No one seems to know how the Patron of Ramon Road was anointed to his post. Nor, do they seem to really care. Each day he stands – tall, thin, sunbaked and regal – at the corner of a printing establishment and Ramon Road. Throughout the morning, he performs a royal wave of his American flag; a big smile stretching across the crevices of his face. At times a car honks; sometimes they pull over and hand him a dollar or two.
The Patron takes great care in his role and he arrives at his post each day around 9 a.m. Rumor has it that he sleeps in a nearby field and gets up early to bathe himself with one of the water hoses at the many nearby industrial buildings. The desert being what it is, he dries off quickly. He is meticulous about the few possessions he has, all of which he carefully stores in his Radio Flyer 36 red wagon. He is a familiar site along Ramon headed toward Cathedral City.
America’s Tire Store is a few blocks away from his post, and as I was waiting one day to have my tires fixed, I decided to walk along Ramon. It was a dry spring morning; headed westward, I spied the Patron in my approaching path.
As I drew closer, he sat down upon his wagon. He was fumbling for something in the cart, and then he pulled up a slightly used cigarette, lifting it like it was a prize in a box of Cracker Jack. He smiled a half-toothless grin and asked, “Do you have a match? I can’t find my lighter.” As he toyed with the unlit cigarette, I looked upon his calloused hands, weathered fingers and the deep lines that drew across his face and around his deep set eyes. Unconsciously, I looked for clues as to who this person was or could have once been.
I looked at him and replied, “I don’t smoke anymore. Don’t you know it can kill you?”
He let out a deep belly laugh, “Like standing in 100 degree heat can’t?”
I don’t know why, but suddenly I felt calm in his presence and stammered out an, “Uh huh.”
“You know, I didn’t always hang on the streets,” he continued. “I came out here a few years ago from Oakland. I was told there was tons of date picking in Indio and as I was so tired of the Northern California cold, I said to myself, ‘time to head south.’ I was never one of those who liked to settle – down or otherwise. I enjoyed the freedom to go when and where I pleased. I’d seen postcards of PS and it looked nice enough, so off I went.”
“I’ll never forget the night I got into town,” he said oblivious to the fact that I might not have cared to hear his story or that I may have had other things to do. I had another 30 minutes until my car would be ready, so I let him continue. “When the bus got into Palm Springs, I put my hand on the window – it was hot. Coming into town on the 111, I was amazed that instead of street lamps, there were spot lights that lit up the Palm trees along Palm Canyon Drive – kinda like Christmas.
“As the bus drove through downtown, I was mesmerized — right here in the middle of the night, folks were walking around in t-shirts, shorts and sandals. No more looking for doorways on a cold night!”
I sensed his mind was searching for a start or finish, and I was beginning to wonder if his story had a point. “So, what happened to date picking?”
“Ah, that was a pipe dream,” he replied, putting his unsmoked cigarette back into his wagon. “I met up with a few fellow travelers by the bus depot downtown and they clued me into all the free, local services. Here I can get fed, there are places you can cool off when it’s too hot and I get to see all these nice people on the street. I like my freedom, love my freedom. If I don’t have to punch a clock, I will avoid it at all costs. Did you know, I can walk into pretty much any store along Palm Canyon and they’ll give you free water? And, it’s like they’re glad to do it.
“You know Palm Springs is a resort town, so folks here are generally nicer – and better tippers if I wave my flag the right way,” he again continued, drawing his flag in a wide circle. “My favorite part of the day is when I lay down under the blanket of stars and think about how good I got it. It doesn’t get much better than this. I’m not one of those types who lost everything because of booze or dope. I never hurt no one and I don’t steal. I just don’t like to be closed in or be kept to any schedule. I like my freedom. Love my freedom.”
From there, his mind seemed to drift, and I figured I had overstayed my introduction. It was beginning to warm up and I wondered if he would have been so energetic had I come across him at 3 in the afternoon.
“I gotta get back to my car,” I said motioning at my watch.
“Uh huh,” he responded while he dug around again in his wagon. “Found it. My lighter!”
As I began to walk away, I feigned an imaginary tip of the hat toward him, thinking it a more appropriate response than a kiss of a royal ring (should he have one somewhere in his wagon). I left, feeling glad I got to meet the Patron of Ramon Road. At times when I see him, I give him a buck or two, not sure if he remembers me or not.
And, with that, I end this as “Poolside from PS.”