Additional shelter beds made available as temperatures drop
S1: As a cold storm pushes in , shelters will open for people who are unhoused.
S2: Even if all those shelter beds were occupied. There are still hundreds of individuals on the street.
S1: I'm Jade Hindman. This is KPBS midday edition. Billions of dollars and few solutions. A new proposal aims to make progress on the issue of homelessness.
S3: Funding alone will not solve homelessness. The lack of accountability and inconsistent funding has caused a public policy feedback loop.
S1: And we remember the wife of Rose Schindler , a local Holocaust survivor , and the Writers Symposium by the Sea , features an author and his surfing. That's ahead on Midday Edition. While San Diego may be enjoying blue skies today , a storm is on the way. For most , this week's colder forecast means wearing an extra layer or turning up the thermostat. But for the region's unhoused residents , lower temperatures can complicate what is already a difficult living situation. In response to the cold weather , a number of additional shelter beds will be made available at shelters in the downtown area. Joining me now with more on what this cold weather means for San Diego's homeless population is Deacon Jim Vargas , president and CEO of Father Joe's Villages , which operates a portion of the city's inclement weather shelters. Deacon Vargas , welcome back to the show.
S2: Thank you for having me. It's always good to be with you.
S1: It's not as simple as layering or turning up the heat if you're homeless.
S2: And you know , you mentioned stormy weather. We've had a lot of stormy weather , actually , this inclement weather season. We are inclement weather season starts on November 1st and it goes through the end to the end of March. And already in the four and a half months , basically , and cumulatively , we've had one and a half months , one half of those months that have been inclement weather. And basically we've called inclement weather on each and every single one of those days. So it's been 47 days already out of this season. It's been cold out there. It's been raining in and there are people out there who are suffering. We know that of the point in time count the most recent of the 8500. Half of them are on the streets and unsheltered. Right. So there's there's a lot of there's a lot of need out there. So we offer 95 beds that we make available. In fact , we've called inclement weather for this evening. We've already put out word that we'll be open this evening with 95 beds. What we do is people can start coming in about 4 p.m. in the in the afternoon. They have dinner with us at about 5:00. And then right after dinner we start breaking down our dining rooms because it's really cots that we put out in our dining rooms. This is these are extra beds and make available. So we break down the dining rooms and the two dining rooms we have , and we put out the 95 cots and we invite people in so that they can be dry and warm for for the evening , for the night. And then they have to , unfortunately , leave us in the morning. So 5:00 in the morning , those dining rooms have to be reconverted for breakfast and they join it for days because they can join us for breakfast , have a shower , and then it's back out into the streets. Our day center opens up within a couple of hours thereafter. And so if they want to if they want to come into the day center , then they can do that. But this points to the fact that we just don't have enough resources to be able to accommodate people on a longer term and not just for one night.
S2: And to your point , actually , we have the most the most beds that have been occupied on any given night that we've called it has been 81. And so the reality is that , no , we haven't gotten to capacity. We were happy to to accommodate those those who come to us. And we you know , we scratch our heads about that because it's not as if the word is not out there. The word gets out there. We there are various ways that that we communicate through to one one and also just word of mouth. And people know we've been doing this for years now. It's it's it points to the fact that people are hesitant to come in because they'll lose their spots. I mean , people who have tents out there , as an example , typically are very territorial. And so if they if they leave them for a night , they can be afraid that they won't have them when they come back as an example. And so anecdotally , we attribute part of of the fact that all 95 beds are occupied to that. And there may be other reasons as well. I mean , they have mental health challenges that are out there , substance use disorder issues that are out there. And these are all challenges that afflict those who are out there on a daily basis.
S1: And I want to understand the need for these shelters more.
S2: So there these are individuals a lot of these individuals have been chronically on the streets are compromised health wise in one way or another. Right. So when you add when there's an added added burden , in a sense on their bodies physically , it really can throw them off and make them ill.
S1: And you said there are a number of beds that typically go unfilled.
S2: That's always my prayer. I mean , I don't like it with any one. Any bed is empty , whether it's a. Inclement weather , shelter , bed or any of our shelter beds because that just means that there are people on the streets who are suffering. And so we're constantly reaching out to individuals in order to come and occupy our bed. That's why they're there. They're there so that they can have the assistance that they need. And as I mentioned , not just for one night , but our my prayers always that we're able to bring them in and work with them for the longer term so we can get them off the streets permanently.
S1: People experiencing homelessness often have to make difficult decisions when it comes to bringing their possessions or even their pets into a temporary shelter.
S2: We understand that the pets are pretty much the family members of these individuals. And so we accept pets. And that's beyond question. And as far as the belongings are concerned , when it comes to our our inclement weather shelter system , we do have limitations , obviously , because , as I mentioned , we're utilizing our dining rooms and there's limited space there. And so we you know , you can't bring all your belongings and that's just not possible. We just don't have the space. And so so there is a limitation there. The limitation is not as encompassing in a sense when it comes to our regular shelter system , because there we we put together , we have additional space that we make available for people's belongings as well. And so so yeah , So that is to your point , when it comes to the inclement weather shelter beds. That's a consideration also that people have there when they have a lot of belongings , which we just have limited space for , for the night stay.
S2: That's what it's all about. Offering the additional resources is what truly makes a difference. Today is , as I mentioned , it's just not about taking a person on the streets for the one night. We make available any of our other shelter beds that whether we use we have them in Golden Hall , we have the moral center , we have them at the Bishop morris Center. There are a number of shelters that we operate. And so they're typically we can find some beds here. So we're constantly we're constantly inviting individuals not only in for the one night of inclement weather , but also for them to stay with us so they can register for the for the beds that are on an ongoing basis. And that's where really all our comprehensive wraparound services are applied.
S1: And talk about the need for these shelters more. I understand that there are typically beds that are left unused in these shelters. But I mean , the latest count of unhoused residents in downtown San Diego alone shows nearly 2000 people living on the street. And we're talking about less than 200 extra beds. How much will this be able to help with so many people who actually live on the street.
S2: Even if all those shelter beds being cleaned and shelter beds are occupied , there's still hundreds of individuals on the street who are homeless. So this just points to the fact that we don't have enough resources in this community. We need a lot more resources , not just as it relates to inclement weather beds , but as it relates to other shelter beds. And we need additional shelter beds. And ultimately , what we need is housing. And we know that while a shelter gets a person off the street in the immediacy , and that's extremely important so that we can start working with them on their health needs. We know that shelter beds just go so far. At the end of the day , what breaks the cycle of homelessness is a home is an actual apartment. And that's why we also build affordable housing at Father Joe's , which is the most recent one was we cut the ribbon last last year on a 407 home building. And to put it in perspective , it took five years from conception to that ribbon cutting to what took far too long one of the three years prior. It took three years to get the permitting and the entitlement and the funding necessary in order to break ground. That is unacceptable. We need to do a better job as a community in order to help people off the streets , because at the end of the day , a shelter is just that. It's a shelter and it's very necessary. Don't get me wrong. I mean , we have more shelter beds than any other provider out there with less to do it. But what we need is more affordable housing and we need more of that done in the community of March.
S1: I've been speaking with Deacon Jim Vargas , president and CEO of Father Joe's Villages. Deacon Vargas , thank you very much for talking with us.
S2: Jane , it's always a pleasure. Thank you for having me. God bless you.
S1: California has poured billions of dollars into reducing homelessness in recent years. But residents and state and local officials are frustrated over an apparent lack of progress. A new proposal on the California legislature aims to bridge disagreements between Governor Gavin Newsom and local government leaders on the issue. Camp Radio's Nicole Nixon reports.
S3: The bill comes after months of tension between Newsom and city and county leaders on homelessness. Its lead author , Democratic Assembly member Luce Rivas , summed it up in a press conference announcing the measure. Funding alone will not solve homelessness. The lack of accountability and inconsistent funding has caused a public policy feedback loop. That feedback loop sounds like this. Newsom says the state's big spending on homelessness , including $2 billion over two years in direct grants to local governments , should warrant better results. Here he is talking about it last month.
S4: We're not just going to hand out another billion dollars of brand new discretionary money unless it aligns with our goals and we see real progress.
S3: Newsom temporarily held back $1,000,000,000 in grants last fall because he was dissatisfied by local plans to reduce homelessness.
S4: Forgive me , but this is life and death. People are dying on the streets in the name of compassion and these stale arguments I've been hearing in my entire life unprecedented support. I want to see unprecedented progress.
S3: He eventually released the funds , but says he's going to demand more accountability on homelessness spending.
S2: We welcome additional accountability.
S3: That San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria. He's also chair of a group of mayors representing California's 13 largest cities.
S2: But we also expect partnership and we need to have a state that is willing to make a long term commitment to this problem.
S3: Gloria and other local leaders say they're grateful for the funding , but that it's hard to make long term plans to reduce homelessness without an ongoing commitment from the state. As an example , he points to hotel rooms which the city leases as an option for shelter.
S2: Well , I only have a year's worth of funding , so you might imagine the price point that I get would be different if I could make not a one year lease , but a three year lease or a five year lease.
S3: Gloria says another way the state can lead on homelessness is by taking on a greater role coordinating between cities , counties and other groups. Assembly member Rivas hopes her bill will address all these issues. First , it would require the state to lead on setting homelessness reduction goals. That's something local governments have been asking for. It would also tie the grant funding to how well cities and counties can meet those goals , something Newsom has been calling for. And it would provide ongoing funding. Though Rivas and other lawmakers haven't requested a specific dollar amount and acknowledge the state is facing a budget deficit this year. This is the number.
S5: One issue in the state of. California.
S3: California. For a lot of us , and it requires a large investment to solve it. A coalition of housing groups supporting the bill are asking for $3 billion annually. Graham , Kansas , is the CEO of the California State Association of Counties , which advocates for county governments at the state capitol. He says the legislation aligns with their goal of developing a homelessness plan that has clear responsibilities and accountability for all levels of government. But he thinks it could go further than Reeves's bill.
S2: Homelessness is the only major issue in California that does not have a system. When you look at child welfare , transportation , criminal justice , health care , education , it's clear who's supposed to do what and how it's funded , not with homelessness.
S3: Newsom's office declined to comment on the legislation , but says he's having conversations with lawmakers about housing accountability. The bill could be heard in legislative committees in the coming months in Sacramento. I'm Nicole Nixon.
S1: I'm Jade Hindman. Rauschenberg , a longtime San Diego resident and Holocaust survivor who told her family's story to thousands of people over decades , died on Friday. She was 93 and we first met Rose in 2016 when she and her late husband Max , came to our studio to be interviewed by one of their sons. Despite sharing their personal story so many times , their son Ben , wanted to know more about how they felt raising children of their own after losing their parents so young. Here's their conversation.
S6: When you were a kid , when you were growing up watching your parents , watching your aunts and uncles and grandparents , what did you think you were going to be ? What were your kind of dreams and aspirations ? Did you get to that point ? You know.
S3: I don't think I mean , I was so young when the war broke out. I was barely ten years old and in 1939. Okay. So I was a child. I had dreams. My dream was to be with my family.
S6: How about you , Dad ? Did you have enough thoughts about the future that you ever had ? Thought you were going to be something you remember that at all as a young kid ? No. No. You need to do. Remember starting to learn a few words of Hebrew. Because the plan was for us to. To immigrate to Israel eventually. But there was no Israel in those days. Anyway. It's Palestine.
S3: Cattle , train , cattle , car , cattle , cars. We get into Auschwitz. The door opens to the train. A man in a striped uniform comes on the train to help us with our stuff. And he says to me , How old are you ? I said , I'm 14. He says , Tell him you're 18. Okay. I had no idea why. But , you know , we marched for maybe a couple of minutes and we come in front of three soldiers. So my father and my older my brother Philip , the SS points a finger. Go to this line. My mother and three sisters and brothers to another line.
S6: The younger. Ones.
S3: Ones. The younger ones. All under 12. Okay. Younger ones than me. And then my two sisters to another line. And then it comes to me says , How old are you ? I said , I am 18. And my sister Helen said , Oh , no , she's only 14. I said , Oh , no , I am 18. So he let me go with my two older sisters. Otherwise I would have gone to the gas chamber with my mother and three sisters and brothers , never seen my mother and three sisters and brothers again. And then as we stand outside waiting for further orders , we stand in waiting. And there's a huge fire behind the building. There was a Polish man standing there with a dog. He must have been some type of a god. He said they were burning here. You could hear children calling for their mothers crying and screaming and calling out names. He said they were burning here. Let me tell you , they were not burning here , okay ? What they did , they didn't even give the people in the gas chambers enough gas to kill them all the way. They pushed him out the back door and burned them half alive. So between what happened to my mother and three sisters and brothers. We go to sleep. We get up in the morning. I went outside and as I'm walking , I hear somebody calling my name. It was my father. My father had a short beard , maybe two inches , and always wore a suit. And I had this man in a striped uniform. No glasses , no hats. He says , Roy , crazy. Don't you recognize me ? I'm your father. We hugged and we kissed. And he said , Whatever you do , stay together with your two sisters because you have a much better chance of survival. And then he said , Also , whatever you do , stay alive so you can tell the world what they're doing to us. And we made up to meet again the next morning. And my father brought my brother and I brought my two sisters and we talked and he repeated the same things. So we said goodbye. And I never saw my father and brother again.
S6: So , Dad , how was it that you guys ended up going to your first camp ? And what was the first camp ? Between 38 and 42. I had four years in Poland as a refugee and trying to struggle and wait for the war to finish didn't finish. So in 42 , the edict was out that all Jews have to report themselves to the ghetto. And my dad said , The ghetto doesn't sound too good. We're going to see what else we can do. And he found out that there's a small working camp being established close by , and he went to the commandant with a few trinkets , and he took that to the commandant and says , Take us in this camp. And he and we succeeded. It didn't last a few months. And they rounded us up and took us to the next camp. And what was that ? That was in Millet's. And the women were separated in a different camp. And I never saw my mother and sister again. Do you know how long you were in reality ? Probably less that close to a year. Russians were pounding from the east and they had to give that up. We were pushed into village , go there , tried to set up the remnants of the factory with the machinery. Of course it didn't work. After four weeks , everything got rusted. And finally we went the other way. And we wound up in Dresden , back to Germany. Dresden was firebombed in February of 45. No more work. No more to hide. And we're out in the open for two days , and they run us up freezing cold out there , and they run us up on the first march to terrorism. So it's called the death march. By the time we made it through , my dad was in very bad shape and he was put into this some hospital area and we were not allowed to get to him. We could just get to the windows and wave and try to communicate that way. And two months later , we were liberated.
S3: It's in the Holocaust , in the camps.
S6: It's fearful.
S3: Scared ? Absolutely. Absolutely. Okay. I don't dream about my hometown. I don't dream about my family being together. But I do dream very rarely about the camps. And it only happens sometimes when I when we just have discussions during the day.
S6: If you think about it too.
S3: Much , I think about it too much. Then it comes back to you and you dream about it.
S6: Really ? Once in a while I scream , but it's not 100% Holocaust related. My dreams of weird. I always come to the end of a road and there's no place to go. It's either get there by car and somehow stop before going over the hill , and I always wind up not getting killed. It's just the weirdest dreams. It's always something. The end of the road. Mom , how would you say you were able to raise four successful kids without the normal role models that. We have in our parents since you lost your parents so young.
S3: It all came natural. They all came natural. This is my my dream to have a family. I lost my whole family. We need to do have family. That's what we live for. I did what I had to do. And I am very proud of my family. I don't think I could have done any better if I would have lived had a different life altogether.
S6: So the answer.
S3: Is the same. Yes.
S6: The answer is yes. You believed your dream ? Absolutely.
S3: I absolutely worked very hard for it. Yes , I have achieved my dreams. Thank you. Okay. We have four kids and nine grandkids. What else can you ask for ? Okay. Well , okay.
S6: That's why that's what I was asking. Dad , would you say that you've achieved your. I exceeded my dreams. I exceeded all my wildest dreams. It's just unbelievable that I'm still here. 87 years old. And have you kids and the grandkids. And my home and my assets and my cars in the garage. It's just unbelievable what I have. I have moved mountains and able to move them the way I need them to be. I'm serious. I did things that were impossible to think that they could be done. Okay , Dad , do you have any advice at this point about getting older and living a good life ? Lived the life day to day and look forward for the next day and hope that the next day will be even better ? Okay. And try to put the pain which there is in life. You sort of put it aside and and let it sit on the end. Without it , don't allow it to come to the surface all the time. That's my motto. I'm going to add one more thing. I tell my grandkids , our grandkids once in a while , I tell them I'm going to come back in 20 , 30 years to check up on you and everything else that's going on here. So maybe I can do this. I don't know. This new world might be able to do that. Wonderful. That would be great. We would welcome that.
S1: That was Ben Schindler speaking with his parents , Max and Rose Schindler , both Holocaust survivors , back in 2016. Max Schindler died in 2017 , and Rose Schindler died on Friday. She was 93. Our condolences to the Schindler family. And thank you for sharing your story. You're listening to KPBS Midday edition. I'm Jade Hindman. San Diego writer Jack James is the author of the new novel Empty Theater Out Today. She's a professor of creative writing at UC San Diego and author of five books. And the most recent is a short story collection called False Bingo , which came out in 2019. Empty Theater is an imaginative , fictionalized rendering of the lives of two real historical figures King Ludwig , the second of Bavaria , and his cousin , Empress Sissi of Austria. KPBS arts producer Julia Dixon. Evans spoke with Jack Gems about the book. Here's their conversation.
S5: Hi , Jack. Thanks for joining us.
S3: Thank you so much for having me.
S5: So what was it that drew you in about these two characters ? King Ludwig , the second and Empress Sissy.
S3: Initially I was drawn to two Ludvig and on a visit to his castle and I strong sign in Bavaria. And I heard the story of his life. Heard that he was mostly interested in castles and operas and not a very good ruler. And then that eventually he is found murdered with his doctor and no one knows what happened. So. So initially it was his story that drew me in. And then and then I started researching other people and his life and was equally compelled by by his cousin and good friend , Empress Sissy and her kind of iconoclastic tendencies. So the preferred or or showed favor to the Hungarian cause rather than the Austrian cause , which was an unconventional for the Emperor and Empress at that time. I also was really interested in in making sure that there was health care and mental health care in Vienna at the time when the Hapsburg Empire was was struggling to to kind of keep its footing in Europe. So I was really intrigued by these two people who were not quite doing what was expected of them and had all of these kind of dramatic details filling up their lives as well.
S5: So this is a work of fiction , but you're dealing with real lives and and legacies.
S3: But definitely the maturity , maybe something close to 90% of the book is factually based. So I maybe rearranged some things or or condensed timelines or combined different figures , but for the most part , a lot of the outrageous things that happen in this book are based in reality. So I think that initially I was worried about being fair to them as really other historical people. But , you know , I was able to find enough enough information that really kind of let me play quite a bit with things that had happened that I didn't need to invent.
S5: And when you say those outrageous things , can you give us an example of one ? Sure.
S3: So when when Ludwig was a child , he was so obsessed with beautiful people that he refused to be waited on by any servant that he deemed homely. So. So if someone came to help him put his pajamas on at night or bring him his tea in the afternoon and they weren't absolutely beautiful , he would pretend like they weren't even in the room with him.
S5: Can you talk a little bit about how Ludvig and maybe even Sissy wanted that different life ? Yes.
S3: One of the things that that the historical record for a long time kind of tried to cover up in his life was that he he was gay and he had romances with men throughout his life , even though he needed to kind of keep them a secret. So , you know , I think that is one of the kind of core things that people should know about him , that there's this kind of essence to his character that he is denied from making public or from falling through in a way that is never ultimately satisfying to him. So that was difficult. But then he also , you know , he he believed that by divide , right ? He should be king But he had no interest in protecting the Bavarian cause from being absorbed into the North German Russian effort at the time. And so his cabinet was very frustrated with the fact that he had little interest in protecting Bavaria. And they were also frustrated that he that he also wasn't really willing to be a shadow king , you know , someone who was willing to be kind of just guided and do whatever someone else says he was. He was very resistant even to those efforts with this. To see the Hapsburg Empire , you know , is is is well known for being pretty buttoned up and conservative. And so having been raised in a house that wasn't that way , that was very permissive and playful and artistic and spent lots and lots of time outside in nature , then to go to Vienna , where she was , where she was locked up in the Hoff burg and basically told that her primary job was just to produce airs was was a challenge for her to produce airs and to be seen by the public. And she didn't appreciate having to just be be kind of a a pretty face to put on the empire. And so she she struggled with the amount of control that was exerted over her and not really being taken seriously when it came to the the priorities that she wanted to put her own efforts into.
S5: So at the very beginning , you spoil , in a way , the ending that that they die and you kind of break the fourth wall by suggesting to the reader that we're all better off knowing it from the start.
S3: And then I knew that my process of researching the book wasn't that , you know , there wasn't more to be found underneath that surface layer of narrative that actually things only got weirder and more surprising as I dug deeper. So , you know , having that sense of impending , untimely death for both of them , to me , it kind of helps to set up the momentum that moved through their lives that , you know , that they're both going to die too soon and for reasons that are that are out of their control. That was something that seemed essential to me for for the project from the beginning in a kind of intuitive way. I don't know that I understood why I felt like I needed to lay out the whole narrative initially right away. But then as as the work went on , it just continued to make sense. And perhaps the work that I was doing kind of ended up making it make sense.
S5: You teach creative writing at UC San Diego. Can you talk about how you explain to students how to take a world that you've built from your imagination on to the page in writing ? Absolutely.
S3: I There is so much excitement around worldbuilding right now and in creative writing , but also , you know , the the strength of interest in and role playing games and in immersive video games and film. You know , it just it feels like students often are coming in with with really strong skills and building worlds. So ultimately , I actually feel like my job ends up being more helping them to figure out what of those worlds that they've spent sometimes years constructing before they've even gotten to one of my creative writing classes. How do you how do you kind of take that world and figure out how much of the world to share in service of the narrative that you're trying to tell ? So , I mean , I don't know that I have to teach them much when it comes to worldbuilding. Honestly , it. Just ends up being figuring out the kind of equation of the world building to the plot of the story that they're exploring.
S3: Um , yes. Yeah. Yeah , it is. I mean , when I , when I started working on this book , I did the thing that everyone tells you not to do , and I , and I did way , way , way too much research. And , and the book was at one point more than three times as long as it is now. And the process of editing the book was realizing , okay , that this book isn't the entirety of the world. It has to be a very specific edit of that world and only what kind of adds to that , the story of these two , these two very close cousins and and the challenges they face. So so , yes , I , I absolutely had to take my own advice in terms of of limiting the world.
S5: Jack , thank you so much.
S3: Thank you so much. This is such a pleasure.
S1: That was author Jack Jem speaking with KPBS , arts producer and editor Julia Dixon Evans. Gems will read and discuss her new novel , Empty Theater at the book Catapult tonight at 7 p.m.. This week marks the return of the Writers Symposium by the Sea on the campus of Point Loma Nazarene University. Pulitzer Prize winning author William Finnegan will be the featured writer this Wednesday evening. He is a writer known for his long time work with The New Yorker , as well as several books , including the memoir Barbarian Days , which centers upon his lifelong love of surfing. Bill , welcome to Midday Edition.
S2: Oh , thanks , Jed.
S1: So being in San Diego , we'll start off with surfing. In your book Barbarian Days , you wrote with a seriousness about surfing that we don't often see , and clearly readers really responded to that.
S2: And I was very much writing for the general reader. I mean , surfers have their own language and way of talking about this , their own frame of reference. But the rest of the world kind of looks at surfing and they see what they see. And if you're driving past a beach and you look out and you see some figures in the water , oh , there's they're out there , you know , having fun. And that might be true. But there's also a kind of intense engagement with the ocean and and the shoreline and all the factors tide , wind and swell and and much subtler factors than those that everybody is. If the waves are halfway decent , if if it's actual surfing is engaged in kind of fiercely trying to understand what the ocean is doing and especially what it's going to do next and to be in the right place and where you want to be to get a good wave or to be safe. In the case of heavier waves , and that is not what people sort of at a glance see. So I'm able to sort of break some of that down from the long time surfers experience , I suppose.
S2: I was a kid in Southern California and I was at the beach a lot and body surfing , and it was kind of a natural progression towards surfing. I had a kind of adoptive family , a felt. I spent the summers with a lot who were real ocean people. And I first wrote a surfboard at a place called San Onofre that might be near San Diego County. And when you're at Camp Pendleton , it was a great learning spot. And I was hooked , really , after one or two waves , I was I was thinking about that first wave just the other day. I was out in the water here in New York , and the surface had a similar feel. It's just as anybody could tell you , you may know yourself is there's quite a thrill to shooting across the water.
S1: And , you know , barbarian days does center on your your love of surfing. But the story it tells delves much deeper though , what you say.
S2: Well , yeah , it's really about a lot of other things and sort of the story of my life and and maybe , you know , the long story of trying to become an adult. You know , I've had this kind of bipolar life and surfing is the North Pole of irresponsibility , you know , just ditching all responsibilities , all obligations. And when the waves are good , this is still an issue. I mean , this week for me , it's it's a perennial issue. And and then there's other desire to be you know , I mean , and I sort of really like being on the outside of things and and pursuing joy in that way. But but then there's the other impulse to , you know , be a responsible citizen to contribute , you know , into my kids as a writer to , you know , have opinions and inform my readers. So it's a there's that tension , that tug of war , I think , kind of all through the book.
S1: You often talk about race and identity in your work.
S2: Like in the first chapter , it starts out as a kid in Hawaii , I mention I grew up in Southern California , but we moved to Hawaii when I was 13 and I was already surfing seriously by then. And so it was just a kind of dream come true. And I had a wonderful time , made some really good friends. But I also had a really very tough school , middle school , junior high , and it was all very racialized , which I'd grown up in this kind of lily white suburb of L.A. and hadn't ever been in , in a situation like that. And I was really ganged up and and The Hollies , the one term for white people , had their own little gang. And my best friends were actually these three Hawaiian brothers , the Kaleka coolies whom I got to know in the water not at school. The two of them went to my school. And so it was this sort of introduction to the whole world , their family , their their world that was that was new to me. And and was I didn't think of it as ethnic. It was just it was just different and exciting.
S1: You have served in many parts of. The world.
S2: Largely according to the waves. You know , in in places with really intense waves , shallow reefs like Tahiti or Indonesia , some of the best ways in the world. The local kids who take up surfing tend to feel a lot better than in places where the consequences aren't so high and the waves aren't such high quality. And and then a lot of places it develops a kind of subculture with tourism. Sometimes in poorer countries. Like I was just in El Salvador didn't before. But but seeing the kind of surf tourism really taking off there. And local surfers , you know , getting jobs as guides. So it's yeah , in every place it takes a kind of different shape over time. Once once it settles in , I mean , not always good. I mean , often the places turn into what people sort of call surf ghettos. You know , there's just a lot of kind of distraction and kind of money around in very poor places that maybe some of them , which I , I first surfed long ago , maybe in the seventies when there wasn't anybody there. And now they're they're full blown scenes , not always really healthy for local kids. But yeah , it's it's it's there are plenty places where , you know , there aren't really any surfboards , but people are interested in it. And by visiting , you might , you know , plant the seed and maybe leave aboard and. And it'll start up. Hmm.
S1: Hmm. And , you know , I want to circle back to to the point that we were making earlier about surfing , sort of being intimidating and and in some cases unwelcoming to newcomers and outsiders.
S2: And I don't know in the sort of more official circles of surfing , like in competitions and advertising and , and wherever there's a sort of formality around surfing or something being sold , there's a big effort to , to be less of just like a white guy sport and a lot more women and a lot more people of color , which is sort of ironic because surfing really started in Hawaii and that's that's where its deepest roots are. And I my sister still lives there. I go back there as often as I can. And it's , you know , obviously not I mean , how these are outsiders to it in Hawaii. And so it's got that kind of Southern California , you know , just because lead image , but lots of other kinds of people surf and women have been really coming on strong , surfing better and better. When I was a kid , you rarely saw a woman who was very capable in the water. But but now there are plenty of women around who out surf 99% of the men. Interesting.
S2: I taught high school in a black township outside Cape Town. And so this stuff is sort of in my face during that period. And all the surfers pretty much were white. And it was actually kind of difficult. It was awkward for me because the politically everything was so politicized. She didn't make any friends among surfers. The law surfed a lot. I took some of my students surfing a couple of times and it was all very , you know , apartheid tense. But that was a long time ago.
S1: I hear you.
S2: 40 years is a hard place for me anyway. And but , you know , things have changed. I've written a couple of books and a lot of other stuff about South Africa and cover the elections for democratic elections in 94. And Cape Town at least has become a much more sort of racially mixed scene in the water. In fact , the best surfer to come out of South Africa in recent years is a guy named Mikey February , who's not white , comes from Cape Town , is a wonderful surfer. I've been hoping to run into him on the on the circuit somewhere. And and he's like a big local hero in Cape Town. And so lots of kids are getting into surfing around Cape Town who were formerly pretty much barred from it.
S1: All right. So it's becoming a more welcoming sport. It sounds like at least around the globe.
S2: Yeah , that's safe to say.
S1: I have been speaking with author Bill Finnegan. He will be appearing at the 28th Annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea this Wednesday , February 22nd , at 7 p.m.. You can visit. PBS.org for more information. Bill , thanks so much for joining us.
S2: Oh , my pleasure. Thank you.