"Misery loves company, but holiness loves company more!”
I can hear him across Petco Park’s parking lot. He’s standing, speechifying, holding forth. Something about “I was high on crystal meth. I got beat up by the brothers of my Cambodian girlfriend. I asked for help from these good people. They took me in. I got the last bed they had in Bell Gardens.”
By the time I come up, it’s over. He’s standing beside a line of the people who were listening to him as they move towards a phalanx of ladies in white.
Hmm... Seems like everybody’s in white. Men, too. Beautifully ironed white suits with three red stripes on each arm, like Navy commanders. They all have red and gold arm flashes that read, like “Deaconness, anointed.” “Evangelist, anointed.” “Superintendent, anointed.” And “Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ.”
What they’re doing, though, is handing out food. Ladies and gals all working on the line, preparing hot dogs, squeezing ketchup, squirting mustard, ladling chopped onions onto the hot dogs, giving out bags of Cheetos and Big K orange-soda cans. Huh. Big K makes you think L.A.
Hell, may as well join them. They don’t seem to be asking for qualifications. And it is lunchtime.
So, I head into the crowd and slowly move with them toward the table where hot dogs form a pyramid. They sit naked in their bun. Kindly big girl says, “Hot dog?”
“Uh, thanks,” I say. I mean, I know I don’t need a hot dog like a lot of the people around me really do. People here carry lots of bags and worry aloud about where to put everything so they can eat without getting their stuff stolen. You can tell the guy in front of me is living rough. His faded blue-and-gray windbreaker has ripped-out pockets, there’s dirt on its sides where he must have lain, and it covers another hoodie underneath. But the young guy behind with full-arm tats, black tee, and checkered pants looks like he could be a movie producer casing locations.
I get the hot dog. One girl squirts ketchup, the second squeezes mayo and mustard, the third lady ladles chopped onions, the fourth has bags of Cheetos, and the fifth hands out the orange sodas. They’re standing behind tables with white tablecloths in front of this truck that reads, “Food for Life. Dreams Come True with Jesus,” and the same again in Spanish.
The counter ladies are kindly, speaking Spanish. I pick up my Cheetos and my Big K orange soda, and head for the low wall where everybody’s laying down their goodies and eating.
But who are these guys? And what’s with the uniforms? Another Salvation Army?
“We come down from L.A.,” says this guy David Milan. He and José Vegas, the gent with the “Superintendent” flashes on his arms, happen to be standing right next to me. “We have been giving food out in L.A. for 30 years. Now we’re coming down to San Diego. We’re here, and Oceanside and Escondido. Our mission is to feed people. ‘I was hungry and you gave me food.’ Matthew 25:35.”
It’s great, but L.A. sending missionaries down to feed San Diego?
I ask about the guy who made the speech. “Oh, that’s Andrew, our Jewish missionary,” says David. He calls him over.
“Yes I’m Andrew Swartz, the church’s resident Jew,” Andrew says. “I’m like Saint Paul, a Jewish Christian. When these people took me in, I was almost dead. I came to L.A. to be an actor, until a girl in our class at Kirsch Studios was murdered and I couldn’t handle it. I turned to crystal meth. I became a real abuser. My girlfriend’s brothers beat me up with a baseball bat. Had to have my spleen removed. I prayed to Jesus for the first time after these people found me and gave me the last free bed at the church’s place in Bell Gardens.” “Last hot dogs!” calls someone.
“That’s 300 we’ve given away,” says David. “We run out every time.”
“Oh, no,” says this girl who’s just turned up. “You guys done already? I got delayed. Don’t you have anything?”
But the white ladies are folding the tables and sliding them in the truck.
“Uh, I have a hot dog and soda,” I say. “We could split them...or you could have mine.”
I may be greedy, but I ain’t completely selfish.
“Here,” I say. “Have these.”
“No, no,” she says. Name’s Tina. “I just want the soda. Thanks. Have a nice day.”
So, here’s the funny thing. Before I kinda blink, she and the drink are gone, the whole Food for Life operation has packed and disappeared, and it’s just me and the wall. Now I’m wondering if the whole thing wasn’t a dream.
Except I have the hot dog. It’s real. I mean, it ain’t no Ballpark brand. But the ladies ladled on the mayo, mustard, ketchup, and onions, so all that moosh makes up for the lack of soda. As I chomp into it, sitting on the wall, just me and the clouds, it’s about the most delicious hot dog I’ve had in weeks.
Bliss! Misery may love company, but happiness is to be alone with your dog.
- The Place: Food for Life, food ministry program of the Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ, south-east corner, Petco Park parking lot at 13th and Imperial, downtown. Also at Oceanside (Mission Avenue and San Diego Street) and Escondido (Quince and Washington)
- Prices: Free
- Hours: First and third Tuesdays (downtown), Wednesdays (Oceanside), Thursdays (Escondido), 12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
- Buses: 4, 11, 901, 929 (downtown); 303 (Oceanside); 351, 352 (Escondido)
- Nearest bus stops: Downtown, 12th and Imperial; Oceanside, Mission and San Diego Street; Escondido, Quince and Washington
- Downtown Trolleys: Blue Line, Orange Line, Green Line