Each morning I walk with my dog roughly 3/4s of a mile down a nature trail that runs through the middle of town. By nature trail, I mean it’s a well planted and maintained trail where locals can navigate through town without the hassle of cars, traffic lights, too much noise or too many distractions. It’s a path where people like me walk their dogs, while others amble along to be alone with their thoughts. Others still, sit in an escape from the employee breakroom at work, and enjoy a brown bag lunch on a hand painted bench under a Jacaranda tree. It’s a quiet place.
A creek trickles along the trial. For three years, I lived in a little blue house directly in front of the creek. Today I live one block to the east. It’s a dirt path lined with bougainvillea, Brazilian pepper trees, wisteria, Jacarandas and a variety of grasses and succulents.
The hardest working woman in town, Jackie Heyneman, oversees the maintenance of the trail. Jackie has been a major financial contributor to the project, and continues to be the director of volunteers who maintain the trail. There’s even a small park beside the trail that bears Jackie’s name. Every so often I’ll see Jackie, now in her mid-80s, on her knees replacing a sprinkler head or planting new flowers. Because the trail parallels Pico Avenue, it’s known as The Pico Trail.
Pardon the contradiction, but The Pico Trail is home to a handful of my community’s homeless population. Because the path is well hidden, these residents go largely unseen by the public and the police. The Pico Trail intersects with three streets, each with a small bridge passing over the creek. Those bridges make great shelters. Look close enough and you’ll see mattresses for sleeping, pallets for burning, and the occasional trash bag or shopping cart full of clothes.
I speak to more homeless people by 6am than many people do in a month, or even a lifetime. For their part, they are always respectful, if only loosely coherent.
The Pico Trail is also a gathering place for teenagers dressed in all black, carrying skateboards and wearing obvious disdain for authority figures. I’m sure they feel more comfortable there, smoking weed and talking shit about their parents and teachers than they would hiding at home with their shades down and their bedroom door locked. At least they’re outside.
The trail is also a passage way, each morning for many of the Fallbrook’s day workers, casually peddling garage sale bicycles with their shirts tucked in, and saying please and thank you to everything that moves. Some of them will stop on the trail after a long day of picking fruit or grooming properties, and will enjoy a taco and a beer on one of the benches as they make conversation with each other about the events of the day. To me, this is the embodiment of the third-world charm that is a part of living in Fallbrook.
For my part, the Pico Trail is a place disconnect and observation. I disconnect from my job, and observe a handful of subcultures. I greet everyone I meet, from dog walkers, to the homeless, to the day workers and even the wasted kids. Without exception, my greeting is always returned. Occasionally a slacker kid will just nod. That’s oaky.
As far as these homeless go, it’s hard to say if they are here by choice, and that’s not for me to judge. I have never been asked for money, they always call me sir and I have never felt like I was in danger in their presence. When I think of the Pico Trail, it is the homeless who live there that I think of first. Some I have seen there for many years, and I know them by name. Others, they come and go.
I have long appreciated and felt kindred with the culture of homelessness. I have lived my life close enough to the edge financially, as well as in matters of stress, that I can relate to both streams of homelessness; those there by circumstance and those there by choice. My only real Plan B in life, should it all collapse or become too much to take, is to be a most aggressive bottle collector, and an astute connoisseur of good bridges, should I ever need to make one my own. If it all comes undone, look for me first at the Pico Trail.
A Place For A Breeze…
Nothing big happens on the Pico Trail. Occasionally some misplaced teen energy will break off a tree branch or paint graffiti on a bench. Occasionally an argument takes place about who gets the last sip of Old English 800. Mostly though, all passers by are respectful of the space. It’s a 3/4-mile bridge between several worlds; the one beyond it, and the ones within it. It’s beauty mark on the face of a small town… Jhciacb
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