My husband came home on July 24, red-faced and on the verge of tears. "You aren't going to believe what happened," he said. "I was walking down the bike path near Auto Park Way and an officer said, 'Excuse me, sir, do you know this man?"'
"I looked over and said, 'Oh my God, that's Allen. I talked to him just yesterday and he seemed fine."
My husband of seventeen years was deeply shaken. He has gotten to know the homeless guys around Escondido since he began collecting cans in 2009. Back then, during the Great Recession, he got laid off from his job with The Auto Trader and was never employed again. Online sources claim that once workers are over forty, their employment rate is basically zero.
Several of his former co-workers are living in campgrounds or in mobile homes with no hot water, working ovens, or heat. One of his friends found a way to get on state disability, but what she really wanted to do was work. "I went everywhere," she said, "and no one would hire me."
But at least no one that we know of has ended up like Allen. He was in his mid-fifties and had just returned to Escondido from a trip to Seattle. "He was on a piece of cardboard surrounded by three empty cans of those high-energy drinks that he liked so much. I can't believe it. Everyone was sad about Josh, the young guy who died a few weeks ago, but they weren't surprised. Allen was a total shock. No one expected it."
Josh had been in his early thirties and was known as an avid reader of books around our neighborhood of Del Dios in Escondido. Sometimes I'd see him lying on the bench in front of Albertson's, paperback novel in hand, or sometimes he was lying under a tree across the street from Home Depot. In fact, that was where his body was found. According to my husband, his buddies thought he was sleeping until one of them tried to wake him up and discovered he had passed. No one really knows why he died so young. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he had gotten out of Vista Jail only three days earlier after serving time for public intoxication.
"I knew he drank," my husband said, "but I've never seen him falling-down drunk." My husband told me that a few months ago, he gave Josh two of his old books, Divine Justice by David Baldacci and The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler.The young man seemed grateful. He could have been anyone's son — tall, thin, and fair-skinned. He didn't look troubled but I did wonder why a seemingly able-bodied young man would waste his life reading instead of working.
Since my husband began supplementing his Social Security check with can collecting, he has had numerous interesting experiences. One time, he ate a "perfectly good candy bar" he found in the trash and ended up in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center. Not knowing what "420" meant, he ate the whole thing, felt "funny," and then puked on the sidewalk.
He has been given numerous rides from "hot young chicks" on extremely cold or extremely hot days. Their mothers should tell them not to offer rides to old men on the street. They could be deadly, even if they are over the hill. Craig isn't going to chop off their arms like an elderly man did to a young, female hitch-hiker back in the 1970s, but they don't know that.