It’s called the Riverwalk, a mostly black-topped path along a runoff channel, beginning at the end of Lake Elsinore at Lake Shore Drive. Two and 3/4 miles later it ends at Highway 74 near the intersection of Collier Avenue.
Since I discovered this 5 mile + out and back route last winter, I am frequently seen walking here. Likewise, I often encounter the same familiar faces along the way.
There’s the man who lives at Pottery Court Apartments at the corner of Sumner Avenue and Pottery Street…
(The green arrow shows where Pottery Street dead ends and connects to Sumner Avenue. The blue arrow points to more apartments across the street, lining the Riverwalk.)
He walks to the Ortega Highway, Route 74,
and back everyday, wearing the same dark gray sweatpants and lighter gray hoodie. He explains that he received a kidney transplant. He greets me with a thumbs up and a great big smile. Everyday is special to him! He inspires me to keep walking too and reminds me that it’s a gift, especially when my motivation runs low.
There’s the beautiful woman with red hair, a sparkling smile, and deep melodious voice…
I finally just start addressing her as My Friend, whenever we cross paths on the Riverwalk. “Hello, My Friend.” “My Friend, how are you?” And then I feel upset with myself. What on earth possessed me with taking the liberty to shout out, “My Friend!” to her whenever we meet? I don’t know. It just came blurting out of my mouth! Am I perhaps crossing boundaries and offending her? Her good energy makes me smile. She inspires me in some subtle way I can’t explain.
And then one day, on my way back from the Ortega Highway turnaround, I hear someone shouting, “My Friend!” I look up and see red hair, a sparkling smile, and waving hands in the distance. I can’t begin to tell you how touched I am! I feel special connecting with her and her magnetically kind energy.
Several weeks later, after heavy rains pummeled Lake Elsinore day after day, My Friend is sitting on a bench along the Riverwalk. I stop and talk and learn that she is homeless. The field where her tent is pitched is now soaked in water. She lives with an undocumented Mexican, the father of her two children. Fearful of deportation for him, she is afraid to get married. I don’t know any of the details of her life and what led her to homelessness. All I do know is she will remain My Friend forever.
Then there are the handful of older Mexican men who gather on the benches on the thoughtfully landscaped, and cement-paved section of the Riverwalk abutting the Lake Elsinore Police Station…
One old man I greet sips from an oversized beer can each morning. Another man with a white mustache receives food in styrofoam containers from a woman wearing hospital scrubs who pulls up at Graham Avenue. And there is the man in a cowboy hat… He moves around in a golf cart. Others are younger but recognizable and frequent on occasion. All of them greet my smile with theirs and just seem happy for living through another night and enjoying a new day filled with warm sunshine and bright blue skies.
There are also the gals from the Lake Elsinore Water Department who walk during their lunch hour along the Riverwalk from Chaney Street
to maybe the Ortega Highway, or not.
But I don’t think so, because every time I see them they are returning within a 1/4 mile towards Chaney Street.
There is also a young man who walks from Chaney Street
to Sumner Avenue’s Pottery Court Apartments every week day.
We pass, smile, and briefly chat from time to time. All I know about him is this: 1.) He doesn’t work for the Water Department because he tells me he suggested to the Water Department gals to walk from Chaney Street to Sumner Avenue like he does. 2.) He eats a banana during his walk.
Then, I make 2 new friends that I will probably never see again but who will touch my heart forever.
Returning from the Ortega Highway on my out and back, I encounter a woman just sitting there along the Pottery Street Apartments. All of her stuff surrounds her and she holds a toothbrush with toothpaste. Her head is shaved but the remains of blue dye still exist. Her fingernails are speckled with old polish above and ingrained with dirt below.
I stop to chat with her. She tells me her name, Christina?, but all I can remember is her nickname, Mustang. She is in her early 30s, has children who live somewhere, a mother with whom she is estranged, and somehow she came to Lake Elsinore from the city of Riverside. Her story intrigues me, but she rambles onto a new subject before I can catch my breath. She collects other people’s trash and recycles them as gifts to everyone she meets. She has bestowed the following upon me:
The leather ring and pouch was connected to a bracelet on her wrist. The earring was special to her too so she kept one and gave me the other as a symbol of sisterhood. (I will recount the gifting of the necklace later.)
But Mustang is not the only person I encounter this day. Abner arrives and soon the 3 of us are sharing our stories.
Abner explains that he works for an auto mechanic on the other side of the Riverwalk channel. Raised in Lake Elsinore, he left several years ago. This new job brings him back and today of all days he decides to revisit his old haunt along the Riverwalk. Soon, the 3 of us are chatting away! The more we talk, the more we discover what we have in common. We are good people! With hugs all around, we depart.
A few days later I see Mustang again. She is carrying Christmas lights and a garbage bag full of more trash-collecting treasures. She is headed under the bridge where Sumner Avenue intersects the Riverwalk.
I return the next day with a small bag of my favorite earrings in my pocket, hoping she is still camped under the bridge. My ear piercings have healed over and I no longer wear earrings or jewelry, except for a special bracelet my sons gave me when I retired.
She’s there! We wave at each other and she comes out to greet me with a hug. She is thrilled with my eclectic collection of earrings with feathers, beads, and other artsy creations. I know she is going to create something wonderful and special with them. Her creative juices are shining from her eyes. And then she presents me with a gift. She removes a necklace from around her neck, yes, the one in the picture above… “I knew I was supposed to give this to someone today,” she says.
The next time I walk, she is gone.
A week or 2 later something else is gone… the wrought iron benches along the Riverwalk beside the Lake Elsinore Police Station.
I worry about the old man sipping his beer. He is always so kind to me… He cautions me about slipping on the small round seeds dropping from the palm trees along the path… He blesses me crossing the street in the crosswalk, hoping cars will have the courtesy to stop. I try to speak to him in Spanish. He tries to speak to me in English.
I run into My Friend who tells me that not only are the benches gone but also are all of the old man’s blankets and jackets. She helps him as much as she can, gathering blankets and coats for him and keeping an eye out for him during the day.
A downside to living a downsized life in an RV is the reality that we have no extra anything to help the old man… Or do we?