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I won't bore you with why I was in the hospital yet again, but I will tell you I was pretty much kicked out around sundown on a freezing, raining December night. I was given a cab voucher (invalid because the doc didn't sign it and I had to return to the hospital and seek out an M.D.) to the homeless tent in the parking lot of Petco Park. I had made the mistake of telling the hospital social worker that my apartment status was in question, that is, I hadn't paid rent for a while. She saw me off to the homeless tent. I had no choice: either there or no cab voucher. I was brought in to the hospital via ambulance with no money, and so, there I was. I could have taken a bus token, but I figured a taxi was far preferable.

The rain was serious and the cold was considerable for an older guy in San Diego. I shuddered and clutched myself, getting soaked by 40-degree rain. Before me was a row of ironic beach-type butterfly chairs, all full of homeless men and women waiting for their lottery ticket number to be called for one of a few remaining beds. Granted, they were all under a kind of makeshift tent or canvas tarp, but the f----ing freezing wind had everybody clutching blankets (if they had them) around their shoulders and bodies, strangers more or less, huddled together for warmth like some kind of Aleutians.

All of this in the klieglike parking-lot-lamp shadows of the 450-million-dollar baseball park. The City's priorities are clear when you look at this scene. Especially during the winter: the tent is officially referred to as the Winter Shelter.

I stood outside the tarp (no room) for a good two hours, soaked to the marrow and asked ridiculous questions, like, "What do you do if you can't get in? You know, for a bed. Are there alternative places to sleep?" One guy, a veteran of the streets said, "Yeah, fight for a spot under a freeway bridge. And, man, you may have to fight for that. Can you do that?"

"Well, I'm not as tough as I used to think I was. I'm an old guy."

"Old guys cut no slack."

Meanwhile, a guy in a vest with a megaphone, like a carnival barker, was ejaculating ticket numbers -- for women first -- and two women out of maybe a dozen were assigned beds. Meanwhile, the rain fell at times with a vengeance. The wind howled, as the poet once said, like a hammer.

Possibly a dozen -- no, more were waiting for beds. At about ten, everyone was turned away into the rain, mostly to head for bridges under, say, Commercial Street. The looks on their faces could collectively be characterized as neither disappointed, angry, nor sad, but resigned. Most had gone through this routine at one time or another and it was if it were almost expected. Many headed for the trolley stop, heading God-knows-where. I also went to the trolley stop and saw one of the homeless/turned-away women withdraw a few dollars from her wallet. I swallowed too much pride and asked her if she had one she could give me for fare. She did not hesitate.

"Of course, dear. Here you go." Generosity from someone with nothing.

Meanwhile, many of the other exiles from the tent were milling around the trolley stop seeking shelter from the rain and allowing trolley or bus, one after another, to pass by. Almost no one had fare for either.

The trolley at least was warm and dry. But I had to get off at City Center on Third Street to catch the #11 bus on First Avenue toward my place on Adams Avenue and hope I could still get in and there were not, say, new tenants or guys tearing up the carpet, my bed out in the rain by the Dumpster.

The first #11 passed me by without slowing and it took nearly an hour for the next one. My dollar was not sufficient without my disabled I.D. card but the bus driver said, "Go ahead, sit down. I'm not a Nazi."

"I can see that, and I'm grateful."

The night railed against the bus with very few passengers (who in their right mind would be out on a night like this?) and the driver steered through the gale like a veteran rough-water captain.

During the ride, I alternately worried about the state of my apartment -- even if I'd be able to get in -- and the faces of the men and women outside the tent as they were sent packing. I prayed I was not homeless. That I would not be one of them.

Old guys cut no slack .

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