On a warm autumn afternoon, a homeless man lies against a wall on First Avenue just south of Ash Street. He's sharing a bottle of cheap vodka with an older homeless man in a wheelchair. They're both drunk. With Thanksgiving coming soon, what plans do these men have? The older man, Troy Bullock from Lubbock, Texas, talks first.
"I'm 62. I've been in and out of here since 1965. I got family in L.A. --Long Beach and Westminster -- aunts, uncles, and some cousins. I been married 'bout four times and had four kids." Bullock is unable to recall what exactly his disability is. "I get veteran's [benefits] and I get Social Security. I got shot at in Korea. I wasn't in the Korean War -- I was there after it was over with. Eisenhower, that goofy-ass son of a bitch, was the stupidest goddamn president we ever had. That asshole cut out the G.I. Bill, then Kennedy reinstated it.
"I'm thinking about going back to Dallas for Thanksgiving. My mother and brother are there; they live at Cedar Creek Lake. I may fly or go on a bus. Last Thanksgiving I was at my own home. I got two homes, one in New Mexico and one in Texas. But I love San Diego. I love bein' on the street in San Diego."
The younger man, Edwin Hill, 45, is even less coherent. "I'm from South Carolina. I been here for seven years, since I got divorced. I caught my ex-wife having sex with a German Shepherd -- bestiality. I have no children, but I have 12 Morgan horses. I train horses and I'm also a blacksmith. I have $56,000 in the bank..." He totters and smirks. His plans for Thanksgiving seem definite. "I'm gonna get on my knees and...and pray! Heh heh! I'll go for dinner at the South Bay Community Church. Great church."
Under the marquee of the California Theater on Fourth Avenue, two men and two women sit huddled against the building. They share drinks, cigarettes, and conversation. The most outspoken is Goldie Harris, 41, a black woman sporting a baseball cap. Next to her sits Stormy, 42, who looks exhausted.
Facing them are Albert Lee Dixon, who is visibly drunk, and Tony Glenn, the cleanest-looking and quietest member of the group. Harris cannot wait to speak her mind about being homeless.
"I'm from Wichita, Kansas. I been in San Diego too damn long. I came out here to take care of my grandmother, who had a blood disease. My uncle, who was taking care of her, had a stroke, so I came out with my mom. That was about eight years ago. I got my mom out here, but I got a lot of homeless people that love me more than my own family...thank you, Jesus.
"They got the Mexicans, they got the Orientals, they got every motherfucker out here livin' better than the original white folks and black folks that built this country up. All these damn foreigners are livin' better than us! Do you see any homeless Oriental motherfuckers? I don't! Do you see any Mexican homeless people? This shit is so fuckin' sick. People come over here from other countries and boom! The assholes and motherfuckers that are running these offices are bullshit. The police been fuckin' with homeless people the last couple of days because it's election time. The police asked this one nigger to come across the street, then he gave him a ticket 'cause it was a red light!"
Stormy, a native of Orange County, came to San Diego three months ago. "I was arrested in Monterey Bay and brought back here for not doin' my community service. I've actually been here off and on for seven years."
Dixon, 44, came to San Diego from Michigan 11 years ago. He proudly displays his veteran's ID card. He talks to himself and interrupts everyone else's conversation. "Do you understand who I am? You can learn a lot from a dummy. I was dragged here for a situation, and I liked it. I love the people, so I stayed."
Glenn sits quietly as he stares at the others intently. "I'm from Fort Worth, Texas. I've been married twice. I had a brother who was dyin', and I was drivin' a semi. When I came back out of Dodge City, Kansas, I had a load of beef, and I asked him where he wanted to go. He said, 'I wanna go to San Diego.' I said, 'Okay, if you wanna die in San Diego, you're gonna die in San Diego.' I drew all my money out, we came to San Diego, and he died six months later. I pretty well been here ever since -- that was 1996. We [he points to the group] started partyin', and we've been partyin' ever since. I've worked a little, off and on, and I've noticed that there's good people here in San Diego. They got great heart. They try to help people out. But I've figured out that if you're in good health, like I am, you gotta get up and you gotta do something. I've done a little fallin'."
When asked about their plans for Thanksgiving, the group erupts into laughter.
Harris explodes into another sermon: "What the hell have I got to be thankful for? I'm homeless. I'm broke and disgusted. But I can be trusted. We saw a million and a half motherfuckers walkin' past us today, lookin' at us, laughin' like we was a piece of shit. But they're livin' large! These are homeless veterans and shit. I've seen so many damn veterans and people with schizophrenia -- people who don't even know where the hell they at. California sucks. Look!" She points to a well-dressed Mexican man crossing the street. "See what I'm sayin? And they all dressed up all pimpy and shit, and we all look like scrubs. The foreigners have taken over the whole country -- the hotels, the liquor stores, every fuckin' thing! God bless America."