He'd been explaining how, exactly, he'd come to live in his rusted late 1970s Buick, how he'd lost his first two wives but gained a dog and a kid. He'd spent 15 years in places like Soledad, Folsom, and Chino - five for his crime outside and another decade for his mutilation of a black inmate in a prison riot.
He stopped, mid-sentence, and went back to staring off into the tidal surge.
At first, I thought the old man was simply observing the water's edge, had noticed the emergence of the elephant seal bull from the ocean and the movement within the bull's harem a few hundred yards away. An elephant seal bull, you see, is much more dangerous than a older ex-con, even one who once sliced up someone in a prison war. Unlike a human being, an elephant seal will kill a human being simply out of territorial instinct, without so much as a rational thought or emotional response.
Every few years or so, some idiot gets too close, gets maimed or otherwise butchered along California's Central Coast...
No, he said, he was just staring at the Pacific, out into the Estero Bay, thinking about the past. The waves were hypnotic, rhythmic, beautiful - the perfect orchestral accompaniment. The killer elephant seals be damned! Three decades ago, he could've cared less about standing beside the sea again. A decade and a half's worth of jail time taught him to miss it.
"Man, life's too short to worry about which rich motherfucker's gonna be president. Fuck that political shit."
Typical rebellious San Diego kid, caught up in the world of 1960s counterculture hypocrisy. Spent the Peace, Love, and Happiness Decade selling dope to the rich hippie tourist wannabes. That beget selling junk and running coke to Golden State yuppies in the 1970s and 1980s.
Then, one day, he threw his old lady through a plate glass window during a fight. Cops showed up, found a few kilos of felony possession on the coffee table, and ended up choosing Aryan Brotherhood protection over being some Crip's vanilla bitch or some Norteno's turned-out chola.
Can't blame a guy for being nostalgic. Or for not being afraid of an elephant seal bull, either. Animals may kill, but they rarely do it because of race or out of obligation - even in zoos.
"But this country's fuckin' beautiful sometimes, that's for sure."
I stared out at the ocean, too, ignored the killer beasts along the shore.
"Yeah. Dangerous and beautiful."
I'd never met the old man before in my life. I'll probably never see him again.
But, hell, living on the beach, even out of an old Buick with a mangy old dog, sure sounds a whole hell of a lot better than life behind bars.
Murderous, blubber-filled wildlife and all.
- MORE -
NEAR POZO, Calif. (ZP) -- The jeep crawled up into the southern Santa Lucia Range, up towards the gap between Garcia and Hi mountains, at a retarded snail's pace.
One of the great automotive engineering travesties of the late 20th century?
The automatic-transmission, four-wheel drive vehicle. What a waste of power and skill, of fuel and time. The damned things virtually drive themselves.
As we drove through the trickle that, further downstream, evolves into the Salinas River, I suddenly realized how, well, boring off-roading can be in 21st Century America. Less than a century before, this particular pass had been only accessible by horse or mule, or by foot. And now the 23 mile trek down the back road takes less than three hours.
Sure, so few folks know how to actually drive an automobile anymore, beyond simply sitting in a seat, turning a wheel, stepping on a pedal. And sure, ease and comfort are more important than skill and knowledge in the Western World these days.
Why learn to drive stick? Manual transmissions are so... manual. Or why learn to read a map in the 2000s? Doesn't, like, everybody have some built-in GPS system now?
And speaking of GPS systems, those oh-so-wondrous little devices that can supposedly track a person anywhere on the planet and can supposedly make directional decisions better than most humans ...
The one we were using on our journey, well, sorta went haywire further on up the pass. For some reason, as we weaved our way, slowly, around the backside of a mountain, the device kept demanding left turns...
... Right off the side of the range, to a certain painful death.
Joys of fucking 21st century living. At least a pack mule never said things like Turn left... in ... one mile every five damned minutes.
- MORE -
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (ZP) -- The moment I voiced my support for a local resident's longtime fight to turn a pristine ranch into a drug rehabilitation work farm, I knew I'd hit a nerve.
"Quite frankly, we don't need that kind of service here, Jason. You know why, too."
Sure, I know why. It's called NIMBYism. In good ol' SLO, the important things in life are determined by one's neighbors, by their sense of aesthetics, decency, and righteousness. In one of the 10 most expensive cities to call home in North America, who really wants to, well, help the downtrodden, those from lower economic backgrounds? They may just move here with their poor, working class selves, right?
In San Luis Obispo, the image of a perfect community is more important than the smart and responsible development and care of a community. Preserving the investment value of overpriced real estate, preserving the supposed right to a nice view off the living room or to go jogging without worry while the rest of California burns, starves, and, yes, fights to survive, is more important than preserving people.
"It's not that simple."
Yes it is. It's also class warfare, too. I'm good at ending these sorts of arguments.
"So why don't you just shoot them?"
"You know, shoot the addicts. Final solution. Like Hitler. That's what you really want, isn't it?"
"That's ... That's insane!"
Yes, it is. But so is ignoring certain cultural pandemics, like substance abuse.
"Why? Because they're still people? Because it makes you look fucking hypocritical? Stop bombing Iraq so you can get back to keeping my rich little ass safe from the poor people??"
The rich little ass thing was meant to hurt, to end a pointless debate. Amazing how so many folks from upper-class backgrounds, who've never owned a car older than three years old, who've never had to choose between rent or food, don't know how well off they really are.
Or that nobody really gives a shit, at the end of the day, what those rich little asses want to keep in or out of their own backyards. A community's wants and needs are rarely the same thing - tough shit, get over it.
"This conversation is over. You're still an arrogant self-righteous asshole, just so you know."
Aw shucks. Well, thanks, chica. And you're still the same ol' frigid, fake ass, Trustafarian Peacenik cuntbag I remember, too. Glad to see you can still afford to do nothing for a living, other than live off inheritance and jump behind just about every cause celebre on the Left.
Sure, let's end poverty, hunger, international crises, and the like - so long as it doesn't let the poor and hungry into the benefactor's kingdom.
Oh, I'm sorry. Queendom. She read a book or two, calls herself a womyn's activist these days. Goes to protests and rallies here on the Central Coast, in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. Wouldn't be caught dead, however, actually volunteering in one of the many local, impromptu homeless shelters - too many battered womyn who might, well, one day decide to settle in the area. Might drop the value of her home to under a million bucks.
And I'm not a supporter, really, of any one particular solution to drug rehabilitation. Just a former addict and former resident, who thinks that, yes, this service is needed.
While the city, county, and state wrangle over a government solution, one rancher invested his own time, money, and fortitude to help meet that need.
Some battles just need to be fought. And it's just as simple as realizing that battlefields sometimes look like quaint little cities, surrounded by wineries and mansions on rolling hills.
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