Saturday, February 3, 2018

Views from a Troubled Mind
Scene #2
Hierarchy of the Homeless

San Gabriel River Bridge over Huntington Drive, Arcadia

Four bodies washed up in the San Gabriel River last week after two days of heavy unexpected rain. The corpses were partially devoured by coyotes and bears. No ID yet on any of the bodies, but our small community recognized Mountain Man from his clothing. He was a regular on the local bus line. He carried his daily haul of cans and bottles in a big sturdy trash bag to sell at the recycling center by the supermarket. 

He loved to talk. He wasn't one for listening. He seemed educated or at least well-informed on current economics, ironic given he was a homeless man. He always told stories of his shelter under the Huntington Drive Bridge over the San Gabriel River. He often explained the hierarchy of the homeless who populated the underpasses of the river.

There are three layers of living quarters along the river: The Skylight, the Trolls, and the Privileged. The first lives in boxes and shopping carts out in the open, under the sun, and only seek shelter under the bridges when it rains. The second lives under the bridges closest to the main Drive to have a quick exit for emergencies; often some of the homeless get sick or injured and the quick access to the street and the buses provide transportation to the emergency hospital (the hospital waives the $50 fee for hard-luck cases). The third lives under the smaller bridges close to the foothills, further away from the main street. When the police raid these homeless camps, the Privileged are frequently ignored since they do not cause problems or are simply to far embedded in the river for the police to trouble themselves with the long hike to and from their camp. From the bus one can see the Privileged on skateboards riding up and down the sloping banks of the concrete bedding of the river. 

Mountain Man was proud to be one of the Privileged, known to police, bus drivers, business owners, and community leaders alike. Everyone liked to hear him speak about his latest adventure with a bear or coyote. They come by day, they come by night, he'd say in his heavy Russian accent. But my camp has thick boarded walls and the best they can do is scratch and scratch. But they can't get in. They smell my food. But they can't get in. But the river of mud did break through. 

When the rains suddenly fell, there were Red Flag Warnings for the two days prior. Red Flags mean that the brush fires on the hills of San Gabriel left the dirt without plant-life to hold the soil in place. Even the slightest rain could fill the sloping, rolling streets of Arcadia with mudslides. The mudslides were harsh and cruel. They hit the Privileged first; the Trolls and the Skylight folk waded through the mud to reach the street. The Privileged drowned in the liquid dirt. 

As of this writing, we are still not sure of the identities of the four corpses, although we in the community have yet to see Mountain Man since the rains. Still, we hold out hope that he will make an appearance to tell us a tale of his miraculous escape from the mudslide. Those four corpses, on the other hand, tell a tale of their own. 

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