The homeless problem: From condemnation to compassion

homeless-cart2.jpgMy recent visit to southern California left me frustrated by the rampant homeless  problem seizing the golden state.  I lived in the heart of L.A for over a decade, and homelessness existed, but it didn’t seem permanent or ubiquitous.  Mostly confined to Venice Beach, downtown at Skid Row, and the freeway ramps with beggars holding honest or creative signs.  This time I noticed them everywhere, even in the out-of-the-way, senior living town of Sun City.  This desert town was once only occupied by the 55 and over crowd, retirees looking for cheap living in a safe community.  The youths were watched closely, and vagabonds non-existent.  This visit I watched backpackers and cart pushers wandering though town with all their belongings.  A few were passed out in bushes, homeless man 2others displayed burnt hard faces of the street life, and some lived in their car.  I felt disheartened, and disappointed that this seemed to be the new norm.


On the evening news, they showed permanent homeless camps along the L.A. river.  What in the hell is going on in this state, I thought.  Do people seriously want to live a homeless life?  Why can’t they get a job, or move to where they can live a better life?  The trash they leave behind is unbelievable!

I visited Santa Monica for a few memorable days to enjoy my old playground on the beach and in the mountains.  My morning runs took me though Venice Beach, where the homeless have always migrated. Again, it was out of control. Camps with tents, personal belongings, bikes and stoves.  They’d wake, use the public toilets and drink their lattes.  An ambulance was called for a dispute or injury between two of them.  Great, your tax dollars at work for those that don’t contribute.

Later that evening as I walked to dinner they hung out on main street, and I didn’t feel safe turning some dark corners.  Why let these people invade prime property?  Why do locals accept and support people who do nothing  to better society?

Back in Florida we also have a homeless problem as do many towns.  Sometimes they harass me, other times I smile at them.   I’m trying my best to hold compassion for everyone, including the destitute.  After all, I don’t know their story.  Many jobs have gone overseas, and the cost of living is increasing, especially in California.  I have since opened my mind and heart and compassion is my new word of the month.  With the holidays upon us, I hope to keep my eyes and heart open to those in trouble and need.homeless familycompassion jpeg


Familiar scenes in La La Land

lala landI recently watched the award-winning musical movie La La Land. In my 20’s I lived and played in the heart of  L.A., and embraced every moment including the jazz and Hollywood scene.  I was young, rebellious and passionate about the city, as I still am today at a distance.  The movie includes Universal Studios, Jazz and Griffith Park, as do these memories I share.

I somehow wandered into Universal Studios through a back gate with my BFF, my Asian twin.   I think the gate was unattended, or we simply smiled and walked through.  Tourists on trams were pointing at us and we seemed to be the only ones roaming the fake studios unattended.  I think we were walking through the set of Back to the Future, among others. The tram slowed and we hopped on the back as people took photos.  The driver was confused and pretended not to notice, or maybe he really didn’t.  After disembarking and spending the afternoon exploring, we asked one of the directors to give us a ride back to my car parked at the other end of the studio.

“How did you get here?”  He asked.

“We walked though the back gate, and jumped on the tram.  I think it’s a few miles that way, ” I said pointing.

“Without I.D?”

“Um, yes.  Nobody said anything.”

He grinned and told us not to try that again and then he had a conversation with the gate guard.

jax2My love of Jazz began in Los Angeles, with my first date night at JAX in Glendale. I think it’s one of the filming places in La La Land, or very close to it in ambience and location.  It was during the L.A. riots, 1992 and a curfew was enforced.

“Are you still up for getting together?” My future boyfriend asked.

“I’m game.  I need to get out for a while.”

The streets were smoky, eerie and strangely silent.  Live jazz at the close-by club reflected the mood.  We had a private booth, life altering conversations, and the beginning of a love affair that lasted until his sudden death.  Memories made but not forgotten.

griffithI considered Griffith Park my other love. It integrated nature and hiking, biking, the observatory, stargazing, drinking, and the famous Hollywood sign.  I’d hike or bike the trails and solve many of my problems.  Minor issues that seemed larger than life back then.  A breakup, head to the park.  A bad day at school, an intense bike ride through Griffith.  An hour at the planetarium watching projected stars on the ceiling while listening to Pink Floyd was a complete escape or sometimes a bonding experience with a friend as we sipped concealed cocktails.  I even watched a full solar eclipse with hundreds of others picnicking for popular the event.  A friend and I climbed the Hollywood sign and even met and flirted with the two Matt’s, young actors from the TV series Friends.  griffith 3

I was blessed enough to live close to the park.  When I moved near UCLA campus I found other places to enjoy the outdoors and jazz, but these moments will always hold a special place in my heart.  I’m visiting L.A. later this summer and I might visit Griffith Park, but not Universal Studios.  It’s too touristy and nothing can top my visit through the back gate.  I recently learned JAX jazz club and grill closed last year, such a shame since it was truly a unique local jazz club.

Marina Del Ray and Venice Beach, part two


Image via Wikipedia

A morning cup of Joe when your just steps from the Cow’s End Cafe on Washington Boulevard is a divine way to start the day.  Although Starbucks is just an extra step away, the Cow’s End is by far superior.  My husband earned bonus points for ordering for me a triple skinny white latte before I even emerged from the covers. It became my morning beverage while in Marina Del Ray as I watched the local KTLA and their familiar but sometimes obnoxious news.  When did Entertainment overcome real news in L.A.?  One morning the local anchor was severely distraught  over the remake of Dirty Dancing…get over it.  Perhaps I’m just more wise now and didn’t notice the bad news coverage when I lived here.  But then again, I’ve had an aversion for the news the past decade.

My husband and I hopped on our rusty rental bikes and casually cruised through the Marina and the last remaining wetlands in L.A. We rode over to Playa Del Ray and lined ourselves up with the runway at LAX to watch jets pass over us.  The bike path was busy for a Friday afternoon.  I suggested continuing south for lunch in Manhattan Beach, but my hubby thought that was a bit ambitious so we did a u-turn and ended up at a Mexican restaurant back in the Marina. 

We spent the rest of the day people watching in Venice then we took an evening trip to Downtown.  I should have known better, but I was open to suggestions.  After all most big cities have a lively downtown area.

“Let’s go downtown tonight,” my husband suggested.

“I never went downtown at night when I lived here, except to see Skid Row.”  I paused and thought about the concept for a moment. “But I did read about the newly developed area called Downtown Live.” 

“Let’s drive by Skid Row and then eat in China Town,” he innocently said. 

I thought about the adventure and responded, “OK, I’ll get out the maps and do a bit of research.”  I’d hadn’t been to downtown L.A. in perhaps 15 years, and I did enjoy China Town for lunch back then.

We drove by Skid Row around 8:30.  The homeless were technically forbidden to put up their boxes until 9:00, but the effect for the boys was still priceless.  Groups of men stood on every corner.  Some restless ones were assembling their boxes and tents.  Everyone locked their doors as we drove through the eerie streets.  Police on bicycles patrolled the area.  The boys had a million questions one moment and complete silence the next.  They observed in amazement at the amount of homeless on Skid Row.  Their hunger forgotten for a brief moment.  But in the face of all the sadness their was no violence and therefore should have been no fear.  My husband let the boys know that if they didn’t live their life straight then they could end up in the same situation.

We cruised over a few blocks to China Town, which was dead at night.  A few restaurants were open, but not the hustle and bustle of daytime downtown.  So we went with plan B, Downtown Live.  I wasn’t impressed, it could have been a mini mall in any town and the wait for all the restaurants was over an hour.

So onto plan C, Hollywood.  My old familiar stomping grounds.  By this time the boys were famished.  I found our way to one of the best Mexican restaurants on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.  The wait, 1 1/2 hours.  So we walked along the Boulevard past a photo shoot for “Girls and Corpses” magazine.  Why does such a magazine exist?  Not sure, but only in Hollywood.  We ended up at a small restaurant with no wait and a decent menu.  Bread and drinks arrived as we glanced at the couple finishing up their dinner next to us.  All the tables in the restaurant came with crayons for creating tablecloth art while waiting. The beautiful girl and her partner drew images of pentagram crosses and other satanic images.  When they left the boys stared at their artwork.

“Is that 666,” one of them said.

She was gorgeous, why are they drawing that?”  Came from another’s one’s mouth, like I had the answer.

My typical response, “It’s Hollywood.”

I think the night made quite the impression and memories for our little surfers and adults alike.

Re-visiting Venice Beach, part one

As we flew into Los Angeles the thin Marine layer butted up against the San Bernardino Mountains leaving the city sprawl below unseen and unappreciated.  Just moments prior to landing, the airport and its immediate surroundings came into view.  A familiar sight for me albeit a long overdue one.

We arrived at our two bedroom modern oceanfront home just steps from the Venice pier.  It’s located south of the madness where bikes are not allowed on the boardwalk and normal people and dogs flourish.  People watching for me would become a favorite pastime while my Snorkie would dog watch and dog patrol over the next week.  A whine here, a growl there, and lots of sniffing of the air, other dogs and the ground in general.  I too would use my sense of smell in a different way to bring back memories of when I lived near here.

Although Venice was cool with the marine layer, a rarity this time of year, the beach was crowded with surfers, families and hard bodies working out.  Couples doing squats, groups practicing yoga,  and individuals running and walking all day into the evening.  Mid-day the sun peeked through and some people just sat on the beach absorbing the afternoon warmth, but for the most part Venice is an active beach with movement overcoming inertia. 

The following morning I chose the southern route for my morning run around Marina Del Rey.  I ran around an endless sea of sailboats as I jogged through all the nooks and crannies of the marina maze.  I stumbled upon a friend’s condo not recognizing it until the faint familiar smell of hot bleach and laundry detergent hit me.  I stopped, looked around then confirmed that it was the building she used to live in.  What may appear to be a common smell in this particular instance was very unique and memorable.  I ended my run by cutting through a trail that I had never experienced.  It was a short dirt path between the Venice canal and million dollar houses with awesome landscape and architecture.  Over an hour passed without me even breaking a sweat.

The Santa Monica Pier, California, Usa

Image via Wikipedia

  Continuing my desire to exercise my body and mind by reliving my past life in L.A., I rode my bike to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market on Arizona Street.  I filled my backpack with fresh organic fruit, sourdough bread and gourmet nuts then headed back down the Venice boardwalk to our temporary home.  I’d worked up an appetite and wanted to visit another favorite place of mine, Trader Joe’s.  After convincing my husband that it’s worth the extra ten minute drive we arrived at my beloved grocery store.  We would be cooking dinner during part of our stay so he stocked up on meats for the three teenage boys while I strolled the isles for old-time favorites.  I was like a kid in a candy store, not sure what to get while trying to figure out what I could take back to Florida.  I ended up getting fresh and frozen vegetarian prepared meals and bottles of wine priced at $1.99 a bottle.  No wonder I didn’t cook much when I lived in Santa Monica, Trader Joe’s did it for me.  I would be back without my husband trying to rush me, I decided.

The following day I had an equally rewarding run through Venice Beach to the Santa Monica pier.  I decided to listen to music instead of my audiobooks so that my mind could wander through diverse memories and thoughts.  I let it without judgement or surveillance.

I craved a hike through the Santa Monica Mountains so my husband dropped me off at Topanga State Park at Temescal Gatway Park and then took the boys to Zuma Beach in Malibu to surf.  I took the more challenging route of the ridge trail, a hike I used to do once a week without effort.  The switchbacks led me uphill for almost an hour.  It’s a well-traveled trail but somehow a rather large non-venomous snake managed to cross in front of me, startling me for a brief moment.  As I winded through the mountains, sage and juniper filled the air.  The scent of nature and the views of the city and ocean were divine.  It had been over six years since I traveled this route that had inspired me for the preceding decade.

A visit with a good friend and a late lunch at Gladstone’s completed my awesome day.  The rest of the evening was a  gift.  Laid back with no agenda, just the beach and family.

Running in Venice Beach

I almost always rise early in California.  I woke at 7 am, something I rarely do on the east coast. Well rested and restless at the same time.  Fog engulfed Venice Beach and the air was refreshingly cool.  It would be my first run here in over eight years, and I was loving it.  My legs started bouncing down the boardwalk to the tunes of  Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance.

Muscle Beach was the first familiar sight with shirtless iron chested men lifting weights at the famous outside gym.  The shops were starting to open.  You can still get your name on a grain of rice and the tacky t-shirts are still ubiquitous.  “I put ketchup on my ketchup,” and “I’m considered very large in Japan.” With a drawing of a well endowed stick-man. We all know the man wearing that shirt has been short-changed.  Or how about two pictures of the men’s restroom sign, one says “you” with a small penis, the other “me” with one twice the size.  Do men actually buy these?

The artists were setting up booths as they hauled their art to tables or simply placed them on the ground.  The sidewalks are now marked with numbers for the assigned artist, something that didn’t exist years ago.  Homeless men and woman wandered about and socialized.  It was difficult to distinguish between the homeless and the artists, perhaps they were one in the same.  Did it matter?  Why do starving artists always have the best looking jackets?  Long black leather seemed to be the popular style this year. 

The smell of marijuana clouded the refreshing scent of the Pacific Ocean.   It is the Venice Beach I remember.

Venice Beach clearly ended and as I crossed over to Santa Monica I had a perpetual smile on my face.  It must have shown because everyone smiled back at me. Every step, every curve held a memory for me.  Every building seemed familiar.  I stepped back in time and I was going for my morning run.  One so recognizable, enjoyable, and so me.

I turned around and headed back.  The boardwalk was quickly filling in with locals and tourists.  Almost everyone had a dog, even the homeless. Large dogs, small dogs, pampered and weathered, side by side.  A reflection of the boardwalk in many ways. I didn’t recall that many dogs when I lived here, but then again I wasn’t a dog person until recently.  I pictured my little diva on Venice.  Memories of her horrible New York experience entered my mind, reminding me that she’s a country dog. 

 There are many famous boardwalks in this great country of ours.  Many hold the same souvenirs, unhealthy food and characters.  But nothing compares to Venice Beach.  It is all of that and so much more.  A great place to people watch, browse shops and have a few drinks with no agenda.  My husband and I were lucky enough to find a great apartment for a few nights that allowed us to do this.

Dark Diva Review

Latest review from Dark Diva Reviews

Deb’s Review: Intimate Encounters by Sierra Michaels immediately drew me into the characters and scenes of the sensual massage business and the struggles of the girls working at the apartment. The characters are very likable and the book is well written. It also delves into issues such as career choices, college life, suicide, guilt, and friendships. I highly recommend this book because it’s a very easy read and after the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down.

The main character, Cali, is a student paying her way through school and I found myself laughing at the interactions between her and her friends. She was easy to connect with as I was reading the story and I think Ms. Michaels wrote this role and plot line with this objective in mind. So as a reader, be prepared to connect and feel the intense emotions Cali is dealing with in each scene.

In addition, I enjoyed the place and subject matter that Cali was studying because it was fun and fascinating, at least in my opinion. This story line has many different elements or components, such as surviving in the real world, feeling of pressure to succeed, emotional battles, friendships old and new, and Intimate Encounters. In essence, it has all that and a bag of chips. The imagery and descriptors used to describe the places they traveled is amazing to the point that I could easily picture it in my mind as I read along. Moreover, the landscapes described in the story sounded breathtakingly beautiful.

I have to ask Ms. Michaels, why this plot line because it is an interesting one. Will the other girls get a book? Will Cali, if you do more books have a cameo in them? The girls are just so much fun. I also would love to see Cali find her true love. {I know, I cannot help but want that for her.}

I have to say if you want a sweet and sexy read then Intimate Encounters is a must for your book collection! Sierra Michaels is a fresh delight for this reviewer! I cannot wait to read what’s next for her.

Rated 5 Delightful Divas by Deb!