Bike packed I am back to pedestrian travel, moving at the speed of aimless amble rather than that of jogger mom or homeless cart pusher. I no longer whip past people caught between Land Rover and coffee shop. Instead, wearing torn jeans, battered sandals and ironic tee I am in their midst, lucky to have less rush propelling my morning and more patience for the dog walkers and the sky mumblers, whether they be bluetooth powered or other radiation fueled. It is good to be back in Venice, which has become a home base of homelessness for me as it has always been for others. Nine months ago I sat on these same carpets, steps and couches, my belongings in boxes from China to Houston.
Now, the Houston portion of my adventure complete, I am here again en route to somewhere I have never lived. Venice welcomes this, her streets lined with vans and Winnebagos that reek of extended occupation. Weather-wise these blocks off the beach are an ideal spot for homelessness, and I watch the wanderers, contemplating the gradual gentrification of Venice and the changes along Rose’s sidewalks these past five years. There are old men with the air of a previous time trapped in their scraggly beards, and a cereal bar, new and portentous, if not pre-. The grocery’s windows remain barred and the laundry mat oddly packed mid-morning, signs that while Rose welcomes new company old inhabitants remain.
At an intersection an older women on her bicycle admonishes me as she breaks traffic laws while wearing long gloves and a wide-brimmed hat. “That wasn’t right, horrible I know, shhh,” she says, and I smile. Telling someone was not in my plans, though it comes to be, and with coffee and bagels balanced and eyes on the surroundings instead of the vehicles I am already a traffic disaster.
Sitting at the cereal bar, several days later, I watch the old Greyhound parked across the street, trailer attached. It has the sleek lines of the future as seen from the eighties and the curtained windows driven by the last decade’s real estate boom, where prices quintupled as gang violence fell. The bus’ owner is invisible, though people pass our table in waves, and homeless or not is hard to say. Is this gradual shift, where Rose loses its gang members and gains dog walkers, as momentous after all? Fewer gun battles and more Chihuahuas, yet Venice still welcomes those of us with our belongings in our cars, as long as we have friends with more permanent residences. Breakfast finished, we rise, and, at a clothing store down the street shop but do not buy, the difference between these two levels of homelessness a matter of friendship and attire.
It will be some time still, I think, before Rose resembles Abbot Kinney, and the Shopping Carts for Homeless program, whose product litters the sidewalks, is ironic enough for me to love.