiet a long time, others will get too many of the wrong people and there'll be trouble. 

I remember once being told (by a non homeless) that we were all in the same boat and are brothers, which could only have been said by someone with limited experience with the homeless. There's many who would lend me their last quarter, and some who'd steal the shirt off your back, and I've seen a homeless person robbed of everything except his pants.

The question of a "safe place" is tricky...there's conventional wisdom to go to a shelter, for example, but every car homeless I've talked to who went to one won't go back unless they lose their vehicle. The reason is that many are full, and you can't get in, and some are flat out drug you have to park the car to go in, in an area that might have the transients who couldn't get in hanging one place three car homeless had windows smashed and items stolen just going up to San Francisco to try and access services there. 

One was a middle aged couple, and had to tape garbage bags over the rear window. We were at a place that got very cold at night, and it was sad to see them having to make do with plastic bags and extra clothing to stay warm.

I'm not saying every area is bad, though there'll probably be some that'll see my statements as validation for their perceptions; the point is, people know to be aware of their environment at night to reduce the risk of being robbed or accosted...the same rule applies to a homeless person.

There's been areas where the place was crawling with backpackers and vehicles, and I still felt safe enough to leave my dog in the car and go shopping for food...there's been other areas with a sparse crowd, where I looked around, and decided not to stay.

I won't even say that it's due to some experience or instinct...for all I know, I've just been very lucky.

There is some common sense involved. I never park near a dumpster or garbage can at night. Scavengers often come by and being asleep in an area with foot traffic isn't a good idea. In fact, I won't go to sleep until it's clear that the spot isn't close to a common path or transit point for foot homeless. 

I once parked in a place and found that it was a common short cut to a homeless camp. That was early on when I did silly stuff like sleep with the windows down, etc, and often found people looking in, asking for money, etc. 

The Ivy Corner: Shih Tzu Sleep Habits

Shih tzu's have the reputation of being couch potato dogs that don't anything and can seem that way to the casual observer who can't process nuance.

Is Ivy mediating or sleeping? Probably both...

The fact is, they're probably more active than your average NFL fan sitting in front of a TV or mall shopper, though I may be splitting hairs here.

Ivy has several R.E.M. states, from deep sleep that can last ten hours, or short naps taken between events...sort of like me except that I rarely can manage ten hours sleep...she likes to switch back and forth between the two beds in the back seat, gaining some cardio benefit as she hikes between those, which helps build up the stamina to chew food and go to the bathroom.

There is the snoring; most dogs that have short snouts tend to saw logs as they sleep, but I rarely notice because of my habit of wearing earplugs when's a mercy that convinces me there is a God.

Ivy turns day into night...

I'm sure someday that science will unlock the Shih tzu mystery and we'll find that Ivy's dream will rival the complexity of a James Joyce novel. Until then, we wonder at the serenity of the Shih tzu mastery of sleep...


Monday, September 26, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Sept 26th: A Homeless Journal of Sorts


" satiate gluttony,
peacocks in coops are brought
Arrayed in gold plumage 
like Babylon tapestry rich.
Numidian guinea-fowls, 
capons, all perish for thee:
And even the wandering stork, 
welcome guest that he is,
The emblem of sacred maternity,
slender of leg 
and gloctoring exile from winter,
herald of spring,
Still, finds his last nest in the--cauldron of gluttony base..."

- Petronius Arbiter (The Satyricon)

The whole foodie trip isn't a new phenomenon. Mankind's upper crust has always found a way to make food more expensive, and many traditional dishes have their origins in making the less desirable parts of an animal edible after the privileged had taken the best cuts.

The best example is the soul food classic, chitlins, which were cooked intestines, and sausages, which were essentially everything the maker could get away with stuffing into a empty intestinal membrane.

In the case of lobster, it's transition to a premium food was due to a shift in taste. It was originally considered a bottom feeding lowlife, like catfish, and as a result was a very cheap meal in East Coast taverns in the 1700s...catfish is traditionally served with a peppery batter which originally was intended to hide the flavor of mud. 

Having had the scintillating experience of eating wild catfish, I think that the proper amount of pepper should be enough to numb the taste buds, any less will result in the sensation of sticking your tongue in a mud puddle when eating the non-farmed whiskered fish.

The ancient Romans would find today's foodie dishes a bit plain, with it's emphasis on "healthy" fare that is sending many fish species on an accelerated path to extinction, turned common nuts into the equivalent of gold nuggets, and made chicken more expensive than beef.

Food has always been tied to social status, and only in America would a piece of raw fish on a slug of rice cost so much. Our hamburger and fries is the modern day fish and chips, which also costs a lot as nowadays that traditional English poor man's food actually uses fish...the original fare wrapped in actual newspaper used the otherwise undesirable skates and rays that were caught up in the fishermen's net.

One of the most common homeless images is of a destitute man fishing through a garbage can looking for scraps to eat. Before the advent of garbage bags, plastic carry out containers and laws forbidding the sale of spoiled food, rummaging through the trash for a meal must have been a pretty grim experience.

It still is, though from what I've seen, it's really more a search for carry out food still in bags and containers than raw scraps. The scavengers may be desperate, but I haven't seen one hungry enough to eat raw garbage, but this country is affluent, so today's trash is more amenable to low rent foodie pleasures.

One source of left over carry out food is other homeless, but that's seems to be changing as the average cost of a MacDonalds meal has gone up to seven or eight bucks. The smarter scrounges watch the garbage can and go over when they see a new lunch or dinner bag being thrown away, fish it out and check for leftovers. The night owls check specific receptacles near restaurants and will move quickly from one to another.

Most homeless I've met try to eat me, they'll often eat less to be able to afford healthier food. 

There's a practical reason. 

When you live in a car or tent, the last thing you want is the trots at 2am. That rules out Taco Hell, Kentucky Fried Heart Attack, and Murder fact, most fried food, Thai cuisine, pizza (sob), and cheese whiz.

Most men think about sex several times per minute...I fantasize about pizza and chili cheese dogs...when I reach for a "prophylactic," that means a preventative dose of pepto bismul before eating beans with BBQ sauce.

It helps to be on a diet and exercise regimen. Ivy and I walk about two miles every day. Ivy assists in making it a better workout by allowing me to carry her 13 pound butt for about 1.5 miles of that distance.

Hunger is real, very real, but a good part of it is psychological, and setting a weight loss goal makes the slimmer fare seem more by design than compulsion.

When I finally leave the homeless life, my first act will be death by pizza... they say about glass houses...

Another vehicle greets the morning with windows's an empty RV that's been in a lot for four weeks, parked away from the trees, out in the open, which indicates that the owner is just storing it there. It's position puts it under the store's security cameras, though the guy has to be smart enough to realize that management isn't going to devote even a second of security involvement for liability reasons...probably just figures that the cameras will deter any vandalism or theft. 

What's more interesting is the guy's took a couple of days for him to realize some windows had been punched out, and once it was clear that the RV was targeted, it was moved closer to the store and what appeared to be a posse of friends in cars and RVs formed a loose ring around it and stayed for a few days...a drama occurring in that lot with the rest of the world around it going about it's business.

I avoid the area, of course, a vigilante group that is so focused that it forgets it's on private property is a bunch that'll act without caring about the consequences. It's a lawless sentry perimeter formed in response to a lawless act of vandalism, just a gang in adult clothes, and probably being laughed at by the vandals who've probably returned a few times to admire their handiwork from a distance.

Any vehicle just left in a lot is eventually going to be vandalized. A Volkswagen that was apparently abandoned in a nearby lot sat there for months, and was gradually stripped till it was sitting there without wheels before finally being taken away.

Some homeless will store a second vehicle in a street or lot, but will rarely leave it unattended for long. They'll go off and do their thing during the day, but come back and sleep next to it at night...others will literally stay in an RV and only leave it to buy food, etc., not simply out of apathy but because any vandalism would probably be permanent due to a high insurance deductible policy (or no coverage, which would also see it gradually develop windows with garbage bags taped over it, etc).

The best way to avoid vandalism is to be constantly on the move from place to place. In my case, it's to never hang out where I intend to sleep, to avoid being seen in a place all day and night...a sure sign that one is "living" in a place and breaks the tacit agreement with any tolerant management, which is, "don't stick it in our faces."

Some chronic RV homeless will go from place to place, staying till they're kicked out, often retaliating by dumping garbage and sewage on the pavement (though some just do it out of habit as they don't intend to return)...they may seem like an angry bunch but it's really just a more showy state of apathy, being bounced from one place to another, often returning to lots they've been kicked out of, waiting around till the latest 86'ing sends them on their way. 

Just a bunch of rudderless boats swept by the current and wacking into every rock and sandbar along the way.

...Ivy's story, part 2: socialization...

Shih Tzu's have the amazing ability to nap anywhere...

Ivy grew up for three years in a cage, and it did affect her behavior. For one thing, she didn't see other animals besides Shih tzu's and as a result, would just sit and stare at other animals, or even ignore them...cats were puzzled by her...she smelled like a dog but would just sit there or ignore time Ivy was talking a nap on the floor, snoring loudly, which brought three cats in one at a time, creeping up and sniffing her, then they'd sit there and stare as this small dog who had slept through the whole thing.

Ivy seen here after pushing the blanket off the leather seat...she loves to lounge on leather upholstery

One of the early things I noticed about Ivy was that she was comfortable in cars and loved long car trips, which she spent mostly sleeping...she learned quickly that a bathroom stop would end as soon as she was through, so developed a routine of acting like she was trying to find the perfect place to pee as a way to get a longer break...I indulged this, as with any of her little routines as a way to encourage creative thinking and it's generally cute to see...the funniest routine is when she fakes taking a pee in order to get an extra treat (positive reinforcement to encourage going outside). Ivy still doesn't get that a one second squat isn't a convincing show of making water, but it is hilarious and worth an extra with a dog is really about such things anyway...

Ivy showing her usual reaction to being ordered back into the car...she counters by waiting till I come around to pick her up, though softening the blow to my status as master with a cute smile...

I once read that Shih tzu's are manipulative dogs that try to train their masters, and it's probably true...they have the will power to overcome normal conditioning techniques like letting them go hungry till they finally eat the dry dog food, and letting them bark all they want but they still have to stay in the frickin' car dammit...Ivy no longer just barks to get out of the night in a mall or garage, the windows have to be closed or she'll stick her mouth out and bark till security comes...I've been able to locate my lost car in a packed place many times because of this...

As far as dry dog food...I remember once seeing a bowl of dry food laid out for another dog, and as I explained to the people in the room how difficult it was to get Ivy to transition from canned food, she walked up to the bowl and ate half of the contents...luckily the bowl belonged to a male dog that just sat there and stared while Ivy ate his dinner...she still won't eat dry food on demand, but seems willing to eat cheese crackers and pretzels...small steps...


Sunday, September 18, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Sept. 19th: A Homeless Journal of Sorts


"More heavenly than those glittering stars we hold the eternal eyes which the Night has opened within us."

- Novalis (Hymns To The Night)

...small business and the homeless...

One of the most common areas of conflict is between small boutique businesses and panhandler/homeless groups.

One primary reason is that the concept of the small business has widened and changed with the advent of malls, superstores and the Internet.

Small business used to also sell necessities; whether it was groceries, prescriptions, clothes or tobacco. It didn't matter if the street had a bum or two hanging out, the customers still needed to come.

Today many small brick and mortar businesses are specialty goods or boutiques, and are often in locations where the optics and atmosphere are important to spur impulse sales from tourists or upscale customers.

This can come into conflict with panhandlers whose income ironically depends on optics, but in reverse. They need to spur spending by creating a picture of hard reality, the opposite of a carefree holiday with an air of prosperity and free spending.

What can cause conflict isn't only a homeless population that has too many aggressive panhandlers but also who don't understand the type of small businesses that they're coming into conflict with, who would react and feel that their livelihoods were directly affected by their behavior.

In a town like Gilroy, which has homeless wandering around on their Main Street, you generally don't hear complaints from the owner of the archery and bow hunting shop. The reason is that the business has a specialty that attracts enthusiasts and isn't dependent on walk up traffic.

In a place like Santa Cruz, most of the Main Street businesses wouldn't survive one hour next to a Walmart. Those businesses are geared towards upper class customers and tourists who might see a nice item and have the disposable income to drop a hundred bucks or more on a pair of unique sandals or blouse. 

It's a purchase dependent on the leisurely ambiance of the street and the mood of the customers. If the buyer doesn't like what's outside the store, like a lot of loud and aggressive homeless, there's nothing compelling enough in that store to prevent a simple change of direction to another place of business.

This isn't to say that the business has trivial goods, it's just the nature of the tourist/leisure retail industry.

In the case of Santa Cruz, there was an incident where one of the owners, who had apparently been sympathetic to the homeless, spoke up publically about the disruption of business and drew an organized campaign of harassment by homeless groups who parked themselves outside the person's store. 

The homeless must have had among them people who understood that the businesses there were owned by independents who had much to lose by anything that repelled tourists, but really had no say in what was really a mob action that was an economic attack dressed up as a social protest.

The media characterized it as organized almost along the same lines as a political rally, but it was more like a demonstration that was dominated by it's most aggressive members. It was the usual tendency to simplify the image for a newsbyte.

It's arguable that the small business community were tolerant of the earlier homeless who hung around, but practiced benign neglect until the homeless population got too large and it led to conflict.

The reality is that the larger the homeless population gets, more diverse personalities enter the mix, and panhandlers in particular find themselves competing with each other for the same territory or income that used to go to one or a few. That can create competition and behavior that's always interpreted as aggression.

I remember talking to one hard experienced pandhandler, and he told me that one location used to yield up to two hundred dollars a day in donations. Then, he added, the word got out and then there were ten people working that spot, and the amount of money drastically dropped because of the numbers involved but also due to people getting turned off by the agressive ones in the group.

The Santa Cruz homeless were really individuals that grouped into an area and didn't most realize or were sensitive to the fact that they were in an area with upscale and tourist businesses and that the owners would be acting more aggressively if their presence seemed to be hurting business. 

Many probably saw them as wealthy businessmen who were in an ecosystem that could support them no matter how individuals among them behaved. 

It's an oversimplification on the part of the homeless, seeing things in stereotypical class terms, and mistaking the high priced goods as a sign of easy prosperity, and not a reflection of the fragile nature of boutique and tourist oriented retail, which is generally under heavy pressure from high commercial rents and fluctuations in sales due to the ecomomy. It's not a trivial concern to be worried about how the area looks to tourists in such a retail environment.

What business owners don't always realize is that the panhandlers really have the same motive, to survive, but the homeless are often described in herd terms like sheep or cows and their motives are judged along the same lines.

This creates reactions on their part that can come off as anger over ingratitude or low class behavior, and as homeless are people, that patronizing tone will create pushback.

It's common in media comment sections and even news articles to assume an increase in transients is due to "overly generous benefits" or climate, as if it was a grazing and watering situation.

The increase could simply be due to the next town over ejecting it's homeless population, or a simple shift within that area. 

An increase in sharks in the water would trigger off a study on migratory patterns but with the homeless it tends to come off as a series of the same image, a horde coming out of nowhere and taking over a street or neighborhood.

Agencies also look at the problem from their own perspectives; it's a shortage of housing, lack of mental health facilities, employment rate, the economy, and it's really a combination of all those factors. But a myopic view can send aid money in the wrong direction for that area. Sociological situations are really like microclimes.

It's not the thing that the homeless will know, or care about, in their own concern for survival, but the main takeaway is that it wouldn't hurt for business communities to begin outreach and communication before trouble starts...most homeless talk to each other and a little communication goes a long way...but it's always a mistake to group the homeless into a supposedly homogenous group and expect them to act in concert.

Such generalization prevents understanding the human elements that are in play when there's panhandlers outside...they aren't alway a bunch of mild and humble Charles Dickens characters begging for a crust of bread...they're human beings trying to make a living, perhaps not in the way society would approve of, and because of that, will behave pretty much like other people will when their income is cut off or threatened. 

Santa Cruz, like Berkeley later on, had a problem with aggressive panhandlers and it developed along the same arc from tolerable to excessive, and it's a cycle that can be understood and perhaps even dealt with before it gets to the law enforcement point.

Seeing an increase in homeless in an area should prompt an inquiry as to where they came from, why they chose that area, to understand what created what is in effect a migration to the new spot. It's not just simply a matter of services acting as a magnet, etc., there'll be a multitude of reasons. 

The conflict there was because certain elements of the homeless could tap into anger and other emotions, and a widening of services dilutes that influence. Most of that is based on the ability to deliver services or tolerance that is perceived to be be absent, and while the measures won't necessarily generate Hollywood movie style cries of gratitude, it does diffuse emotions that can be brought to the boiling point by hunger, and paranoia over oppressive measures.

Keep in mind that I'm not saying that this or that city isn't trying to do something, it's just an examination of deeper issues that can get lost in the turmoil of daily problems and conflict, which are symptoms, not causes.

...talking demographics...

It's also important to note that one size fits all solutions don't generally work...each city's homeless population will tend to be at least a little different, and often have different demographics within the same region.

The crowd in the San Mateo area will differ depending on whether they congregate near 280, or on El Camino in the downtown district. Salinas has different subcultures, and it can also differentiate by ethnic groups also...though it doesn't seem like it on the surface, there's economic and cultural strata also. 

There's Silicon Valley homeless that can range from high tech workers to backpackers, and San Francisco has a huge population that often gets grouped into one mass image, but  it's actually quite diverse.

It can range from those who desperately need a meal, to those who simply need time to save enough money to venture back into the mainstream. Forcing car homeless to shelters, for example, can derail their attempts to mainstream and knock them down a rung.

...Ivy, the whose home is the universe (part 1 intro)...

Ivy was most likely born in Fremont, California about nine years ago, into an illegal puppy mill based in the back of a barbershop run by Chinese Americans...I mention the ethnicity because it has a bearing on her later life.

Ivy was kept in a cage as a breeder, a Vet estimated that she probably had at least three litters, one only a few weeks before her rescue and the puppies already sold.

The puppy mill's specialty was breeding white or very light colored runts to create "teacup" Shitzus, and Ivy was a normal healthy sized dog used to mate with smaller ones.

She was shown no affection by her captors, though it was obvious later on that women fed and cared for her. The reason is that after her rescue, she tended to readily trust women.

A love wolf animal activist spotted the puppy farm, and did an undercover investigation, and called in the police once it was established that the illegal breeding operation existed and sold puppies for an average of 300.00 cash.

Ivy was one of 13 Shih tzu's recovered in the raid, and one of the few normal sized ones. She was fortunate in that respect as she didn't have serious health problems, some had lost an eye or were weak runts.

         Ivy's First Picture At Home

I was looking for a dog about that time, and spotted her ad with the rescue organization, and had people recommend getting a Shih Tzu...I did some research and liked the description and saw Ivy early on in the search.

My first contact with Ivy was confusing, she had spent some weeks getting care and being socialized with volunteers but clearly didn't like me...I hadn't had a dog since childhood, and this was my first contact with a rescue pet, so her nervous behavior seemed typical. I realized later on she was like that with any Asian male due to her experience in the barbershop.

I took her home and she seemed OK and ate some food, and appeared to be cautious but liking the new home. I tried to name her "sushi" but Ivy wouldn't respond to it, and I quickly gave up and Ivy became her permanent name.

One day later she ran away, and her rescuer came by and taught me how to do a search effort, from how to drive through the area and search where Ivy would likely hide, to checking Animal Control and putting up signs.

She was recovered a few days later by Animal Control, and after a day waiting period to medically check her condition, I was asked if I still wanted her.

I figured there was a reason she entered my life, so she stayed, and for about a month kept bolting out any open door, though it seemed easier and easier to catch her. The woman who had rescued her told me that it probably wasn't personal, that it was more a case of not feeling that she was in a real home, and perhaps even searching for the last litter that was born before the rescue.

She was so quiet that the vet thought an operation on the vocal chords to stop barking was likely done, and when she barked for the first time 6 months later, I actually looked around outside not realizing it was her.

Ivy began to trust me at about the 6 month point, but was very socially awkward and acted more like a cat...except that she was curious about other animals like squirrels and ducks, staring at them while they stared at her wondering why they weren't being chased.

             Ivy In A Band Promo Pic

To this day she thinks cats and other creatures are part of the dog family, and tries to make friends.

About this time I also found that her favorite places were couches and car seats, she was relaxed in both. Also, she was comfortable with being photographed if the session was kept to a few minutes. 

These days I have to catch her by surprise as the sight of an iPhone being pointed brings out posing behavior and the same pose and smile.

Ivy has gone through a few phases, from being stoic, to the present day where she has a vocabulary of grunts and panting that signals when she's hungry, wants to be taken outside, etc., as opposed to going to the door and other dog body language. One breakthrough was figuring out sentences, combining a series of sounds into a string to reply to spoken words, and replying when talked to. She knows it's a vocabulary as she'll experiment with sounds until one gets the result desired (mostly food of course).

Like most Shih tzu's, she naps a lot. Being in a car hasn't been a hardship and there's been no antsy or stir crazy behavior. She's been given the whole back seat, has two beds and also will ask to be put in front in the passenger seat.

Ivy's seen a lot of places, from LA to the Sierras, from beaches to ocean. She knows most places by smell and sound, and a new location brings out a desire to explore it.

She's been pretty healthy, but does have a heart murmur and dry eye condition now, both of which she takes medication for. She always has an air of good cheer, and as we've spent more and more of life together, the picture of her personality gets more and more detailed, and I can say without exaggeration, that a day hasn't gone by where she hasn't made me smile or laugh at least once. 

If I'm surviving the homeless life, it's her survivor instinct that has been a big part of it. I couldn't ask for a better friend in my present journey...


I'll be putting more of her adventures in future blog entries, many of which helped shape the nature of our road experience.

End Part One Ivy...


Saturday, September 10, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Sept 12th: A Homeless Journal of Sorts

"The streets were my refuge. And no man can understand the glamor of the streets until he is obliged to take refuge in them, until he has become a straw that is tossed here and there by every zephyr that blows."

- Henry Miller (Tropic Of Cancer)

...does big business thank the government for tax breaks, bailouts, rigged bids and protection from procescution? 

Of course not, they're the customer; all that stuff was bought and paid for with women, money and goods...but that's how perception works, one can think big business runs the country, but the reality is different...they're like gamblers who think they have a winning system, or an effective rabbits foot, like in Phillip K. Dick's "Solar Lottery," where luck was considered ability. 

Same with the police and the homeless...society pictures law enforcement relentlessly hunting down the homeless, to ensure that the rituals of four dollar coffee drinking and enjoying the tech boom while it lasts, isn't alloyed by the sight of a subhuman whizzing on the sidewalk...notwithstanding the fact that no cop is ever going to make detective by busting tramps, most police enforcement of laws prohibiting overnight parking and vagrancy tends to run counter to the black and white outlook of the contemptuous who talk about police action the same way janitors are ordered to clean up a spill.

In cities that have major problems like murders, rapes, and drug trafficking, the officer on the beat has to prioritize time and a car with a homeless person in it isn't worth the paperwork if there's a crime wave going on. 

If anything, that sleeping person is an easy mark for a mugger, and it's better to know where that person is than to move him along, possibly deeper into a crime zone (or to a respectable neighborhood where there'd be an immediate call to arrest the poor guy).

I'm not saying that the police tolerate homelessness, but there's clearly a sympathy that exists with most officers we encounter. They don't view themselves as society's hatchet men, that's a 1%er stereotype...they tend to grow into pragmatists and protectors with experience and while there's always exceptions, the sight of a patrol car generally reassures me...though there'll always be the thought in the back of my mind that I could win the lottery and get a cop that wants to put my entrails on a stick, it's only happened once in seven months, and even then, it was catch and release after a severe chewing out about the evils of living in a rest stop.

The police and the homeless do have one thing in common; both are viewed as outliers by many people and in particular, the wealthy and privileged tend to treat police like hired help. Yes, they will crack down on a homeless camp if ordered to...if not, they'd rather be out after bigger fish.

The lot of the homeless would be a lot worse if the police were in lockstep with the people who view transients as vermin...luckily the average officer on the street views his or her job as making sure everyone, both high and low, are safe.

There was a time when smoking a joint could get you ten years in prison, but that changed with time...there'll be a time when society will look back on how the homeless problem was treated and realize that it was punishing or neglecting a symptom of a larger problem.

I've heard homeless praise the police many times, none have ever praised a CEO...

...nomads and the concept of property...

The conflict between the propertied and nomads isn't a recent far as back as you care to go, there's always been tension between those who believe in private or state ownership of land and nomadic tribes...often settled by genocide and war, and dates back to the first instance where someone felt that property was worth a man's all fairness, the early nomads were sometimes trying to kill or rob the settler. In America, this clash tended to be portrayed as barbarians trying to halt the advance of civilization...but it was really just run of the mill imperialism with the usual propaganda about a bloodthirsty subhuman enemy to justify subjugation and genocide.

Past wars are often started over the commercial concerns of the wealthy, with buy in from the Church and other allies, and often end up with the coerced or paid participation of the common man...the concept of individual willing to buy into the program ran and win a mini-kingdom in the form of a house or farm, with the right to kill an intruder was a powerful motivation for a settler, which ensured that the war against native Americans stayed vigorous to the end...

...squatting as original sin...

One of the biggest sins in early American history was squatting, which would quickly bring out the authorities, or if necessary, the militia or army, even if the settlement originated from squatters on Native American land...the point is, the concept of state and private property evolved in this country in a way that had the buy-in of even those who could at least dream of property ownership.

If you read the media stories about community concerns and complaints about the homeless, it's obvious that local governments and police forces are more often than not, reluctant to take the kind of action that the community and property owners are generally the angry ones, and expect authorities to at least move the problem elsewhere, calling on the cavalry to drive off the lowdown and dirty from their delicate eyes and preserve the resale value of their investments.

...gentrification is really a two sided issue...

It's a one sided view to think that gentrification is an improvement simply because the place gets more expensive, as nothing happens in a vacuum...if the middle class gentrifies a poor neighborhood, they view it as "raising the value" of an area, which previously did have an equal value to society as a place where the lower income workers, who make the middle class lifestyle possible, can live and grow. 

Instead, the takeover is more like a bad treaty with some Native American tribe, complete with promises to assist the poor in moving which mainly pay the bureaucratic support system, create low income housing that will be built, if at all, too late and with insufficient capacity to help, and with the primary intent to just keep people talking and stalling till the fait accompli of a gentrified neighborhood is well under way.

Like a big corporation that pays wages at the poverty level, gentrification and other developments that radically shift the poor into other areas already crowded with the poor, is an environment ripe to create more homelessness via displacement, particularly in an area with overheated property values, and foists the social costs onto the taxpayers, most of whom have no stake in the matter.

There should be no doubt that major elements of the conflict between the propertied and homeless is rooted in a class system that goes back centuries, and the perceptions not far removed from the concept that a settler could take up a musket and shoot an intruder on sight. simply clouds the issue, it's what people think a life is worth...and there is always a hidden cost to aspects of American prosperity...

That's not a self defense concept, it's a perception of what a person's life is worth if they own property or not...the idea that in a natural disaster, the National Guard should be wasting their time shooting looters is an achronism in a age where the real issue should be access to government relief funds or insurance if one's store or home is robbed.

...some Americans think beef comes from the grocery store, others think oil comes from a gas pump, and yet others think homeless just come to their area from elsewhere...

Many Americans probably couldn't pass high school history and geography if a snap quiz was given to a result, many events and developments seem to come out of nowhere when covered by the media, and they accept propaganda at face value with a faith stronger than any Holy Roller or political party...

Like the war on terror...yes, it's a real war, with real people who would like to kill every American, and spend every waking hour thinking up ways to do so...but terrorists are killing people all over the world, but the ones we're bombing and doing drone R&D on threaten our oil supply, and while the average American doesn't make the connection at the pump, that gas has a real human cost in blood and treasure. 

It's easier to think that our government wants to protect us from fanatics who cut off heads on TV, than to realize that our lifestyle has a human cost.

That goes for homelessness, which isn't a growing problem because people are lazy, drug addled, or want to be; it's one of many symptoms of a societal change that's being driven by new technologies and of course, the people getting rich from it.

Most Americans are a long way from truly understanding homelessness, and comprehending an era that historians will see was as much about change as the advent of the automobile or steam, and like those eras, the transformation of a multitude of livelihoods and subcultures into irrelevant skills and lives.

...the mythology and reality of "homeless camps"...

A homeless camp is a label that's become the standard term for a gathering of transients, and like most generalizations, misses important details and can even be misleading.

Using the term "camp" glosses over the fact that it's really a third world type slum, and generally forms and develops along the same lines. The community and media's motives for using the term is self serving, as is redefining the same type of poverty in cities as an "inner city" area; it's really modern society ignoring or being in self denial about poverty in a nation that presents itself as the apex of freedom and prosperity. 

America is very much like the Industrial Age British Empire, with a huge gap between the rich and poor, and a lifestyle built on the labor of coolies and in our case, the well paid labor of an elite that has access to the emerging technologies that will obsolete many of the jobs that exist that process developes, the gap will create larger and largerbpockets of poverty that will rival the infamous old London slums.

Homeless camps or tent cities like in SF) are pockets of poor people who find a seam in the system that in Silicon Valley requires an extortionate rate to live under a roof, and will be tolerated for at least a while as many of the inhabitants are part of the underpaid service sector force. That's true for other cities also.

There's nothing complex about a homeless camp. A few people find a place, often by a river or stream, like the Guadalupe and Coyote Creek camps were, and the word gets out that it's a safe place to live (which it often isn't for women, etc), and the area becomes populated.

As the numbers grow, so do the percentage of drug users, chronic transients, mentally ill, and for lack of a better term, slobs. 

At that point the ills of a third world slum begin to manifest due to lack of basic services...garbage and raw sewage pile up, conflicts and crime increase (at least in surrounding areas), and finally the media notices and gives the homeless there the one thing that they and even local authorities dread; coverage in the news.

That sets off the usual firestorm of concern, outrage, action by various special interest groups and a combination of essentially cosmetic civil assistance and police action severe enough to satisfy the public that the scourge has been cleaned up.

What actually happens is that a small percentage will be assisted in finding affordable housing, most that want that help will be put on a waiting list and are on their own again, and clean up crews sent in to clean up the mess.

The local press will trumpet the efforts by local authorities to restore the area back to it's pristine state for joggers and bikers, and the homeless will scatter to try and find a new place to at least sleep.

America doesn't tolerate slums unless it's making somebody a lot of money. Slum buildings are among the most profitable businesses, as there's only the initial cost of buying the building and virtually no operating costs, just rent income coming in. 

When it's time to get out of the business, there's perhaps a convenient fire that recoups the original investment in insurance money or the government taking over the place at market value, or any amount really, as it's just all icing on an enormously profitable cake.

The poor need a place to live, and in our current society, have been made an integral part of the cost can't eliminate or push them out of reach or there'll be no labor force to perform all the low paid jobs that can't be outsourced to five dollar a day workers in another country.

Homelessness is a symptom, not a lifestyle chosen by derilicts, druggies, loafers and losers. It's one of many human crisises created by a country that has transformed capitalism from a profit motive sensibility for businesses into a philosophical outlook on life that has winners and losers; like Ancient Greece that became a Balkanized bunch of elites ruling over women, the unenfranchised poor and slaves, till Alexander The Great came along and conquered them.

Homelessness is really just of the many facets of poverty.

America has become a country with a rich elite that's becoming richer, a shrinking middle class, and a dream that says most can still buy into it, and that anyone can win the lottery of life and join the privileged.

What do the winners, the 1%ers think?

Property values in New Zealand, which is considered to be a haven from the coming world crisises, are skyrocketing, offshore banks are thriving, millionaires are building bunkers and safe rooms, and the bodyguard and private security business is booming.

The rich know where this country is heading, and have chosen to protect their fortunes instead of reforming the  system. As long as society buys the line that unrestrained big business is good for the country, there'll be homeless, and eventually a lot worse.


Starting with the next blog entry, I'll be changing the format of the Delta Snake Review, restoring the "sequential" features that will be uploaded throughout the month in brtween the Monday Al and Ivy feature, which will be written in a slightly different style...after a great start in the last few weeks, for which I thank all the readers, it was a good time to evaluate the Review, and make some adjustments to make it better and better.

The Ivy Corner: in which she provides compelling glimpses of life on the road.

Today's Topic: Staying hydrated

Ivy understands the importance of staying hydrated for the sake of the grass and plants she helps keep nourished, and keeps her power water bowl nearby at all times. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy - Sept 5th: A Homeless Journal of Sorts

..."Keep that light in your eye and go directly to it. If you do, you will see the gate. Upon arrival at the gate, when you knock you will be told what you should do."

- John Bunyan (Pilgrim's Progress)

...capitalism probably isn't like God, but it actually is for many...

Capitalism as a concept is like God, it is what it is, but it's also what it's disciples say it is...America wasn't built on capitalism as we think of it today, it was built by the efforts and conflicts over free land, free animals that provided furs and good, cheap water and even gold that anyone could dig or ruin a stream was, as Orwell said in an essay about Mark Twain, a unique period where men were as close to being totally free as a society could get...women, of course, weren't free, that was true even in Ancient Athens's "Democracy" which was really a warrior/propertied oligarchy bossing around a larger population of women, slaves and peasants...but America in Twain's day still had enough room for an individual to move about and control his fate.

Today's capitalism preaches free markets and uses the word "enterpreneur" like the words heaven and hell to keep the masses thinking that better days are there for those who wait and endure.

Today's capitalism is basically a plantation system that harvests money and would use slave labor if was still legal. It's like an army that believes that the general is doing all the fighting.

The faith that Capitalists preach is that no matter what happens, the little people can always work their way back a job with less pay more often than not, but our lifestyle is already based on the work of coolies paid a few bucks a day to make everything from phones, clothes, and much of our reality the loss of a job can mean a drastic change in lifestyle with service sector jobs only capable of slowing the fall. The ladder rubgs we're supposed to climb have gotten further and further apart.

Capitalism is working overtime to drive down wages, replace humans with H1B visa workers and robots, which have the added bonus of adding more "inefficients" to the population as Jack London put it, to drive wages even lower, and to achieve a return to the Golden Age of Industrialism where everyone except the privileged worked for peanuts...if you're lucky enough to find work.

People talk about illegals taking jobs that Americans won't do; capitalists would prefer that you do that work or they'll use globalism to find someone who will... good thing about capitalism; condiment sections...

I remember a musician once telling me that the band he was in used to buy a sack of potatoes and live on that. To make it less monotonous, they took as many ketchup and salt packets as possible from fast food places.

My preference is beans and bread...bread, as Henry Miller once rhapsodized, was the cheap and filling staple of the down and out artist, but he was talking about freshly baked French bread, and though I love it with cheese, the modern stuff like white bread that he hated so much has improved since then and now is as versatile as play dough...I like to take this particular brand of white bread and squeeze it into a quasi pretzel, and with mustard it tastes pretty much like the real great contribution by Heinz is packaged BBQ sauce, which transforms a .50 cent can of Campbell's pork and beans into truly magical day someone will come up with cheese whiz packets, and all the comforts of home will be at the fingertips of every condiment bar hog...

...Another morning, and a lesson on parking lot etiquette... manager is out this morning, and is politely reminding those that overslept that there's a city ordinance prohibiting overnight parking, which is another way of saying, look, don't put it on our faces, OK?

I stress that the manager was polite because that courtesy isn't always present in other places and that it can turn into a grim "by the book" mood quickly due to a bad apple or two...this morning the wake up call became a better scoot situation as one homeless person goes into a screaming tantrum and we all scatter rather than be the one in the crosshairs of a store manager who's suddenly decided his job is thankless...

I've been in an area where the overnight ordinance is ruthlessly enforced, generally it's the property owner, aka landlord, that's turned the otherwise tolerant store management and police into barracudas cruising for minnows...a woman I knew kept a barely running van in a lot, which was suddenly towed and the occupant, her schizophrenic son, turned out onto the streets. She was able to find him a few hours later that night wandering around downtown in a haze. 

The documentation would simply say a van was towed after a legal warning, the towing company would rack up a prohibitive storage fee to be recouped by auction or salvage, and the Landlord pleased that his garden has one less bug in that berserker going off on the store manager may feel better after "telling off the man" but it's really a violation of an unspoken etiquette, rooted in common sense, that most homeless adhere to and violations can change the fate of someone down the road like that woman who lost her van in a lot that used to be considered a "tolerant" the same token, the outside world sees a screaming banshee, but we've lived in contact with the mentally ill homeless long enough that while the acting up may make us wince, it's possible the guy can't help himself...

What makes an area tolerant is variable and depends on the mix of personalities involved, which smart homeless can recognize is a fluid situation that disappears when that combination goes out of balance. 

The fact is, fair or nor, the homeless are generally judged by their worst members and that probably will never change as the perception is based on socioeconomic factors, and on laws that make most of their activities illegal, and thus as vulnerable to public rage as smoking or not picking up your dog's poop...

There's a lot of people in power who will ignore such prejudice and exercise restraint and tolerance, if it's not shoved in their faces, or find their necks stuck way out for their actions. 

The etiquette simply is an acknowledgement that the homeless do have plenty of friends...typecasting is a problem with some homeless as well as the propertied.

That area of behavior is worth a detailed look, maybe in the next blog entry...

...population, food, and homeless whisperers...

I was reading some articles about the homeless in Silicon Valley that were written over a period of time from around 2014 onwards. It was research into the Coyote Creek and Guadalupe River homeless camps in San Jose that were eventually cleared out.

The story of how such camps form and get disbanded is an interesting subject and will be given a fuller essay in the next blog.

What struck me about the articles was that the most of the "negative" ones were written by outsiders, the ones with the most positive spin were by local media. The exception were blogs and independent writers, whose views varied.

One article was the most interesting, as it described the efforts of local groups to coordinate and the interagency conflicts that occurred...which isn't the fascinating  part.

It was that some of the "experts" and groups felt that smaller activist organizations and individuals were actually hurting the cause by creating a "poor allocation of resources."

They felt that the homeless needed to be moved towards soup kitchens and food banks and the food channeled to those places.

This would be fine if it was about money, then it could doled out according to need.

But food? It doesn't make sense to say that food donations need to be channeled to certain organizations when the sum total of the food donated doesn't equal the number of hungry homeless.

From my perspective, as a homeless person, food donations, at this time, is an "all hands" situation and feeding the person in front of you does more good than centralizing it (and creating an inevitable bureaucracy). 

It's too early to politicize compassion. If the activist scene is a little unorganized or chaotic, it's just more people trying to lend a hand, and the more the better...

The early high tech industry benefitted from a large input of products, many of which failed but the strong ones won out. It's called a "free market," and the efforts to feed the homeless is still in that stage. There's no one central concept that's solving the problem after decades of trying. It's best to let everyone who wants to lend a hand try out their idea.

Besides, if everyone is channeled into soup kitchens and food banks, and many of the homeless have to walk to get to one, most will start congregating in those areas...which inevitably brings nearby property owners into play.

As quoted earlier, amateurs discuss tactics, professionals discuss logistics...

...Boronda Adobe here I come...'s a place I'd seen a couple of times while driving around, I decided to hike to it as the road there seemed most modern dusty roads, it looks better as a age old dusty trail littered with hypodermic needles, soda cans, parts of a computer, a tent tarp, and a well hidden tent in the trees...the other side is mainly old houses, with a lot of guard dogs tethered in the front lawns.

It's a evocative and pleasant road in spite of such modern touches. It runs along side an artichoke field and the workers pay no attention to Ivy and me, as distractions cost money when being paid piece rate...I'm glad that my instinct was to walk this road and visit the historical site rather than go to the Steinbeck Center, which is downtown...this area seems like a better place to see Steinbeck's world, and his shrine will always be the books anyway. of the things I liked most was the sign and the view behind it...the Boronda family built their house in 1848, and a simple sign fits the place...

...the first thing you pass on entering is an old half's dedicated to Company C 194th Tank Battalion, which was raised from this area...the half track was a vehicle designed to carry infantry close to tanks. Though it looks powerful, it's armor was only thick enough to stop small arms fire and artillery fragments, and it operated close to the prime target, tanks, which drew the fire of every available took a lot of guts to ride in an open vehicle when every available enemy artillery unit was firing into the area. 

...worth remembering...

...the old school building was interesting but the real mojo was inside...outside was the world as it was for the town, for the kids, they had a chance to see a bigger world...

...seeing this room made me think of my old Reminton portable, it was a very early type made with shellac and was the same model that was taken on an ill fated South Pole expedition...I composed some of the poetry that will be used in the book on was taken to the Anarctic because it was the lightest one made at the time, but I'm glad my writing instrument is an iPhone, and not an eight pound typewriter...but looking at this room, the simple table with a quill pen and ink bottle invites one to a teenager I became a pen and ink geek, and spent weekend afternoons copying ink illustrations from old was a tranquil period, and still a fond that table scene, it reminded me of my old ink bottle and pen used back then, now in storage...

...seeing the tractors made me think of my grandfather again...when he had to sell his prune ranch, he took his tractor along to the new place...with the vegetable patch, he made part of an expensive home into a replica of his old back yard...he was a farmer to the end.

...Boronda Adobe may not be a place that draws tourists, but like a book in a library, it may sit on the shelf for years, but somebody will come along and check it out...we're in an age where too many people think a historical site that few people visit is a waste of prime real estate, but Developers rarely leave anything of real value in their slash and burn obsession with money...the Boronda family certainly has...

...the day ends...

...the clerk in the checkout line sees my Ramones t-shirt and gives me a smile and a thumbs I leave a guy is in the corner playing some blues on a beat up old guitar. He's a busker, but not paying attention to the passerbys or working the crowd...the music won't fill his belly, but it will save him, and I feel a little better hearing the blues as I head back to my car...It's sunny and clear today, the car is still running reasonably well and Ivy and I have food, so the road is still open...

The Ivy Corner: in which she provides compelling glimpses of life on the road.

Today's Topic: important shrines for dogs

As you can see, Ivy has made this bastion of male canine privilege into an inclusive unisex environment!