Venice Beach, Los Angeles. Almost always it is a very calm, quiet and peaceful place. Contrary to the eclectic impressions a tourist might have during the day, the nights have a small-town feel to it.
On any given day you will find lots of characters along the speedway by the beach. Artists both new and old hand displaying their latest work and willing to do your portrait for a fee.
Street performers showing their talents for a chunk of change, well-tanned bodybuilders showing off their enormous muscles, surfer kids waiting for a swell, skater boys challenging each other for new moves, and some simply enjoying the shows and whatever the place has free to offer.
In Venice, everyday is a day on the beach.
But at night it is different. Gone is the festive atmosphere, gone are the merry men and women you could see loitering around when the sun is up. Aside from the occasional joggers and bikers, there was not much activity at all but the homeless scurrying to and fro scouting for a free space on a covered sidewalk, on a street corner, under a tree, a spot next to a trash bin.
I was behind my desk, comfortably resting my back on the old dark easy chair, both my feet up on a wooden stool. In front of me was a small TV donated by one of workers who probably thought that we who work at night should have something to keep us awake. As if we were sleeping on the job. Well, at least not all the time.
I turn it on CNN and then forgot about it. I guess maybe I was so tired or maybe just plain lazy I instantly dozed off. I think I spent half an hour snoozing, when I thought I heard myself snoring. I immediately woke up and instinctively straighten my shirt, and made sure I had nothing dripping from the side of my mouth, all at the same time.
As I stood up and opened my eyes, I saw Tony coming through the door. Tony is a Vietnam veteran who served as a sergeant in the marines. Everybody calls him Sarge. He has on his shoulder his usual backpack of tools, the hammer still protruding from its side. Some nights he would spend hours on our couch just to get out of the cold.
In exchange, he would provide extra security for me making sure no vandals nor criminals would dare go near my property. He’s been in Venice long enough to know almost everybody. Every homeless, drug-dealer, street peddler, bodybuilder on steroids, property owners, he knew them all.
He liked Venice so much that he made it his second home.
From what I heard from another veteran roaming the streets, he has a ranch somewhere in Wyoming. He would spend some months there in his ranch but always, he keeps coming back. During his days here, he would solicit jobs by working as an electrician. At night, like the rest of them, he would roam the streets and look for a fine spot to rest. Like the rest of them, he is homeless…
A homeless man by choice.