Over the Hill

Bridging of ignorance on the homeless

Two people stood on the river path in a slight drizzle. They were draping soggy clothes, other wet stuff and some sort of flag over a shopping cart.

He was wearing a tan and yellow cap with a World War II-like Army field jacket. She wore a blue hooded jacket with the hood up. With them was a reddish-blond dog, maybe knee-high.

As I walked toward them, I guessed they were in their late 20s, but it was hard to tell because he had a narrow blond frizzled beard.

The path runs maybe a mile on the eastern edge of the Salinas River in Paso Robles. It goes under the eastern end of the Niblick Bridge. The couple was just south of the bridge.

This was on Thursday of last week during a slight let-up in the storms. I had walked out on the Niblick Bridge so the Salinas River could remind me that it actually is a river. Under the bridge, it’s bed is a quarter-mile wide so the river wasn’t literally running bank-to-bank. It was, however, satisfyingly wide after three years of drought.

I wanted a closer look, so I walked down the path under the bridge and came upon the damp couple. They stepped aside in a diffident, apologetic way and ordered the dog to do likewise. But I stopped and asked them if they had spent the night under the bridge.

We often hear of homeless people sleeping under bridges, but for many years I didn’t know exactly what that meant. Then in 1984, I interviewed a homeless man called Old Jack. His “home” was under a freeway bridge in San Miguel. He lived where the top of the bank meets the bottom of the bridge. It wasn’t exactly cozy, but it sheltered him from the wind, rain and sun.

But no, the couple hadn’t slept under the Niblick bridge. They said some “young guys” had been up there. The couple had slept in the brushy river bed, 10 or 15 yards from the path. But the expanding river invaded their tent and woke them.

He said he had no job and couldn’t get one because he had no ID. She said she applied for work at one of the nearby businesses but was told they couldn’t hire her because she had no address. He said they kept the area clean of litter and he would pick up the mess the “young guys” left.

I didn’t cross-examine them. I just gave them $5.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.