At the crossroads where Alvarado Street passes beneath the 101 highway there is a village of tents lining the sidewalks on both sides of the road. It is clearly a well established community that has been entrenched there for some time. Each territory is a clearly delineated home : sometimes just a tent, sometimes a tent with a small barricade of shopping carts. In one place there is a queen sized bed, complete with headboard and linens, personal items neatly lined up on the headboard shelves. The bed is not just covered in blankets, but actually made. In another place a wooden hut has been erected with a wooden door on proper hinges. I suspect, based on the crescent moon painted on the top, that this is a hut that many people visit but no one is likely to stay. The hut has a patch of astro turf lawn, complete with a white Adirondack chair for waiting, if necessary.

I had time to observe all this while waiting in a turn lane to enter the highway. From where I sat I could see a man sitting in his home- space with his forehead resting on his hands. He seemed to be resting as much as it was possible to rest under the din of a highway overpass with the fumes of idling traffic waiting for the traffic signal. He was perfectly, dramatically lit by a patch of patterned light coming through a grate overhead from the highway somewhere. If I hadn’t known any better I might’ve thought that he was being illuminated by the windows of a church.

He didn’t move and neither did the light. For a long moment, neither did I. Then the traffic signal turned green and I headed on my way.

I have to wonder what it is about the Alvarado Street underpass that allowed a community to flourish there. Other underpasses may have tents, but few of them are as entrenched and carefully cared for as this particular spot. Of all the bridges and overpasses and tunnels in the city, why is this one special? What lives at this place where the roads cross that doesn’t live anywhere else?


~ by Gwydhar Gebien on August 23, 2015.

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