By Sharon Byrne, as featured in today’s Santa Babara Sentinel
I live downtown because I wanted an urban lifestyle. I wanted to walk everywhere, take the dog out for strolls, and be in the center of all the excitement, such as there is. My derriere has long been trying to expand into its own zip code, so I figured burning calories by walking would reign that in a bit.
I walk down State and along the beach between 6 and 7 AM daily. The winter sunrises are spectacular, but you also see a very different side of our city at that hour in the morning. For this student of humanity, it’s sometimes revelatory.
On my Sunday morning walk, I encountered a dump on Gutierrez.
There’s a massive difference between that peculiar form of urban recycling where one puts out a useable item that will be snatched up immediately, and dumping piles of refuse from a recent move-out. Too much of the latter activity goes on around this city.
I took pictures, and sent them off to Sue Sadler, the city’s code enforcement officer. Sue has educated many of us on illegal dumping, and asks us to report it so she can enforce. Identifying offenders (especially those midnight-dumpers) is hard. We have some ‘suspect’ properties, where tenant turnover is high and dumping nearby frequent, but unless there’s a witness, or evidence, the city can’t prosecute.
I stacked the pile for easier pick-up, and a clump of mail fell out, all addressed to one individual at a nearby residence.
This is how the city catches many illegal dumpers, believe it or not.
At sunrise, the homeless are often the only people moving around, giving the city a strange, post-apocalyptic feel, especially in fog. Interesting urban juxtaposition: at 6 AM, the liquor stores open and the Salvation Army hands out sack lunches. This is rush hour for the homeless.
On return from Tuesday’s walk, at 6:50 AM, I was surprised to see two cholo types walking down my street.
Hmmm… either gang shift started really early today, or the vandalism crew is clocking out after a long night.
I hadn’t seen them before, and then I realized their uniforms were off. They were in all black, with serious neck bling… straight from Central Casting for LA gang members.
My internal alarms went off.
My boyfriend texted me: BOLO – be on the lookout. He’d passed them on his way to work minutes earlier, and got the same feeling I did.
30 minutes later, the police arrived. A neighbor started his car to warm it up, went in to get his work mate, and came back out to find the car gone. I told the responding officer about the sunrise cholos, and sent out an email warning to my neighbors. Don’t be an easy victim. One neighbor responded that a black car was crawling through the neighborhood the night before, probably casing the area. Our beat cop wrote back immediately from his smartphone, and encouraged us to keep watch. We’ve been safe for a while, but complacency creates fertile ground for crime, I guess.
On Wednesday’s walk, I went up the east side of State back to the house. I normally come up the west side of the street, and then head left on Gutierrez. I waved hello to my homeless friend across the street at the train station. He lost his beloved chow-chow to old age a year ago, around the same time my old German shepherd passed on. We each feel we had The Best Dog That Ever Lived, and you never really get over losing that dog. He lavishes my exuberant puppy with affection, but a taste of bittersweet always hovers in the background.
I waited for the Gutierrez light, and entered the crosswalk when I had the signal. Halfway across State, someone took a baseball bat to the back of my left calf. Stunned, I barely processed that a car was going down State, having just completed a left turn off Gutierrez.
I’d been hit by that car.
The homeless crowd on the corner was screaming. I had enough sense to try to burn the license plate into memory. The driver stopped the car and jumped out. He was very young, and totally distraught. I moved immediately from shock to anger, like a total possession by the Furies of Greek myth. DUDE!!!! You have to wait until the pedestrian CLEARS the lane before you turn into it! What were you thinking???? You couldn’t wait one more freaking second for me to make it across?????
The homeless rushed over to see if I was ok, and then exhorted me to sue the pants off him. I was relieved that a) I didn’t face-plant into the concrete, lose a leg, or heck, die and b) my pup wasn’t running amok in the intersection. One of the homeless guys got hold of his leash for me.
My daughter later asked me, in her elder stateswoman affectation, “So, Mom, what have you learned this week?”
Sometimes I have this distinctly odd sense that I might be the child around here…
But I’m not giving up those walks!