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Saturday, January 05, 2008


A trip to the store becomes a discovery of the forgotten...

From my the January 4th entry of my 2008 Daily Photo Diary

As I mentioned above, my camera and I are still in honeymoon thrall, so even a simple trip to the grocery store turns into a photographic adventure.

One of the things that, I think, makes me my father's son is my penchant for taking meandering routes, for getting lost on purpose. I've got a pretty good sense of direction from growing up riding shotgun with someone who enjoyed driving for more than just getting from point A to point B faster than walking.

So on our way to the store, I purposefully took the wrong exit. It was getting near sunset, and a 'storm' (or what passes for a storm here in San Diego) was brewing. I knew I wouldn't have much light for long.

This exit deposited us in the local hinterlands just off one of the Naval bases, along long forgotten railroad tracks, where the nearest industry is the cement plant (I know, sound desolate for being in the middle of San Diego!). We parked and walked around a square block, discovering other bits of society's flotsam.

Turning back in the direction of the grocery store, I was drawn to take yet another 'wrong' exit. Still in the relative desolation of the local industrial port area, I turned onto an unfamiliar street, thinking that I would simply photograph the abandoned warehouse I'd spied. As I got out of the car, though, I spotted some color, and discovered that we'd parked across the street from the San Diego Electric Railway Association's historic National City Depot. The colors I'd spotted were the old street cars that had been brought over from Vienna back in the '90s. Another gift from my father is a fondness for railroads and cars--he had quite the model railroad when I was a kid, and we'd visit railroad and model railroad museums.

As we'd gotten there just before closing time, we left the depot after a short visit. It was quickly growing dark, anyway, and we still had to go to to the grocery store. Along the way, we came upon a young lady panhandling at stop sign in the middle of the road. When we began our journey, we'd picked up a couple loaves of bread at a bakery. I offered her one, and she gratefully accepted it. As we continued on our way, I talked to Ren about how sad it made me feel to see this girl begging on the street, especially with foul weather on the way. I said to him that maybe we could find something else to bring her from the grocery store.

"Maybe she can come to our house and we can have dinner together," Ren suggested innocently. "Maybe she could stay with us."

"But we don't even know her, Ren. Why do you want her to stay with us?"

"Well, y'know, 'cuz maybe she doesn't have a home, and, well, I don't have a mom."


Not really knowing what to say, but not wanting to not say anything, I said, "Well, that's very sweet of you, Ren, but we really don't know her. I hate to say it, but we don't know if she's a bad person or not." I hated suggesting to him that I hold some underlying distrust of human beings--not to mention women being considered--even in the slightest--for the role of playing Ren's mom--let alone that he was speaking of a (possibly) homeless girl.

"Well, I hope she has a home, you know, shelter, to go to," he said.

My imagination, though, wouldn't let me off the hook that easily. Scenes of 'Pretty Woman' and 'Shrek' and the 'Frog Prince' played in my head; long deleted chain emails, telling stories of a young man giving a rose to an old crone, only to have her lead him to his beloved, were dredged up from my mental recycle bin...

So we did our shopping, and I picked up a bag of tangerines and a scarf for the young lady. We drove back to where we'd seen her earlier, but saw that she'd moved to a better lit, more trafficked intersection. It was at the end of the freeway exit, so we had to park about a block away, then walked over to where she stood.

"Hey, you changed spots," I opened.
"Yeah, well, people act like you're invisible over at that other spot," she replied. I could see the reluctance in her warm, but guarded, eyes.
"Well, we brought you some tangerines, and a scarf, cuz it's getting cold."
She brightened. "Oh, I love tangerines! And a scarf? That's so nice!"
I introduced us, and she told us her name was Brandy. (For those of you who've followed me, you know that the song immediately popped into my head.)
Having noticed that she'd had a book lying next to her pack when we saw her earlier, I asked her what she was reading. Digging into her pack, she produced a forgettable paperback novel, but went on about how much she loves to read. I told her I'd be sure to keep a couple books with me for next time I saw her. She thanked us, we wished her well, and we said good-bye.

We discovered a lot of forgotten stuff today.

I hope Brandy feels a little less invisible.


Blogger Caroline said...

Oh god Emil, you made me cry with that post. So many times I see people standing near freeway exits and I consider them and wonder about their lives, and I want to give them money...or something...and often I have to avert my eyes, so as not to look too deeply into the eyes of another human that you know is suffering. It sucks.

Thanks for doing that for Brandy, for making up for all the times that I just walked past someone that probably could have done with a kind thought.

Really lovely post...

9:10 AM  
Blogger Paida said...

I was just about to write and say you shouldn't make me read things that make me cry while I am just on a break from teaching!

But Caroline is right it really was a lovely post. What a great thing for Ren to say. A good lesson for all of us.

11:01 AM  
Blogger ma and pa otter said...

oh Ren...that sweet boy...you both are pretty great.
what a memorable day for you...and post for me!

1:24 PM  
Blogger E'l Roy said...

Thanks ladies!
If we ever run into Brandy again, and she remembers us, I'll ask if I can take her portrait. Her eyes burn in my head like that National Geographic cover...

9:38 PM  

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