About Richard
The Journey
World Friends

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Report: #25
Date: 07/22/02
Location: Los Angeles again
Subject: Homeless in America

Gidday! Yo, Dude! Buenos Dias! Ola!! In my last episode, did I forget to tell you about the nude conga in People's Park, Berkeley? Oh well, there's no time for that now. Nor for the metal skeletons with sub-machine guns. Nor the forest populated with pink, plastic flamingoes and an inflatable crocodile.

I'm kind of still in L.A. Please bear with me for having sidelined the cycle for a couple of months to take care of some details very core to my life's journey. My life is part of this journey round the World, and this journey is an integral part of my life. It's not that I've switched off real life for a while. This is it.

So I've been back to Japan to wed, for the second time, the woman I found while following this dream. It was a Shinto style ceremony on the first day of the rainy season, so good for the flowers. And on top of being with my lady, there was the superb cuisine; such as sushi, seaweed, grilled salmon, senbe (rice crackers) and miso soup; and sensational hospitality with solid friends, old and new; and the World Cup, and Elvis Costello in concert, and the Shinkansen (Bullet Train).

But heaven wouldn't be complete without a bicycle, in my opinion. Mine was hanging in Noah's garage in L.A., so I had to be content with the odd spin amongst the water-filled, mirror rice-fields on a small wheeled "ori chari" (folding bike; yeah, as in origame), with dragonflies a-spying and surprising white herons into flight.

I think everyone should have at least a double life. And in keeping with this philosophy, I planted a field of rice seedlings, in blazing sunshine, on four wheels for once, and I let fly to Osaka bands Tripod Jimmy and Sub Dude, on a trip to my old haunts.

I found the sunset in the city, clear from the garden on the rooftop of Osaka CAT Building (City Air Terminal), to Rokko Mountain behind Kobe, as typhoons lined up to wreak havoc. Accompaniment was Sub Dude and nourishment was tofu special from Mark's Sky Bar kitchen. Mark, who not long back, escaped a coma. He must have brought that recipe with him!

TV-wise; the Japan-Korea World Cup pageantry adorned screens everywhere. Even sometimes taking precedence over baseball. And then there was Sumo. Almost poles apart. Though in the case of the World Cup, is possible to see small guys compete against giants, like in Sumo.

And Beckhamania gripped much of Japan. Beckham being England's football captain and Spice Husband. Then the sky and the TV space were stolen by those typhoons.

But I'm guessing you'd rather hear about my actual bicycular orbit. So I'll fill you in on some of what I went through to reach L.A. from San Francisco.

One thing that surprised me was how many times people would wind down their windows and enter into conversation with me at red lights. It would often go like this; "How far are you going?" My answer varied between "Round the World!" to "To L.A.!" "I used to bike a lot, but these days" And the green light would amputate the reason and perhaps there'd be a trailing "Good Luck!"

If my spirits needed lifting, as sometimes they do, this would do it for me. I could go all day on one of these.

To Silicon Valley and turn right. Over the forested skyline down to the coast and to Santa Cruz. I forget where, but I passed Santa Claus on the way too.

On the Skyline Road I'd met a car driver at a rest area, who said that he'd tracked the coast himself, on his bike, when he'd been homeless. He understood my situation and offered me a spot to crash (sleep; for you non-native-English speakers) further on in Monterey.

Monterey was a broad expanse of busy highway and harvest-ready-strawberry fields (doing aromatic battle) away, with a lengthy bike-track through shoreline, desert-ish dunes tagged on.

How Monterey Man, whose shelves, in his new place, were jammed with quality books, whose pictures told of connections with the rich and famous, and whose cooking was next to gourmet, had wound up homeless, I couldn't really fathom. But he told me, "If you haven't been indicted at least once for racketeering, then you haven't done sh*t (non-native English speakers; read 'anything') in American business!" And that wasn't why he'd lost the roof over his head. A failed marriage was hinted at.

I enjoyed the informed conversation, full stomach and comfortable couch. And I'll try not to do sh*t in American business.

Despite being well rested, I didn't get very far the next day. Too much dawdling round the picturesque coast of Monterey. I kept stopping to chat with folk, or to watch a sea otter splashing, or to photograph colour-splash pink or purple flowers. Past the expensive golf courses with expensive-looking deer wandering on them. I made it all the way to nowhere, with a startling aspect over the ocean. Luckily there was a house there. I braved a barking dog to raise the owner, who appeared stern, but showed me where I could pitch my tent on his land. In the morning his demeanor had transformed agreeably, and his dog, Sasha, was also more used to me. He let me in the house, fed me cheese, and gave me use of the hot shower. With clean towel! I say house, but it was more like an art gallery. Jim had been busy in his solitude, to wondrous effect. He said, "The cat's the boss, and special. I've taught Sasha that." And "You are what you read." And he maintained that "Accepting reality is what's important. Everything that happens, should happen."

What happened to me next was Big Sur; a brutal, rollercoastering road with dizzying views of the Pacific breakers. But when I'd taken a breather at a store just leading into Big Sur, I'd been a little knocked off balance by the attitude of a man called Matt. Motorbiker Matt wore biking leathers proudly displaying the words "Vietnam Vet."

"Have you ever been back there?" "No, I would never think about it," he answered emphatically. "And if it was up to me, I'd shoot every last one of 'em! Though I don't suppose you'd be of the same opinion."

"Not at all," was all I could think to say. I remembered so many people there who seemed to have forgiven and forgotten the napalm, the Agent Orange, the bombs and the mines, even whilst the effects still last, but words failed me.

The wind picked up and gave me assistance on the ups. But I only realised how strong it was when a turbulent vortex, caused by the funnel of a gorge parting the mountainside in its haste to reach the sea, blew me to a precarious standstill. But for the most part, it whipped me along, making it almost too difficult to stop to gawk at the scarred, wobbling, sand-blown, smelly, lounging, fighting, tusked, sumo lumps of blubber that were Elephant Seals. Great congregations of 'em.

I could spend the starry nights at reachable and utterly affordable ($1 per hiker/biker per night) campsites. And you usually get the choicest position. At one, a humming bird, attracted by my yellow jersey, buzzed to within a wingbeat of my face, for an instant, and then shot away again. No worries, I'd paid my dollar.

A town again; Pismo Beach. Almost entirely devoted to RV parks. Recreational Vehicles; another hazard to an Intercontinental Bicycle Man. RV's the size of buses; mobile homes on steroids; rolling bungalows; driven by people old enough to consider that falling dead at the wheel might be a likely mishap on their migrating journey.

An outer corner of Pismo Beach town was given over to a large campsite, where another dollar got me camped alongside some people LIVING in their tents; a couple with a child; and a single ditzy blonde girl. None were about when I arrived, but then a nervous, shorthaired young guy, who couldn't seem to stand still, turned up looking for Blondie. He hung balloons on a tent concealed in a large bush, then rummaged inside it, leaving a cake and a bottle. It was her birthday. "Wouldn't it be just like a comedy if it was the wrong tent?" he quipped, and left.

Later he came back looking for Blondie again, with a bearded guy. I think devotion to alcohol was their main reason for being members of the homeless community. But they were both sober and amicable, and had their wits about them sufficiently to swiftly remove the balloons and gifts from the couple's tent, as Beardy was better informed than Mr. Active. And they were honest enough to tell the couple of the embarrassing error later.

Blondie didn't come "home" till very late and she and her friends partied round a wood fire and a transistor radio the whole night with various comings and goings. I hung with them for a while. Mr. Active asked me, "Have you broken State law today?" Apparently he'd once been jailed for cycling after dark without light! Probably on a "third-strike"-and-you're-IN deal. So I imagined that the answer to his question was probably yes. But I was too whacked to party on, or to be very disturbed by the birthday bash noises. Refugio Beach. An excellent site, but for the shop only opening at weekends, and despite its name, it was impossible to escape the thunder of the trucks on Route 1.

The shop being closed meant that I had to enquire as to where the nearest provisions might be had, and suddenly I had kind offers of bread, doughnuts and fruit from three sides. They saved me a 20Km ride and I still had my emergency noodles in tact. I salute you good American people.

Have you heard of Santa Barbara? Manicured malls, pedicured pier with pelicans, and buffed beachfront. Namesake of TV soap, if I recall rightly. But I don't think that the main character, whom I met there, would have been cast in that show. He professed to be the tennis-equivalent of Buddha or Christ, and he too was riding a loaded bike. Whatever! And, as improbable as his claims might have seemed, I guess there's room in this big World for just about all sorts. Perhaps only for one tennis Buddha, though.

Nearing L.A.; Hugging the dramatic, rugged coastal edge, almost completely ruined by the arterial highway gouged along it. But still, dolphins came close in to shore and I was able to track a pod of them playing and frolicking, for three or four beaches in succession. Endless lines of RV's parked beside available sea walls. Flotillas of surfers queuing up for the privilege of riding at Zuma or Malibu.

Hang left on Sunset Boulevard and again, to chug over the tip of the Hollywood Hills on Sepulveda; a four lane highway beside an eight lane freeway. Insane!! And often insanely clogged. And down to Noah and Nicole's place with their little son, Zac. And a home and a family for a spell. A family braving life in "The Valley," an area trying to secede from L.A. City. Had enough of angels, I suppose.

And my hosts have had their fill of Los Angeles, too. That was even before the BIG NEWS a few days ago, of a five year old girl, kidnapped, raped and murdered, from a supposedly safe, gated community. They'll be taking Zac to bring him up in Perth, Australia. Lucky, or what!

Meanwhile, Noah continues to teach Zac the Pretzel hold while Nicole calls him to the window to check out the garbage truck.

Los Angeles; hillier and greener than I'd expected, and not so many gun shots (only 4 so far) or sirens. But I haven't been to East L.A. yet.

From the woods and mansions of Beverly Hills you can pedal by a few palm-lined boulevards to Santa "Babe Watch" Monica beach, and then roll south by cycle-way to Venice Beach's big biceps on show and bikinis on wheels. You'll pass a kind of time line of market stalls on the way, like passing all the countries I've been through, and many I haven't. Incense, carvings, massage, food, art, clothes, psychics, tattooists, music.

Take a step away from that fringe, and you'll find the Canals of Venice, serene until a sea bird intrudes upon duck territory, or the police chopper with blinding searchlight, circles overhead. I don't think I've ever felt so homeless or so like a fugitive as I have done in USA at times. A bit like one of those sea birds amongst the ducks.

In L.A. you are what you drive, it seems. Carless equates to being a nobody. In the US, homeless nobodies equate to threats to society.

See ya nowhere.
Richard Nobody Gregg
No fixed address.
But determined to live in the here and now.

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