Mustang Galley…

My daily bicycle ride takes me long Old River Road, which is a gravelly, half-kept road here in rural San Diego County. Though there are some nice homes above the road that I enjoy riding by each morning, the highlight for me are the acres — the miles of tomato fields which rise up alongside the road. These waves of fully grown tomato plants, staked up and reaching for the sunshine are an aesthetic treasure.

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On one section of Old River Road, just after I turn from Highway 76 not far from the old Bonsall bridge, I’ve noticed a late model Ford Mustang parked there for the last few weeks. This Mustang is in the middle of nowhere — the nearest house is probably a mile away, so it is just parked — on a rural road. About half the time I ride past it, which is early in the morning, the hood over the engine is up and there are two men standing beside the car looking over the engine.

This has gone on for weeks.

As I ride past them each morning, I can’t help but wonder why these two men can’t get this car running and relocated to a better place. I admire their tenacity working on it day after day, but after a few weeks I have assumed that the car would be running by now.

Yesterday morning, curious about what was going on with that engine, I slowed down considerably and looked into the engine compartment as I road by. I couldn’t see much, but it didn’t look like it was in any state of disrepair. Not wanting to be obvious, I just kept going, still curious about what they’re doing to that engine.

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This morning I slowed down even more and attempted to get a closer look. What struck me first, and something I should have considered long ago, is that it appears that the two men actually live in the car. As I slowed down and looked toward it, I saw pillows and blankets inside the car piled on the rear dashboard as well as some clothing. As I processed that idea in mere seconds while riding by, I realized that the two men are standing there each morning with the hood up, not because they’re trying to fix the engine, but they’re using the heat of the engine to cook with. It’s their stove.

When I first started driving in 1977, I remember my friend Jeff and I talking about the heat of an engine block being hot enough to cook a can of Dinty Moore beef stew on. I have no idea why that ever came up, but it did and I’ve never forgotten it. So in the trunk of my car during Colorado winters, I always kept a couple cans of stew alongside a 1-gallon bucket of gravel, a snow shovel, toilet paper, and matches — in case of an emergency.

For these two gentlemen, the emergency seems to be present and ongoing. I’m going to ride by again in the morning and stop in hopes that they’ll talk to me a little bit — see if they will be willing to share their predicament and the circumstances that led them to living in and cooking on a Mustang parked on Old River Road. We’ll see if they’re willing to talk.

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In the meantime, this is just another good reminder for me of how fortunate I am, and even better reminder that my cardinal-rule of life has never been more relevant…

… I will never buy a car I can’t pay cash for and also sleep in comfortably, because those two men could just easily be me… Jhciacb

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Peek Peak Pico…

The Pico…

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.

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Fallen tears of Jacaranda…

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.

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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.

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My old house…

Resident Non-Evil…

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.

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Shelter for a few…

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.

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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.

Curious Eyes…

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.

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A creek runs through it…

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.

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Names withheld.  long-time residents of the benches along the way…

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…

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Nature’s better use of a storm drain…

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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A gramma and her boy under a jacaranda tree…

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