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Posted by on Jan 6, 2013 in Blog, Essays | 1 comment

The Other Side of the Tracks

Bell Gardens, CA


Everyone knows what “the other side of the tracks” means.

It’s the dividing line between “us” and “them.”

Railroad tracks, boulevards, embankments, power lines — they all serve useful purposes.  But where they’re placed in our towns and communities sometimes has a far more austere significance, however subtle.

In fact, they are dividing lines.  They may was well be national boundaries.  They are most certainly economic boundaries — and in many cases — racial and cultural borders.

If you happened to be born on the “right” side of the tracks (as I was), consider yourself fortunate.  If you’re on the wrong side however, then your ambition is most likely to cross the imaginary divide and overcome invisible barriers which exist to this day.

Today, I’m crossing the railroad tracks.  I’m headed to the other side.

Bell Gardens is what you would call — a city on the other side.  Mostly Hispanic now, it used to be one of the most dangerous areas of the city, as recently as 10 to 15 years ago.  Most of the shootings here were related to drug trafficking.  But those days are pretty much over now.  Today, it’s a quiet community which has undergone a remarkable transformation.  I’d even go so far as to call it a small miracle.  Yes — Bell Gardens is where I’m staying during the next two weeks, which happens to be where the famous Bicycle Casino is located.

I must confess that were it not for this working assignment at what’s come to be known to most poker players simply as “The Bike,” I’d probably stay somewhere else.  Which tells you everything about our lingering perceptions about the other side of the tracks — biases which to which I’m undoubtedly shackled.  But my previous visits here have reshaped some old perceptions.  I’ve gained an awareness for what I would have missed had I not stayed here and been forced to integrate myself into this community.  I would have missed plenty and in the end I’d have been poorer for it.  Alas, the longer I’m here the more comfortable I am within this community and the greater appreciation I have for the people who live here.

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Posted by on Jan 4, 2013 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Travel | 2 comments

Still Running — One Year Later


Nolan Dalla Adidas Running Shoes


Running is pain.

Each and every step is a bone-grinding reminder that I’m not young anymore.  I can’t quite do all the things I used to be able to do — at least not as fast, nor with as much ease.

But I try.

One year ago today,  began my daily running routine.  All 262 lumbering pounds of me shook the pavement with the full force of a jackhammer.  I remember the pain as if it happened this morning.  Perhaps that’s because today I felt many of those same pains once again.  Indeed, I have come full circle to the place I was once before.

One year ago I weighed two-hundred and sixty-two pounds.  Making it a full mile without stopping left me bent over, panting, and breathless.  Running a few miles, even with deliberate stops in between, made my joints ache.  After a few runs, my legs cramped up.  At time, the pain was so severe, I felt paralyzed.

But I ran that first day.  And the next.  And the next, too.  And with every step along the way, the one thereafter became just a little bit easier.  Within a week of my daily run, I was already beginning to feel dramatic changes.  Not only did I feel better physically, but mentally, as well.  I also had lots more energy.

My lifestyle revolution — where I committed myself to running every single day with no excuses — began in the Bell Gardens section of Los Angeles on January 4, 2012.

And now today, it’s one year later.  I have returned again to this place where it all started.

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Posted by on Jul 25, 2012 in Blog, Essays, Travel | 1 comment

Three Dogs and a Mexican (Part 2)


It was a Sunday.

Boulevards normally jammed with traffic were less so and moved more freely.  It was a day of leisure.  People were out and about.

The park was busier than the day before.  Children ran in circles.  There was laughter.  Music played.

And, my eighth run began alongside the concrete aqueduct.

Just as the day before, I ran about a mile, and then veered off the right.  I scaled the first wall effortlessly and ran a considerable distance before coming upon the same cinder block barricade I remembered from the previous day.

I had arrived at the blue tent.

But this time, the tent had an occupant.  A small-framed man, perhaps 30 or so, sat upright on what appeared to be a sleeping bag.  I did not want to startle or disturb the man.  So, I quietly made my way over the wall and began to proceed down the path to continue my run.

Suddenly, one of the dogs started barking.  And the other dogs too, joined in unison.  The canine alarm bells had gone off.

I could not see the man’s face clearly.  But, he must have been fearful.  After all, few passersby run along the aqueduct and certainly no one scales over two barricades – on a weekend, no less – to invade the solitude this man had etched for himself in what was a gigantic foreign metropolis.

Alerted by the barking mutts, the man quickly rose to his feet when he saw me.  He appeared startled, and it was easy to understand why this was so.

Seeing a invader passing along the aqueduct, in a place off-limits to pedestrian traffic, had to be a terrifying prospect for this frightened man resting in solace, who was clearly Hispanic, probably Mexican — and almost certainly an illegal alien.

That’s right — an illegal alien.  Chew on those words for a moment.

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Posted by on Jul 24, 2012 in Blog, Essays, Travel | 2 comments

Three Dogs and a Mexican (Part 1)


This is the story of a man you will never know.

This is the story of a man you will never see.

Yet, it’s the story of so many who live amongst us – hidden away within the crevices of all towns and cities, invisible to the contemporary consciousness.

Los Angeles’ arteries are not highways — but rather its aqueducts. They are a meandering maze of concrete vessels bringing life to millions. Mostly unseen and largely ignored, they lie burrowed amid a gigantic quilt of industrial parks and busy freeways choked with traffic and frustration, channeling clear water from the snow-packed High Sierras down to valleys, and ultimately to our sinks, bathtubs, toilets, garden hoses, swimming pools, and restaurants.

There is one man  the who calls the aqueduct his “home.”

This is the story of how I came to stumble upon that man and how I became aware of the numerous challenges he faces each day.  It is the story of an unintended series of personal events which reminds us that compassion and generosity are not measured by volume of deeds but rather by the simplest acts of human kindness.

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