A Place to Be

A white truck, not old, not new, parked in the loading zone spot, next to the beach promenade. Steps from the Pacifica Pier, the Chit Chat Café. A stone’s throw from the sea. Parked there Monday, again on Tuesday, and every day since a week ago when I began noticing.

Now, every morning while walking my dog, I see it there. The truck has the look of a permanent fixture. I expect to see the truck, as I expect to see the crabbers on the pier, the pier maintenance crew emptying the trash barrels at the start of their shift.

It wasn’t long before I noticed a small woman sitting behind the steering wheel, saw that the truck’s dashboard was serving as a make-do table, covered with empty coffee cups, cardboard take-out trays, crumpled foil wrappers. A strand of beads—or a rosary—hung from her rearview mirror, the mirror in which I saw her fix her makeup one day.

How long before I realized that this truck was her home, that bench seat her bed. Before I figured out she was sleeping there. That the truck cab, that small space, was her self-contained world. Maybe it was the morning I looked over, and saw that the truck cab looked empty. Then, a moment later I saw her head rise into view, watched as she wiped the sleep from her eyes. She opened the cab door and walked over to the public restrooms on the pier. The restrooms are always open. A person can wash up there, take care of bodily functions, then step around the corner to the Chit Chat to buy a cup of coffee and a muffin. One-stop shopping. Her own personal truck stop.

With her morning routine completed she walks back to sit on the cement bench just outside her truck. She is always alone, on that bench, smoking, staring out at the sea, a faded baseball cap on her head, wearing the same brown hoodie and what we used to call stretch pants. If I were to guess her age, I’d say maybe mid-60s. Younger than me. Still she’s “of an age,” which is how people describe older people.

Whatever age, she’s friendly. Before long she started giving a little shout out in my direction, waving to me as I pass by. I wave back and began to expect that too, got used to that wave, that hello, that white truck parked next to the sea with a million-dollar view.

I thought about all the people without homes living on the streets of San Francisco, on sidewalks in front of multimillion-dollar houses. They occupy the same real estate, somebody said. Whatever happened to the woman, she still has the truck. And if you have a way to get here this is a better place to be if you have no place to be.

Every afternoon she’s there. As the truck is. Hasn’t moved. Yesterday the door to her cab was slightly open. As I passed by she was softly singing to herself.

A John Prine lyric about old people came back to me and I whispered it in her direction: "Hello in there. Hello." 

The first time I saw him walking along the promenade, he bowed. A deep bow, which surprised me. After a while I began to bow back. An older man, balding, older than me. Of an age. One day I stopped to pet his small dog and we got to talking.

'Hello in there. Hello.'

I learned he was originally from Japan, was a professor of Japanese at a state university, had once taught at the university from which I had just retired. We had a common link, knew the same lingo, the language of that world, the students, the politics. And I learned how he got that little dog. He told me a woman who lived in the downstairs apartment of his place had committed suicide in her bathtub. I didn’t ask for specifics. There was no one to take the dog so he took on this small terrier mix with a very perky tail. When I bent down to pet her I noticed she had a name tag—Cathy—with an image of a skull and bones. There’s an untold story there.

I began to see him and his dog every day. He’d bow, raise his walking stick and remind me of the older Russian man, in his 80s, who walks by every day with two walking sticks. When he sees my dog, Tuck, a handsome pup, he lifts both sticks in the air and shouts, “Superstar Hollywood,” as if Tuck’s a show dog. Whenever I ask how he is doing, how he’s getting by, he always answers, “Day by day.”

Day by day. The woman in the truck. The Japanese professor. Superstar Hollywood. All of us, of an age. And every one of us has a story.

But not every one of us has a home.

This morning I walk by the white truck but don’t see her. Maybe she’s still sleeping. Or in the Chit Chat. Or in the restroom. I continue walking down the promenade but cross to the other side of the street when I see a group of maskless runners headed my way.

On the way back I look across the street, the truck momentarily blocking my view of the bench. Past the truck, I turn back, expect to see her there and get a surprise.

There they are, the professor and the woman, sitting side by side chatting away. Sharing the same real estate. Both wave. Day after day I see them. Smiling, laughing, waving at me.

Once, in an interview, the actress Laura Linney talked about how she was fortunate to experience the privilege of aging. “A lot of people don’t get that privilege,” she said.

The privilege of aging. The privilege of being here, of getting to wave back to them each day. Of a parking space. Of a bench by the sea. The privilege of finding someone to talk to.

Toni Mirosevich’s stories about an overlooked community on a crumbling coastal town in the Bay Area have appeared in Catapult, Fourth Genre, Michigan Quarterly Review and are forthcoming from Counterpoint Press. She is the author of six books of poetry and prose and lives with her wife in Pacifica, Calif.