Hope on Wheels

A few years ago, in between jobs, I started hanging out at nearby Mission Bay during the day when I needed a break from my computer. I’d take a beach chair or blanket, a sandwich, a notepad and pen and sit under a tree for an hour or two. Peaceful, balmy, fewer distractions than at the oceanfront beach (also nearby). If people came along, they kept a respectful distance, cycling or strolling by on the path, arranging a lunch picnic at one of the many tables. Kayakers glided by on the glistening water.

I began to notice that several large RVs ringed the outer edges of the parking lot. How cool, I thought. What a great idea. Roll on down for the day. Bring kids or grandkids and your own kitchen. Play ball, fix whatever you want to eat whenever. Memories of my in-laws parking their RV at Disneyland so we could duck in out of the heat and then head back into the maddening crowds.

Around that same time, I also began to notice an old green and rusty orange van parked on my street. Specifically, I noticed the owner, craggily dark and handsome, in a seedy-around-the -edges way. The exact type that made my heart leap 20 years earlier. What caught my eye one day was him dragging clothing and bedding from a neighboring house to his van. (Since I was out of work I had more time to look out my window.) He wore a back brace and walked with a limp, which also wormed its way into my sensitive psyche and overactive imagination. Poor guy. Was he in some kind of accident? After that, his van moved around, parking up and down our block and along all the side streets. Occasionally I’d see him buying cigarettes at the 7-11, leaning into the van’s engine under the open hood or doing yard work for a neighbor, but most often he was sitting in his van staring into space.

No overnight parkingI gradually realized he was living in his van. Then, after seeing the same RVs day after day down at the  bay, I also began to realize that these were not just recreational vehicles, they were homes. They were not occupied by happy campers, but by people who had lost houses, apartments, possibly jobs or health, but come hell or high water held on their homes on wheels. They were living in them.

At night they had to leave the park by 10 p.m., when the gates closed and the police checked the area. They parked if they could somewhere on the streets and waited for the gates to open again the next morning.

Eventually I went back to work, the man in the van disappeared, my weekday visits to the bay lessened and my thoughts about the situation faded into the background. It’s a few years later now, the economy has supposedly gotten better for some, but not everyone. Not for the vets with PTSD and other disabilities. Not for those workers whose jobs have permanently gone away. Not for those who have lost their health and their bank accounts. Not for those who can’t pay rising rent. The number of homeless continues to rise. San Diego is in the top 10 American cities with rising rents and home costs and with large homeless populations. In San Diego, an estimated 4,500 homeless currently live in shelters and 4,100 are unsheltered – meaning they live on sidewalks, under bridges and overpasses, along creek and river beds and in church courtyards, doorways, parks, canyons and vehicles.

This year’s annual homeless census found nearly 1,800 people (or about 21 percent of the total) sleeping in cars, RVs or other vehicles. This number is probably low. Those living in vehicles are often uncounted and unseen; they have not fallen all the way, are still clinging to some kind of home, even if it moves every night in darkness. Stories are appearing about them.

A street lined with RVs, campers, vans in Mountain View, home of Google, in Northern California’s Silicon Valley. Many of the people who live in these vehicles used to work nearby, got laid off, and are trying to find work. Some are employed, but don’t earn enough to rent an apartment. A few are employed with decent salaries but don’t want to spend most of their take-home pay on rent.

A parking lot at LAX, reserved for airport and airline employees and their RVs. It’s easier and cheaper for them to spend their time off near work. In Paved Paradise, as Joni Mitchell sang.

Fiesta Island here in San Diego, east across Mission Bay from where I’ve seen the daytime RVs. A popular recreational site for cycling, boat launching, dog running, and the annual Over-the-Line beach softball Tournament. Now an ersatz RV park. The authorities and police have been letting them stay, not patrolling or checking the gates at night. This will change soon, as residents in surrounding hillside homes overlooking the island complain. I recognized the name of one of these residents, the husband of a woman I used to go to yoga with. I had been in their home.

Now we also have social media, like Next Door, reporting on vehicles that have overstayed their legally allotted time, usually 72 hours. This morning I read that the big white limo parked across the street from our apartment building has “homeless living inside. An old man in bad shape, probably an alcoholic, stumbled out. The wheels are on blocks,” said the post.Limo

I went out to check. It is not on blocks. One of the back tires is flat. The windows are tinted so it’s impossible to see if anyone is inside.  A few of my neighbors have complained about all the space it’s taking on the street. True, it is really, really loooong, but we all have garages and it’s not a busy block, there’s plenty of parking for visitors. I am probably a Neighborhood Watch flunky because the limo doesn’t  bother me, assuming any occupants aren’t blocking others, throwing garbage out the windows, playing music late at night, or luring children inside with pot-laced lollipops. Now if parking suddenly disappeared or if five or ten limos lined up outside, I might change my mind.

In other words, I am cautious, but I don’t assume the worst. More ominous posts appear on Next Door, the majority assuming the limo is dangerous. They call a local news station that airs a story on it, emphasizing that neighbors are “afraid for their safety.” In another two days, the limo is towed away. The news does a follow-up story interviewing the owner, an older man with a dog. He had lost his wife and brother and driven down from Oregon hoping to find work with the limo. Ran out of money to fix the tire. He denied living in the limo and apologized for any inconveniences he caused. Whether he was telling the truth, non-threatening and able to work, who knows? It would take more than two interviews to find out.

As for RVs on Fiesta Island, if they are interfering with others who enjoy the park, or creating health hazards, they probably should not be allowed to stay indefinitely or in large numbers. Where should they go? It is illegal in San Diego to live in a vehicle or to park an RV on the street or in a public parking lot between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. Some cities are creating fenced spaces for the moving homeless, just as they set up shelters and turn old hotels into low-income residences for the sidewalk homeless. In San Diego, a non-profit organization called Dreams for Change operates two lots as part of a safe parking program. According to their website, 65 percent of those they help obtain housing or move to transitional programs.

Some homeless have already moved to desert areas like Slab City, 156 miles northeast of San Diego in Imperial County. A former military base, now owned by the State of California, it began attracting squatters in the 1960s. They live on the leftover concrete slabs entirely off the grid. No running water, electricity, trash collection. Now with approximately 200 residents (and several times that in winter), The Slab calls itself “The Last Free Place in America.” It does not have a good reputation. No one would mistake it for Palm Springs, for example. Whether all its occupants are lawless drug addicts, I don’t know.

As with those who live among us in their cars, vans, RVs, I suspect there’s a mixture of good and bad. Maybe some are alcoholics, addicts, mentally ill. Maybe most are doing the best they can in unlucky circumstances, holding on and taking shelter in the last of their possessions. Refusing to flee to the desert or give up hope.


For more information on laws in San Diego about the homeless and where they can live, see “Are there laws against homeless camps?” by Gary Warth in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Sept. 28, 2016.

 

 

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Not Seeking Advice

Not Seeking AdviceWhat is it that compels people to offer unsolicited advice? I’ve written about this before but it’s worth writing some more. Unless I ask for it, I don’t like receiving advice. Most of my friends and family know this about me, so when I do get unasked-for advice, it’s from people who don’t know me well.

Recently, for example, a new woman in yoga overheard me explaining to the teacher why I shouldn’t be pushed on the lower spine (the beginnings of bone loss). I already had a funny feeling about this woman, since I’d heard her advising others and I could tell she was listening in. Sure enough, she moves in closer and starts to tell me about a magic herb cure. I cut her off, telling her I wasn’t into herbs and preferred treatments that were tested and proven safe and effective. I then walked out.

In retrospect, I wish I had calmly replied, “I am satisfied with my current treatment.” Let it go at that. The incident made me think about advice giving after a long period of being blissfully free on the receiving end. I even Googled it.

According to what I read (admittedly not totally scientific), most people do NOT like unsolicited advice. So I am not alone here. Only a handful said things like, “I am always learning so I welcome new information” or “The universe is bringing me what I need.” Whatever. If they are perpetually 15 or grew up in a cave, I understand.

It takes awhile to get our bearings in life, to figure out what makes us happy, healthy, what’s important, what work we enjoy, how to take care of ourselves. Some figure it out sooner and give out vibes – no advice needed! (Or maybe they become advice givers, personally or professionally.) Some, me included, are late bloomers and look to many sources for learning – exercise, discussion and support groups, therapy, retreats, reading, fellow travelers, pills, martinis.

I think during this blooming time, which coincided with the colorful, experimental seventies, I listened to a lot of advice! I deliberately put myself in the way of know-it-alls. Dated and even married men who recommended careers, writing styles, how I should handle my sons. Hung out with a few girlfriends who insisted I would benefit from Buddhism or EST being louder. I willingly embraced nuggets of advice, at least long enough to examine them and decide if they made sense to me.

No AdviceThen I reached a saturation point. Enough already! I gradually realized I’m living the way I want to and feel content most of the time. I like the word contentment better than happiness, since it seems more realistically human, embracing self-acceptance and gratitude, even if we have days of sadness, regret or frustration. Yes, I may need a shoulder to cry on sometimes, or a sympathetic ear, but not necessarily a bunch of babbling “shoulds.”

Does this need to tell others what to do come from a good place? A desire to help a friend? Perhaps. But I also think it comes from a need to alleviate anxiety. To solve problems and thus feel in control. Men do it because they are brought up to be take-charge protectors. However, women do it too.

And sometimes those who offer advice do so because they don’t want to look inward. Easier to solve the problems of others than their own. I admit I have done this mentally, more in the past. Getting older has helped me focus on what I can do with my remaining time and less on self-righteously planning what my friends should be doing. So I try very hard not to offer advice and to ask first if I think of an idea.

And thus my annoyance, after years of being a patient listener, on the receiving end of so much blather. Shut up, already. There is room for no more. If I need help expanding my mind or improving my life, I’ll ask, but in all honesty I prefer to learn on my own.

What I really wanted to ask that woman was, “Why do you think I need medical advice? Are you a medical doctor? Do I have a sign on me that says, Know nothing. Soliciting your infinite wisdom?”

This morning as I left yoga she was busy advising the teacher on how to teach a pose.

 

 

 

 

 

Say Hi to the Bogeyman

Fear = a feeling of doom, unease, or apprehensiveness in response to imminent danger.

Anxiety = a feeling of doom, unease, or apprehensiveness when no danger is imminently present.

Anxiety is a bitch. And a bastard. Sexless, senseless, it free floats without a specific cause or object. It lurks under the bed like the bogeyman and rattles us awake at 2 in the morning. It swoops down from sunny skies above, claws extended.

It’s part of the human condition. We are all here temporarily, but we don’t know anything for sure, except that we will die one day. We are still trying to outrun the wooly mammoth to one degree or another. I sympathize with those who run in place daily in a panic.Flying bogeyman

I’ve been fortunate to elude the bogeyman as I’ve gotten older. I attribute my calmer state to an inherent Type B personality, less junk food, more yoga and writing and a devious imagination. When I find myself staring into a dreadful night, I switch my thoughts over to real fears. These at least are identifiable and can be reasoned with. For example, I can be grateful I do not have a tarantula on my pillow, nor do I have to crawl under the house, back a semi into a narrow parking lot or bungee jump off a tall jungle tree full of tarantulas.

Yeah! Life is good!

A far as I understand panic attacks, I think I’ve only had one in my life, about 20 years ago. I was driving south on the 405 Freeway, just past Long Beach, where it suddenly opens up to 12 lanes. Out of nowhere, the thought hit me, “Here I am in this tiny piece of metal hurtling along at 80 miles an hour, completely boxed in by others also hurtling along at 80 miles an hour.”

And, just like that, I had an out of body experience. My mind left my body and I could see this speeding mass below me. I started to shake. Since I was out of my body, who was driving? For another minute, I thought I was going to have to pull over. But I returned, sweaty hands firmly on the wheel, shaking until I passed Huntington Beach. It has never happened again.

Flying bogeyman 2What bothers me more today is the anxiety in other people – more specifically, the coping mechanisms they use from religious beliefs to controlling behavior. Religious or spiritual philosophies run the gamut (the anxiety gauntlet?) from “We can control nothing, god is in charge,” to “We can control everything if we have The Secret. If we think the right thoughts, we will attract the results we want.” Yeah, right. I’m still vibrating my energies into an Italian villa.

Mean bosses and co-workers are another example of unacknowledged anxiety run amok. They are impossible to please or to work with productively. For example, if you work quietly alone, they label you as not communicating or being a team player. If you ask questions and report in, then you are not self reliant or competent. And if you dare to point out that being stuck between a rock and a cement block is not a valid Employee Review category, well, that doesn’t go over well and soon you will be at the bottom of the canyon.

Bossy acquaintances bug me too. Rather than admit we are all on shaky ground, they prefer to come across as knowing all, which entitles them to offer advice. Constant advice on any topic, even if it’s not based on personal experience. After all, they feel so wise, how can the world not benefit from their endless wisdom? It’s astounding to watch this arrogance in action, but I do understand where it comes from, the Ax-word again.

“If I tell you what to do and feel, then I’ll feel more in charge. If I tell you how to avoid the jaws of flying dinosaurs, I won’t have to notice the one that’s coming after me.”

Let the bitch in, I say. And adopt the bastard.

Walking on Both Sides of the Street

Feelings
Feel.
Acknowledge. Respect.
Analyze. What showing me?
Let go.
Trust I will do the right thing.

This is my little mantra. It popped into my head 10 or 15 years ago. I don’t think it’s plagiarized. At least not the exact words. The spirit, perhaps – a distillation of discovery wandering down many paths, including reading, writing, counseling, sharing with friends and solitary reflection.

It’s not a mid-boggling breakthrough or a marketing plan for polishing personas, mine or anyone else’s. It just works for me, reminding me to pay attention to all my feelings. Reminding me not to label feelings good or bad or positive or negative, but to just accept that they are and I can let them guide me, especially in conjunction with realistic, rational thinking.

It seems to me that when therapy first became popular, the self-help movement was telling us to get in touch with our feelings. No more of the stiff upper lips of the Puritan or Victorian eras, no more dusty old rugs with feelings swept underneath. Let them all out and don’t keep them inside and make yourself ill.

But then this movement took another turn onto the sunny side of the street. Yes, get in touch with your feelings, but mostly positive ones. Avoid bad negative feelings, and by extension, negative talk and people. Why are we now attaching value judgements to feelings? True, some are pleasant — and some are not. If we go out into the day with a sour face, we often get treated less well. If we feel good and smile and speak kindly to people, people often smile back. Most of us would rather tip the balance over into feeling good.Happy Face

But why ignore unpleasant feelings or pretend they don’t exist? If we have a physical pain, we pay attention, seek medical help if it interferes with our lives. So why ignore mental or emotional pain? Pretending it’s not there isn’t going to make it go away any more than ignoring an infected finger or heart attack is going to cure us.

For me, my little mantra is telling me to recognize what I’m feeling, accept it, mull it over or toss it around, figure out what to do. Do I need to change jobs, make new friends, spend more time alone? Do I need to take a trip, take up a new hobby, or just rest? Decide what to do and move on! If the unpleasant feelings persist and I can’t move, then get help! It helps to move the body too.

Sad FaceI say we avoid unpleasant feelings at our own peril. They are there for a reason – a sort of early warning system. Maybe even seeing them in someone else can help us by triggering something we need to think about. Recently, I read in a yoga magazine that we should avoid all negative people. This seems harsh. We may not choose to hang out with severely troubled or self-destructive people, but what if someone we meet is going through a hard time, or feeling sad one day? Do we instantly conclude they are negative and turn our backs? If we do, we may be missing out on learning something, or making a new friend.

Walking through life, we need both the sunny and the shady sides of the street.

Splish Splash

splish splash
I was taking a bath
long about a Saturday night

Rub dub
 Just relaxin in the tub
 Thinkin everything was alright

Bobby Darin

When trying or learning something new, is it better to dive in or to wade in gradually? Or to do something in between, say quickly jump off the side ladder into the middle of the pool? I think all can work. It depends on who we are, where we are and what we’re doing on any given day.

For example, I admire the person who created this makeshift bumper sticker – “Learning Stick.” He or she seems to be saying, “I’m in the middle of the road here, in the middle of learning. I’m taking chances but I’m giving you a warning, creating a safe zone, hopefully one without your middle finger.”Stick Shift

I learned to drive a stick shift in an in-between way too. Back in the early 70s, I fell in love with the sporty new Mercury Capri when I needed a new car. It only came with a manual transmission – and I didn’t know how to drive one. I bought the car anyway and had a girlfriend drive it home. She stayed the night and the next morning, a Saturday, we got up at 5 a.m. for my stick shift driving lesson. Fortunately my friend had a calm nature and a good sense of humor and it was dark and quiet except for my little car’s screeching brakes and howling gears.

On Sunday morning I got up early by myself for my first solo stick shift drive, lurching around the neighborhood. I dreaded Monday morning and my 10-mile drive to work. It was awful. I lurched and stalled my whole way there and then spent the work day dreading my return trip home. It was just as awful – lots of traffic, honking, grinding of teeth and gears and cursing. Each day got better, however, and finally the stick shift became second nature and for many years I loved it and went on to own more sports cars with manual transmissions.

Yes, this middle ground works for me. It usually includes a helping hand, literally or figurative. For example, learning to swim. My parents jumped off a dock and encouraged me to paddle in clear lake water between them. Then my grandfather held me up on my back in the Atlantic waters off Cape Cod. “The salt water keeps you floating” he said, gently removing his hand, and before I knew it, I was swimming on my own. These helping hands can take many forms – friends, family, teachers, counselors, books, classes, groups.

Of course, what lurks on the unknown road or in the deep, dark waters is fear. Anything new worth doing is scary.” Many books have been written to help us with this, including the classic “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” by Susan Jeffers. If we want to get anywhere new, challenge ourselves, we have to acknowledge our fear and figure out a way to deal with it while still moving forward.splish splash

For some of us, or for certain goals, this means taking tiny steps into the shallow waters until we are afloat. For others, it means plunging right in and hoping the water does not knock us out. For me, it’s often a combination of these – thinking for awhile and grappling with fear until it seems silly to sit in the toddler pool and better to get it the hell over with and jump in over my head. And hope there is a party goin on …

I was splishin and a splashin
rollin and a strollin
movin and a groovin
realin with the feelin

Splishin and a splashin
on a Saturday night