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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 for...it 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 up...in 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 food...in 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...

...one 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 thing...one great contribution by Heinz is packaged BBQ sauce, which transforms a .50 cent can of Campbell's pork and beans into truly magical fruit...one 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...

...store 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 it...so 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" area...by 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...


...it's a place I'd seen a couple of times while driving around, I decided to hike to it as the road there seemed perfect...like most modern dusty roads, it looks better as a picture...an 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.


...one 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 track...it'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 weapon...it 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 it...it 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 write...as a teenager I became a pen and ink geek, and spent weekend afternoons copying ink illustrations from old books...it was a tranquil period, and still a fond memory...like 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 up...as 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!