- Mr. Robert V. Eckert
- Editor, the Reader
- Dear Bob:
I know I was supposed to stay overnight at the City Rescue Mission on Saturday. An assignment’s an assignment. But when I got there at 7:30, the doors were closed. “Sorry Full House Tonight.” So I decided to try the one down the street, the Full Gospel Rescue Mission, at 441 5th Avenue. They have an evening meal with their evening service, too. Journalistic objectivity, you know.
I must have gotten there just in time. Even though the pews were half-empty, they closed the doors just after I got in. We started off with a big guy in front named Brother Ernie who woke one of the older “worshippers” up by belting out his sermonette. “I put ya to sleep and I’ll wake ya up.” Then we sang a few numbers like “The Old Rugged Cross.”
A group of six long-haired kids in front of me in jeans and jeans jackets giggled and made faces throughout the entire hymn part. The doorman, a pitiful red-haired scraggly fat guy, kept coming up and shushing them, his finger at his lips.
The testimony part was nothing special. An older lady in the back got up and said she wanted to testify that Jesus was Lord. The guy who had been asleep in front said he used to booze it up and chase young girls till he found Jesus. Then we heard a very emotional sermon by a guy who, voice quivering, invited us to come and commit ourselves. I think he wanted us to come forward and kneel down on one of these green velvet cushions in front of the stage. But no one budged. It seemed as though everyone had come just for the free meal. But maybe a lot of the drunks and drifters were as confused as I was what exactly the guy meant when he kept crying, his voice shaking, “Won’t ya come, won’t ya come?!”
After about an hour of the total service, they opened the kitchen doors and we lined up. Everyone got a couple of spoonfuls of spaghetti-like casserole plopped right on a cold metal tray, a white plastic cup of cold chocolate milk, a piece of white bread, a piece of cake, and an orange. One of the kids in jeans gave me his orange.
Well, "‘like I said, an assignment’s an assignment. I decided the only fair thing to do was to come back the next night to the City Rescue Mission. After all, if it filled up and closed its doors so early, something must be different.
So I arrived early at City Rescue the next night and stood in line for a bed at 7 o’clock. They called out first for the ones who had stayed at the Mission the night before. Boarders are allowed a total of 5 nights of lodging per month. (They figure it’ll take that long for a San Diego newcomer to find a job and get settled.) All one has to do at the bed sign-up is produce an I.D. card — even a Social Security card will do. After I got my number I sat down in the main room and waited like everyone else for the 7:30 service.
Sitting next to me was a young guy wearing a Mexican peasant shirt and carving a carburetor out of bamboo.- Everyone else around me was sitting quietly, now and then studying the guy carving the carburetor. There was a middle-aged black couple reading Today in San Diego that they must have picked up at the Plaza. There was a guy in front of me who looked like Admiral Zumwalt, who made a sort of Greek Orthodox sign of the cross a couple of times during the service. There was a guy next to him who said he was from Maine and who kept playing with a rosary in his hands. Next to the black couple was an older, Scandinavian-looking laborer with burly forearms and the ruddy face of an alcoholic. (I saw this same guy several days later sleeping in the sun in the door of the Charter Oil Building garage.) On all the walls hung paintings of scenes from the New Testament, mostly with quotations from St. John.
Eventually the service began. Some of the proctors, inmates who worked full-time at the Mission in a rehabilitation program, passed out hymn books, but there weren’t enough to go around. We sang “The Old Rugged Cross” and “I’ve Got a Friend in Jesus”; the tunes were pretty easy to follow, but everyone seemed so tired. The black lady put her head on her husband’s shoulder. There was a fat guy in the front row of our section who kept shaking his head in disagreement when one of the ministers chided the non-singers, “Now, you who weren’t singing, you aren’t smiling — you aren't enjoying yourself.”
A lady who had been playing the piano got up during the testimony part and really blasted the “bored” members of the audience. She said a few years ago she couldn’t have cared less whether the “bored ones” went to Heaven or Hell. Now she does care and she hopes they realize it.
The sermon centered on the theme of Barabas (the good thief at Calvary) and how he waited till the eleventh hour to ask for mercy and Jesus still pardoned him. But we shouldn’t wait until the eleventh hour. Then we were told to bow our heads and come forth into a prayer room. There were about three or four who went forth that I caught our of the comer of my eye.
Dinner at City Rescue was beans, a few slices of rye cocktail bread, a couple of soggy cookies, and a cup of coffee. A Mexican guy behind me whom I remembered from the night before at the Full Gospel Mission, offered me part of a jalapeno to go with my food. Another older guy with frizzy hair wanted me to come up and stay in his hotel room and “keep him company.” I think he even offered me half a grapefruit if I would.
After supper we lined up by bed number and were marched upstairs where we stripped, stepped under a scalding hot shower for a few seconds, and climbed into our nightgowns. I got a green flowery one, but the guy in front of me got a pink one.
Though they had warned us about no talking or cursing after the lights went out at 9:30 the guys in the bunks around me and I talked about selling plasma and selling blood (the black guy on the bed across from me said you could get $7.50 for blood and $7 for plasma. But you could give plasma everyday if you kept your iron up. Another guy said he’d gotten a job out by College Avenue from some welfare aid program. Then there was this big argument about which bus he should take to get out there in the morning. We finally agreed on the E bus along El Cajon Boulevard.
They got us up at 6:15 in the morning, told us to make our beds, and marched us downstairs for a breakfast of rice and skim milk. We were advised by this one inmate to come early on Thursday, because there would be some church group bringing a prepared dinner down. The general consensus around my table was that it was going to be fried chicken.
Well, that’s enough gonzo journalism for a while. I’ve heard that there’s a place called The Lord’s Way Inn on F Street near 5th, but I’m waiting a week or so before I try that one.
Your faithful reporter,