Driving home through the Monterey Peninsula isn’t always easy. Black Jaguars speed like bullets. Audis are a blur. It’s hard for the cars of the working class to weave in amongst them and join the commuting fray but it’s okay. No one wants to see the wrinkled face of the privileged. Bottle Blonde women in their Porsches, hurrying to have their skin stretched, go too fast to see the homeless encampments built like barricades between the cities of the peninsula along the famous, camera-ready Highway One.
The encampments aren’t meant for their eyes. This collection of cardboard boxes, broken lawn chairs, and mildew-covered tarps are meant for the eyes of history, not those vainly attempting to fight their own age. We lie and twist the historical record, like a tiger gnawing on a bloody stump of food. There’s no telling how the truth once looked. We know there was once something pure there, before the gnashing teeth and lies came calling. We’re a part of the story, not the tellers of it.
Monterey Bay swells to accommodate cruise liners come summer’s end. Floating cities glazed in economic frivolity smother the surface of the marine sanctuary – here for that reason and also affecting it. Not far from where the plump boat anchors, where smaller boats transport shoppers back and forth from its pristine walls, but just far enough away to never be seen, a squeaking shopping cart conveys an old woman’s life possessions to a shady spot where this invisible wretch can watch the big boat depart and wonder what the rooms are like within it. She knows all too well of the six encampments along Highway One.
The stretch of highway between Carmel and the Del Monte exit is a short one – full of pain and discomfort. Those who cower in the encampments are thankful there’s a drought. Rain and survival are anathema to one another. At times the homeless thirst for warmth, for a coat not covered in whatever slime they were sleeping in last night, and for a moment to catch their breath without fear of being rousted.
These vulnerable souls are visible to the working class who find themselves parked in thick Highway One traffic, hoping it moves just fast enough for them to be home in Salinas or Seaside before dark. Commuters see the marginalized and wonder if they could sleep on hard ground, wrapped in an unwashed sleeping bag, should their life veer, should they miss that next paycheck. Those who see them shop far from the more expensive organic aisles at the grocery store, not out of ambivalence, but out of necessity. They’re secretly thankful for dollar stores and dollar menus, appreciative for the local farmer’s market, but they themselves rarely shop there, afraid of sustainability’s expense.
Unlike those who turn away, whose dark sunglasses and tinted Audi windows shield them from the dirty tarp walls hung at the edge of the highway. History sees the encampments. History will remember the six areas within view of those who choose to see it, populated by those who fear the rousting and marvel upon the cruise ships.
History will remember the encampments long after the Audis and Jaguars have wrapped themselves around a tree, and centuries past the Dollar Store’s report of unprecedented growth.