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

If you have not already, please scroll up and subscribe. And please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there is this from Love As Laughter. Enjoy…!

Minimal-list…

There but for the grace…

I was homeless by choice.  Divorce and separation from my family set me into a state of unclear thinking.  I walked away from my priorities, and from my family with almost no money.  My Ford Windstar became my home.  I parked it at the outskirts of town most nights, and parked it by the beach on nights when there were a few extra cents in my ash tray for gas.  My future was uncertain, my mind clouded, and I faced each day cloaked in regret.

I never doubted that I would have a home again; an apartment, a room to rent – something.  I sensed though, that I would never be a homeowner again.  This was in part due to the circumstance, and in part because I never bought into the dream.  From an early age, home ownership seemed more a ball and chain than an American right.

Home homeless on the range....

Home homeless on the range….

Living in a minivan though, that was not in the dream either.  For six months though, it was my reality.

My income came partly from work, partly from savings, and partly from what help my mother could give me from week to week during this difficult time.  In my homelessness, there was at least some security if not prosperity.  I had enough income for essentials, and a few dollars left most weeks to share.  Maybe it was because I was homeless myself that I felt this need to share.  I have always felt a connection to the have-nots, and especially to the have-nothings.

Pier pressure…

On Friday or Saturday evenings, I would drive to parking lot at the Ocean Beach pier where many homeless of varying ages, and backgrounds would congregate.  If I had just few extra dollars, I would buy a few loaves of bread, and a couple jars of peanut butter.  From the back of my minivan I would offer sandwiches to anyone who would accept one – no documentation of homelessness required.

Not quite as pretty when you see a homeless mother of 3 living out of Chevette at the business end of the pier...

Not quite as pretty when you see a homeless mother of 3 living out of Chevette at the business end of the pier…

If I had a little more money, I would buy a couple of large pizzas and put them on the hood of my van – a free slice for any takers.  Doing this always made me feel good.  In that sense, I guess it was a selfish act. I knew inside though, that there were stories behind the faces of those who gladly accepted my offerings.  I never felt like I needed to know those stories, but just knowing they existed was enough fuel my gestures.

I recall a disproportionately high number of homeless teens at the OB pier.  Fifteen and 16-year old runaways were not uncommon.  Those were the stories which guided me back each week.  I would hear tales of abusive stepfathers, overbearing mothers, and addictions.  I wasn’t so naïve as to believe all these stories were true.  Nor was I so hardened by life, that I discounted them.

At the end of the evenings, when all the food was gone, as the stories fizzled, and the kids filtered out to feed their addictions in abandoned buildings and dumpster bins, I would park my van in a safe place.  I would then lay down in back, count my blessings, and sip from a cup of rum to help me forget my non-blessings.

 Minimal-list…

Before long though, I was back to living a normal lifeI was living in an 1,800 square foot, 3-bedroom, home with a TV in every room – even the kitchen.  I was driving a Jeep, and collecting surfboards like they sports cards.  My days of homelessness were well behind me, yet I missed the simplicity of them more and more as my life expanded.

My Bonsall condo; a TV in every room, and 3 bedrooms for one man to choose from...

My Bonsall condo; a TV in every room, and 3 bedrooms for one man to choose from…

One morning, as I was transcending from one room into the others, in preparation for my impending day, and with ESPN going in all three rooms, I realized how ridiculous it all was – to me anyway.  Thirty minutes later I set all 4 of my televisions on the front sidewalk with a sign reading, “Please, take them away from me”.  An hour later they were gone.

Maybe a year later I gave away the Jeep in favor of a bike.  Not long after, I gave away my furniture and moved into a little guest house, furnished with just enough.  It was a far cry from living in a minivan, but the romance of minimal living was my increasing reality.  As my list of possessions grew smaller, my list of freedoms grew larger…

Actions speak louder than blogs…

As I have reflected more recently on the short-term homeless state of my middle life, I want to do one simple thing that can make a difference for the long-term homeless, and I want to do it regularly.  What kind of thing, what kind of action…?  I don’t know.  I will simply take it from week to week.

I’m a pedestrian living in a warm climate, and in a small town.  I cross the paths of homeless people multiple times every day of my life – even children.

I am Bill Gates by comparison to most...

I am Bill Gates by comparison to most…

This I commit to, with my social media audience as my overseers:

Through 2013, and hopefully far beyond, I commit to seek out and apply one simple action each week that will positively touch or impact the life a homeless person.   To keep me honest, I will document these actions every Friday on my Contemplative Fitness Facebook page.  Please stay tuned and see if I walk the walk.  Be well.   rc

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Please check back in two weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this from Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater.   Enjoy…