my first week living in mammoth lakes

It’s 5:03am, which means I have 47 minutes to write this and nurse my coffee before the morning routine begins. This afternoon will mark our first week of living up here in our new house. For now, here are a few items that stand out.

It’s beautiful up here.

I’ve lived in some beautiful places and been to even more but the Eastern Sierra is really just spectacular. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that about six miles east of here is where Ansel Adams photographed some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth.

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Ansel Adams Wilderness, about six miles from my house.

And being surrounded by that beauty impacts you in certain ways. There’s the general jaw-dropping nature of just driving or walking around, with monuments to Earth’s violence and majesty looming all about. But there are more practical and brass tacks effects as well.

Trash management.

Around these here parts you haul your trash to the transfer station: a bunch of dumpsters near the outside of town where for ~$20/month you are allowed to throw your trash and recycling. True, there technically is curbside service but it’s quite rare to see and it’s cautioned against even by the people who provide it:

[curbside trash service] is less common because of difficult winter conditions and bear activity.

So even if you don’t want to haul your own trash, you have to contend with bears and the reality of a place that can get six feet of snow per day.

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Ahh, nature: with us dumping all our shit in it.

But the reality of such a beautiful area stands in contrast to the effects of trash. All those plastic containers, all that styrofoam, all that four-and-some-change pounds of general shit that we dump onto the planet per person, per day.

Don’t worry: as a tourist or visitor you won’t have to see any trash or landfills anywhere. Other than “Dump Road” off the 395 and a bulldozer sitting on a hill near Bishop, you can do what we all do and just pretend that there’s a magic fairy shepherding all of our trash into some mystical realm. Keep up the Amazon orders, don’t put packaging materials and waste generation into your calculus when you buy products: the magic fairy will just take care of it all.

The Sheet News has some good articles about trash management in the Eastern Sierra, if you’re interested in reading more.

It really is a small town.

The numbers are suspect. The 2010 census has the town at 8,234. The guy at my gym says it’s really like 5,000. Town boosters will claim it’s more like 9,000 or 10,000. During peak holiday seasons up to 50,000 tourists can flood in. Still, similar to most tourist towns the tourists tend to stay in certain areas.

Even with 50,000 tourists you can be sure none of them are buying lumber at the local yard. They’re not paying their water and sewage bill. They’re not at the elementary school play rehearsal. Those 50,000 tourists are on the mountain, in the village, in AirBnB’s, in hotels, at the lakes, spending money on Mammoth’s many ridiculously overpriced eateries, and stopping their cars along the roads to take pictures out the window of a deer standing in a field.

But pretty much everyone you meet knows three other people you already know, and that’s just as a guy who’s been here for one week.

The class divide is glaring.

The pejorative term for Mammoth Lakes High School is that it is filled with “millionaires and Mexicans”. That you are essentially in one of two class structures with very little cross over:

  • You are a white person with enough money and means to live up here and enjoy all that the place has to offer.
    • A sub category here is that you are a young-ish white person, with a family safety net that allows you to make minimum wage as a lift operator because you always have something else to fall back on if push comes to shove.
  • You are a Latino and work in the service industry. You are cleaning the the rooms at the hotels of the wealthy people who stay there. You are cooking the food that the wealthy people are eating.

As someone who’s lived in Mexico for two years, has a dual citizen (Mexican and American) daughter, this topic is one I tend to zoom in on.

I see the microexpressions when I ask something like “You mean the Mexican guy over there?” Because in white America “Mexican” is not on par with “Canadian” as merely representing someone from a different culture. It has baggage and means something more than just someone’s heritage.

This topic is one that I’m sure I’ll keep harping on. Politicians often say that we need a “national dialogue” on race, and I agree. It’s not a pleasant topic and similar to trash management it’s not anything a visiting tourist wants to really pay attention to. Even leftist-green-progressives coming up here to go backpacking would probably never put the issue of class division in Mammoth on their radar: they’re here to have a good time, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But specifically to the boosters of Mammoth Lakes, I would simply say that a community is not defined by hiding its problems and erecting Potemkin villages. Communities gain strength by being honest about their issues and tackling them head on.

It’s past 6:00am, time to get started on week number two.

i’m tired of the bums in san diego

I like to think I’m pretty up to speed on homelessness, at least in San Diego. I did some reporting on it earlier in my life. I know that the bums holding up signs represent a small fraction of the “homeless” population. I also know that people end up homeless through a variety of mechanisms: some self inflicted, some by no fault of their own, some by a mental health problem, and many by a sticky and re-enforcing combination.

SanDiegoHomelessThongPark

Smelling like urine and feces, a shoe-less man in a thong stumbles around downtown on Park Ave in downtown San Diego. Photo is from on my walk home, yesterday.

As a lower-rung-but-on-the-ladder emergency medicine guy, I can see the physical hardships that create and exacerbate illness and disease for those lacking proper shelter. Check it yourself one day: the next time you have the flu and feel like absolute shit, go spend your night under a bridge with roaches crawling about, people walking past your head, and a constant threat of violence about.

The last number I heard from a member of the Alpha Project was that roughly 5% of homeless are bums. That’s not hard science, but it’s what I heard quoted from people who’ve worked directly in the homeless services world for decades here in San Diego. And before you freak out on my use of “bum”, let’s use the official definition:

In San Diego there are roughly 9,000 homeless people as of 2016. Particularly awesome for us living and working near downtown is that the vast majority of San Diego homeless also live right in my neighborhood.

SanDiegoSidewalkUnderInterstateFive

C Street, as it passes underneath the Interstate 5 bridge. Golden Hill, San Diego, California. Photo is a sidewalk that I walk twice a day to and from work. My kids walk it too and hold their noses at the putrid smell of urine and feces.

But I’m tired of the god damn bums.

I’m tired of seeing a tweaker with his pants half off, on my sidewalk in front of my home, with his penis hanging out, and his filthy bag of belongings next to him.

Worse, I’m tired of not even being bothered anymore. As a first responder, I hate having to turn a blind eye to it and not care about an unresponsive person on the ground. I hate knowing that there is nothing I can medically do for this person because they have so many untreated conditions and existing constantly in a dangerous environment.

And they are threats. Don’t think so? How about you let your six your old daughter walk around by herself next to some of these guys. She has a right to walk around her city more than they have a right to shit on my sidewalk, contribute nothing to our economy, and function as a literal parasitic organism.

Want me to volunteer on an effective team to right this problem? I’m in. Want to raise my taxes so an effective and results-proven program can be put in place to effectively remedy this stain on our society? I’m in.

But San Diego won’t do that. The County Board of Supervisors, who really this problem should be addressed by, doesn’t care in any practical sense. They manage health and human services, for which homelessness is about as dead-center in their court as possible. But, the actual problem is in the metro area, and the suburbanites who stay relatively insulated in their lives throughout the county aren’t about to cough up money to solve someone else’s problem.

People “care” about homeless in the same way they “care” that every minute of every day a child in Africa dies from malaria. That is to say that they don’t care, of course. Not in a material sense where it will cause action.

And in an extremely sad and grown up way, I get it that we can only care so much. There’s so much horrible shit going on this world is just impossible to care about all of it, let alone try to get anything done and have some enjoyment along the way before you die.

So we can get into existential arguments and get super wonky with policy initiatives. We can debate this all night long.

And while we’re having that debate, there’s probably some bum on spice taking a shit on my sidewalk or trying to break into my truck. So sorry for being a little selfish but I’d like to just step out of this problem now. Someone else can spend $2,000/month in rent to live like this: have fun.

Leaving San Diego

My family moved to San Diego when I was in 5th grade. I finished up elementary school here, then went through middle school and high school. I went back to the east coast for college and military service, and then came back to San Diego in 2000. In total, I’ve lived in San Diego for 24 of my 38 years.

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I lived and worked near downtown until I left, and have lived in Carlsbad and Encinitas. I have friends all over the county, and have worked in Sorrento Valley, San Marcos, Oceanside, Hillcrest, Point Loma, Del Mar, and Poway that I can remember. I’ve had girlfriends in San Diego, I got married here, and have two little kids, one of which is in local school.

But it’s time to move, and here’s why.

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