February 08, 2011

I am always fascinated by beggars / homeless people. I am curious to find out how and why they ended up on the streets. It might be a sick obsession, but I like hearing those stories. Could be because I am a filmmaker and subconsciously in search of the next movie story? I don't know. I will talk to some, even help them, and some I will ignore. I don't have a criteria, some I just don't feel drawn towards.

Even the stairs to a parking garage
looks like the the stairway to heaven!

Over the weekend, while in Santa Barbara, Nate and I decided to explore their main street (State Street). Is was a sunny day and Santa Barbara is gorgeous I tell you! It feels like something out of a quaint town in Spain or Italy. And on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it is heaven.

Allow me to tell you  a little bit about Santa Barbara.

It is also known as the American Riviera due to its climate. Very Mediterranean. ( except like most of West Coast, the water is only beautiful to look at, too cold to swim in. Something I find crazy as our Indian Ocean is so lovely to swim in, even in the middle of the night. Yes, I have gone skinny dipping in the Indian Ocean in a beautiful beach called Nungwi in Zanzibar. No wonder they come over to East Africa take over our beaches :)

Apparently, in the 1800s there was a huge earthquake and a tsunami. Almost everything was destroyed. Another earthquake hit on early 1900s. The quake was not as bad but the aftershocks were terrible. Incidentally, that was around the time they were rebuilding the city.  So the man in charge then talked to the Santa Barbarians and they all  chose to stick to the Spanish colonial style architecture.

Got the above history lesson from a lovely Santa Barbara couple who had attended the screening of our film. (BTW, our film won Best International feature Film Award at Santa Barbara International Film Festival shortly after)

One of the most beautiful churches I have ever been in is the Mission Santa Barbara. You can get the virtual tour here, even though its nothing like the the real, physical experience of being there, in the presence of so much powerful history and spirituality. So grand, almost would make me change my mind about a church wedding!

Even their government buildings are gorgeous. The Santa Barbara Courthouse has been rated the most beautiful public building in the US.
Santa Barbara County Courthouse
A section of State Street
You will remember that Neverland, Micheal Jackson's playground is (was?) in Santa Barbara. The Tudor style buildings of the ranch and the Savannah like grassland were described as ' English country manor meets Kenya.
But, no matter how big  and famous they get, or how rich they are, they all wished they lived in Kenya! Go Kenya!

End of history lesson. Back to the story.

This lady walks past us on State Street.  She is in patched cut off jeans that end just below her badonkadonk (always wanted to use that word, a white fitting tshirt with the sleeves rolled back to her shoulders making it look like  a vest, a black backpack, white socks and black and orange trainers that looked like either New Balance or Timberlands. On of her backpack side pockets held a bottle of water. She looked good. The rugged, backpacking good, very nice figure,and an amazing derriere. He hair though looked ashy, some kind of dirty blond and unkempt. Then she stopped at a trash can on the street. At first I gave it not much thought, until I saw her reach in to it. She was dumpster diving! I was shocked. She had on glasses. I swear she looked like a very hot nerd. The hot kind and doesn't know it, spends lots of time studying and all the boys wanna bang her but are too intimidated by her intelligence. She found a brown bag with some food in it. Reached into it, fished out a half eaten muffin and shoved it in her mouth. I turned to Nate and whispered. ' She does not look like a homeless person!' He nodded. Told me that maybe she was a runaway. Maybe she was a rich family and had issues. Couldn't take it anymore...She looked to be either in her late teens or early twenties. Though she can have been even younger.

I wanted to know what her story was. Why such a good looking girl was out dumpster diving. Not that garbage fishing is an activity that should be left solely to non good looking people, but you do tend to get curious when they almost look like Scarlet Johannsen. I did not talk to her, but that her image disturbed me. And it's been bugging me that I did not talk to her. Not that I would have helped her or given her any solutions, but just to hear her story. Kinda selfish of me, that is.

Anyway, it reminded me of the 'Golden Voice' homeless man, Ted  Williams. In early January, some reporter in Ohio came across a homeless guy holding up a sing that said something like. 'I have a God given gift of voice....' and was asking for donations.  He used to work in radio but lost his job, family and home due to drugs and alcohol problems. The reporter challenged him to show his talent. The result was this video

Ted did indeed have a wonderful voice. The kind that you can feel booming in your heart. The reporter posted the video on YouTube, it went viral. Gig / money offers for Ted started streaming in. He was getting a second chance. Lots of second chances! Everyone wanted a piece of him. Including Hollywood.  Funny enough, on one of our daily evening walks around the neighbourhood, we spotted him on Hollywood Boulevard (Walk of Fame)  followed a herd of paparazzi. They seriously do look like a herd, you know, the same word you use for a bunch of cows...you can even hear a moo if you listen keenly.

Actually, Nate spotted him and pointed him to me. He was outside Madam Tassaud Wax museum giving some interviews. We talked a bit about him and how lucky he was, and whether his life would really do a u-turn now that he had this chance. We did not have to wait long to know the answer.

A few days later, news broke that he had been arrested by LAPD after a scuffle with a family member at a local hotel. He later checked himself into rehab, as he had lapsed. Before he could complete his rehab, he checked himself out, against his doctors advise.

I guess its a wait and see game to see if he cleans his act completely or he looses this chance and goes back to the streets. People can only him so far, then he has to walk the rest of the journey by himself. Fame doesn't help either.  Normal people living normal, mundane lives are messed up by fame, it must really eff him up.

Another day, again on one of our walks, we came across some disheveled looking guy on Sunset Blvd. He was about 50+ (I can never accurately tell white people ages, they say the same of black people anyway. I always think they look older than they are, they always think we look younger). Anyway, this guy was walking towards us. He paused as he came close and goes like ' Can you spare a dollar?' Nate answers, 'Sorry, don't have my wallet.' It was true. When we do the evenings walks, we don't carry anything on us, including phones. Now, Nate is a pretty generous person. Wrote about some incident here and I know if he had something on him, he would have given the guy. He really did look hungry. We did not expect what came next. He asked. ' Are you sure?' Yes, we said. ' F*&k you and may you die of cancer!' he shouted to us. My mouth hang open! What? He walked away. I started laughing. I have had insults from panhandlers, but that took the award. Actually, it did not piss us off. We found it strange and funny.

Back to Santa Barbara. On our way to the parking lot (whose stairs photo I have posted above) we come across a panhandler on a public bench. He was sitting, chatting to a fellow panhandler, smoking. On his feet was a photograph. Of him holding up a ' A dollar will help. I am homeless and hungry, blah blah...' cardboard sign I laugh. Nate asks whats funny. I show him the sign.

Even beggars have become too lazy to hold their sign. He figured its too much work. Take a photo of himself holding the sign, place it next to himself.  He doesn't have to talk to you. Even frees up his hands to engage in other constructive activities. Like smoking. Genius.

Yesterday, on another walk along Sunset again, this guy stops us. ' Do you have some change?' He asks. We shake our heads an move on.  Then I thought. He did not ask us if we had some change to give him, he asked if we had some change, period. That's all he wanted to know. And I told Nate as much.

"If we had change, I would have told him yes and kept walking. After all all he wanted to know is if we had it" I argued.
Of course you know what he meant, Nate replies.
That is an assumption!  What if he really just wanted to know if I was one of the people who were lucky enough to carry around some change? I argued back.

Then I told Nate of this one incident in Nairobi.

I had a meeting at PanAfric Hotel and another on at Alliance Francoise. It was around 5pm when traffic is heaviest, when I finished the first meeting. So I decided to leave my car at PanAfric and walk to Alliance.I had just crossed the road when i noticed this matatu next to me. Traffic was heavy anyway, I was actually walking faster than the vehicles. The tout pulled back the door and looked at me.

"Siste unaenda tao?" He asked (Sister, are you going in to town?)
"Ndio" (Yes) I answered and kept walking.  He hit the side of the matatu twice signaling the driver to stop. They stopped, I kept walking.
"Unaenda au uendi?" He asked (Are you going or not?)
"Naenda" I answered as a matter of factly (I am going). Still I did not stop walking.
"Kwenda huko, unanipotezea wakati!" (Eff off you are wasting my time!) He shouted.

You asked me if I was going into town and I aid yes. How I'm I wasting your time? I asked him. He asked why I was not getting into the matatu then. I told him because I did not want to use a matatu, I wanted to walk. He was getting frustrated. Traffic was not moving any faster anyway so i knew this conversation would go on a while. He asked me why I had responded 'yes' to his question. Because, I explained calmly, I was really going to town. He has asked me if I was, I had given him the answer. He was not getting the point I was trying to prove. I went on. You did not ask me if i wanted to get into the matatu to go town. You asked me if i was going to town, period. And truth is, I was. But I did not want to use the matatu. He finally got it and in spite of himself, he laughed.

When I told Nate, he told me I had been a biatch. I said I did not think so. Why do you think he asked you if you were going to town then? He asked. Maybe he wanted to make conversation, I don't know. I answered.

Of course I knew what the tout meant. But once in a while,some questions do deserve the right answers. And I am pretty sure I made the tout's evening.

The title of this post now makes sense? Me talking about Santa Barbara, Neverland and the homeless, how that is ironic since the homeless have not found a 'Neverland' and me putting all of that in one post....ah, forget it!


Disclaimer: All photos in this post were taken by me, except the courthouse. It's courtesy of Konrad Summers

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