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The Homeless Burrito Picnic

The Homeless Burrito Picnic

Hello and good day!

As you go north along the San Diego coast, the beach communities become progressively more affluent.

At least, that is how I've always thought about it.

Furthest south is Imperial Beach.

Standing on the shore in IB, you can look south down the beach and see where the sand runs across the Mexican border and the beach becomes Mexican territory.

Next comes Ocean Beach, where I lived with my dad from the time my parents were divorced, when I was in middle school, until I moved to Peru and got married my junior year of college.

Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, La Jolla, Del Mar, and Carlsbad follow respectively as you continue north.

I always felt like an outsider when I visited other beaches.

I was an OB kid.

The southern most part of Ocean Beach is Sunset Cliffs, where you can walk along thirty- and forty-foot-tall sandy cliffs and stare out at the Pacific Ocean, with green and white waves crashing up against cliff faces underneath you.

If you stand close enough, mist from the crashing white water will float up and moisten your face.

I was written up by a cop when I was a teenager for jumping off one of these cliffs and swimming across a rugged ocean channel.

When I climbed out of the water, and up a slippery, jagged rock, the officer was waiting for me, ticket pad in hand.

Cliff jumping is illegal.

The water is too rough for the general public to swim in.

The main drag in OB is Newport Ave.

The drug dealing gang in OB is a group of ratty, tatted up, tank top wearing knuckleheads who appropriately call themselves the OB Rats.

A good measure of a place is whether the local businesses will allow public use of the restrooms.

Along Newport, not a single establishment will let you use their restroom unless you are a paying customer.

There are homeless people camped out all along the strip and the strip smells of marijuana and cigarette smoke.

At the end of Newport is the pier, the beach, and the ocean, where surfers surf the pier break and kids run up and down on sand dunes.

Walk up the beach, past the jetty, and you'll make it to dog beach, where dogs and their owners play fetch and dogs swim in the waves.

The bars are jam packed most afternoons, with patrons who drink seriously and stare intensely at people walking by.

It is not a place where people smile and wave and say good day when they pass each other in the street. It's an intense place, a gritty place.

And a really good place.

The locals are fiercely independent and proud, and all up and down Newport, all you see are locally owned businesses.

Even an inkling that a corporate chain wants to move in draws protests.

The food establishments are excellent.

The shops are interesting and eclectic, and you can have a great time in OB, as long as you know what to expect.

I'm in San Diego visiting my parents for a few days, after a five-year absence from my hometown.

Where I live now, up in the Seattle area, the home of Microsoft, Amazon, and Costco, things are constantly changing.

Construction developers are clear cutting forests to build more and more housing. There are cranes in the skyline everywhere you look.

It is a region constantly on the move, powered by the prosperity of the local tech industry.

But OB hasn't changed at all. All the same shops from my youth are still there.

The houses are the same houses.

The rundown apartment buildings haven't been upgraded.

It is a place stuck in time and there is something refreshing about that, because it appears to be a conscious decision by the locals to keep it that way.

Yesterday afternoon, my family and my parents were in a gift shop on the strip.

One of my sons wants to buy a Swiss blade army knife.

I grew weary of looking at trinkets and stepped outside to people watch on the drag.

Ten yards to my left, blocking most of the sidewalk, was an encampment of young homeless folks, smoking cigarettes and playing bongo drums.

Most people were crossing the street, over to the opposing sidewalk, to pass without wading through the gathering. I watched and wondered if anybody would have the courage to walk straight through.

My wondering was soon answered.

A petite older woman, wearing a beige cardigan, white cloth pants, and flat soled shoes walked by me, clutching her purse, and advanced straight into the fray.

I noticed her thick mane of artificially dark hair and her unusually erect posture.

As she drew near, one of the homeless fellows, a young man in a raggedy grey blazer, stepped out in front of her.

He was well spoken.

"Miss, by chance could you spare some change? I'm trying to put together enough money to buy a burrito from Nico's taco shop here."

The woman inhaled and then exhaled deeply, her body inflating and then deflating. She reached into her purse and pulled out her wallet.

''Here is fifty bucks. Buy burritos for the entire crowd. By the way, where can I use a restroom in this crazy place?"

She handed a bill to the young man in the blazer.

"The cheapest place is the coffee shop. You can buy mints for a dollar."

"Thanks. Enjoy the food."

The woman walked away, but I kept watching.

When homeless people panhandle, they always say they want money to buy food.

But in the back of our minds, we suspect that they will actually use the money for drugs, and the food is a front.

That is what I have suspected anyhow. So, I watched.

I wanted to see what would happen.

The young fellow went straight into Nico's and bought a bag full of burritos and the homeless crowd had themselves a burrito picnic on the sidewalk.

After a while, the older woman returned from using the restroom and came back through the gathering.

"You got the burritos! How are they?"

The young man was crouched against a wall, leaning back, eating.

He stood up.

"They are so good. Thank you so much. I can't believe how generous that was. Can we give you a hug?"

The woman thought about that for a moment. Did she really want to hug a group of unbathed street kids?

"Of course you can. Come on."

I watched as half a dozen homeless youngsters gathered around a well put together older woman, burritos in their hands, for a group hug.

After the hug, as the woman walked away, I saw her touch up the sides of her hair to make sure that everything was still in place.

I need to remember that moment.

I am going to buy lunch for somebody in need back home when the opportunity presents itself.

Also, it was a good reminder that the best lessons are caught, not taught.

Leading by example is the most important teaching method there is.

That woman convinced me to do something without saying a single word to me.

Thank you so much for time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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