Yesterday afternoon, I walked 1.6 km (1 mile) from the Greyhound depot to the McDonald’s nearby San Diego High School, where my daughter graduated five years ago; my legs needed movement after being too long motionless during the three-hour ride from Long Beach. I had made an overnight-trip to see my niece Lynnae, who was on the West Coast for business.

Soon after the bus exited Interstate 5, I saw the extent of the city’s homeless crisis for the first time. Tents lined several blocks (at least) along what may have been National Avenue. According to the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, the number of homeless people living unsheltered has increased 41 percent since 2014. There are 937 (recorded) tents, up 58 percent year over year. Data is current as of July.

Walking along Imperial Ave. past the Trolley station and up lower Park Blvd., I navigated a maze of erected tents, shopping carts filled with personal affects, and people sitting alone or conversing quietly with others. Seeing skin darkened by the imperious San Diego sun, I thought of the opening stanza to Townes Van Zandt classic folk song, “Pancho and Lefty”:

Living on the road my friend,
Was gonna keep you free and clean
And now you wear your skin like iron,
And your breath as hard as kerosene

These people know hard living that I can’t imagine. If not for the baggage carried from the trip up North, and pressing need to get home, I would have stopped to chat with some of the folks. Momma would have done so. She died two weeks ago today. That assumes my presence would be tolerated, or even accepted. Nor should I expect that it would be. I am a cultural and economic outsider, by any observation.

Further along Park Blvd., a woman with attractive shoulders that reminded me of my wife’s, caught my eye. At the corner of J Street, she talked to a man, and they both motioned to a mural filling an entire building’s side facing Park. I initially walked past, then turned around to snap a couple of quickies with iPhone 7 Plus. Lucky timing. The woman mounted the lift to return painting. She is an artist, like Annie is. Hence, maybe, the resemblance I perceived from across the way.

That’s the Featured Image, BTW. Vitals, using the smartphone’s second lens to 2x zoom: f/2.8, ISO 20, 1/606 sec, 6.6mm; 2:07 p.m. PDT. The other photo, captured a minute earlier, gives street perspective and view before the lift blocked the face. Vitals: f/1.8, ISO 20, 1/808 sec, 3.99mm.

This post is illustrated with the mural, because I didn’t capture photos of the homeless. Doing so seems rude, invasive, to me. These people aren’t San Diego tourist attractions, nor animals in the zoo. I would want to ask permission and show them respect when street shooting—something I could not feel comfortable about while carrying my pretty backpack and Cotton On tote and managing iPhone 7 Plus with one hand.

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