A Los Angeles River tale

As riders and their horses enjoy this idyllic January scene close to the L.A. River, others are not so fortunate. (Jim Burns)

Every once in a while, you have one of those days, days of insight, days when whatever glasses you usually wear are plucked off and replaced by the new.

And, I have to add, insight — the new — is not always wanted.

Let me explain. Friday, I finally got some time off, so I tied on a new bread fly, hoping not to get skunked. Readers of this blog have followed my fruitless progress, so far.

I was excited. I mean growing up in Chicago, I still can’t believe it when the January weather graces us with Santa Ana wind-warmed temperatures in the 80s. Plus, would you rather fish the glorious L.A. River, or be working? (That’s a rhetorical derrrrr).

Stopped at the freeway entrance on my way, I pulled out my wallet to give a couple of bucks to a homeless woman. If you live near Pasadena, you’ve probably noticed that their numbers seem to be increasing. I debated for so many years whether to give/not give that now whenever I see someone in need, I give what I can.

As I handed her the money, she launched into a rant about how the guy in front of me had given her coupons to Union Station, but she didn’t want to go, because there you had to play the “boy-girl game,” and that she wasn’t out here begging for money because it was such a good time. Anyway, engrossed in what she had to say, I missed the light. In L.A. that’s a major offense, but nobody honked. As I waited for the next green, we talked more and she explained how her friend had contracted scabies at the city-run shelter and she’d taken her to the doctor.

But it was the next part that got me: “You people,” she said accusingly, and I can’t remember what else she said, but I do recall vividly how she looked at me. Maybe you can see it in your mind’s eye.

To the homeless, I now had a moniker. “You people.” From my perspective, they were/are “you people,” so I suppose it cuts both ways. Anyway, I couldn’t shake our conversation, and it rolled around in my mind, still does.

Once parked near the river, I spend the rest of the afternoon searching for carp. Several hours elapsed without a sighting, when, suddenly, I came upon a pool of a half-dozen who spotted me almost as quickly as I saw them. Like trout, carp have excellent eyesight. Picking one up, you’d think that their eyes focus only on the bottom. Not so.

Frustrated after about 10 minutes of casting to likely spots they might have fled, I turned to the concrete bank, calling it quits. About 10 yards in front of me were clothes drying on the chain-link fence, a faded but functioning bicycle, a pair of tennis shoes, a sleeping bag covered by a makeshift tarp. I stopped. The passing water was calm, as was the setting sun, calm, even the repetition of traffic on the I-5, calm. But interiorly I hardly was, as not one, but two residents emerged from the tent, not seeing me in my sheltering thicket.

“You people.”

For a moment, I felt all sorts of emotions, from fear (Would I be attacked?), to stupidity (Why would I be attacked?), to anger (Hey, I’m just trying to fish here, gimme some space.), to empathy (It must be awful to live out here.), to aversion (How am I going to get back to my ride?).

“You people.”

Eventually, I moved quietly to another hole in the fence and climbed through, dipping my nine-foot rod.

As I walked into the park I saw:

a man walking his eager pooch

a couple riding their horses with English saddles

a student gliding on a bicycle

a teenage girl, also on horseback

a locked men’s room

a locked women’s room

my parked car


See you on the river, Jim Burns

9 thoughts on “A Los Angeles River tale”

  1. You need to come fishing with me in Arizona. I’ll guide you to the Large Mouth Bass secret hole. Huge 6 pound hungry trophies, rarely fished and angry enough to hit your hand should you dip it in the water.

    From your LA Syndicate buddy, Grant and one time ocean fishing partner during which trip we were busted for drinking by the surly wench working the galley. Well she was surly to me, eventually she warmed up to you. But that is a story for your blog.

  2. Jim,

    Too bad no carp, next time, but what weather! I have a park I fish where the homeless and chronically inebriated spend most of their days and nights, even way below freezing days. I have long ago lost patience with most of the crowd, they know my surliness and rarely approach me any longer. i would not have such a problem with them but the same thing occurs day after day, gathering on a park bench and drinking, period, laughing hysterically over nothing. Because of them many park goers avoid that section. Some have told me of their plight and I have listened, knowing our life experiences must be greatly different. But, so saying, I simply wonder where the motivation that drives most people to care for and about themselves is. These are not the folks I see at freeway ramps. I see a choice not taken here, at my carp pond.


  3. With you on that, Gregg. This park is an odd place, like I described, lots of folks riding horses, lots of wholesome activity — and no drunks. I think the tent was more of an anomoly. Years ago, I volunteered at something called “the hippie kitchen,” where we’d handout some 1,000 sandwiches at lunch. It seemed to me that most of the clients were addicts or alcoholics. Anyway, I agree. Fishing is, well, sacred! — best to you, Jim

  4. Grant!

    Wow, been a while and great to hear from you. I’d love to go bass fishing with you. Have you been back down to Puerto Penasco (was that the name??).

    Boy, the syndicate’s in the rearview mirror a long time now. take care, Jim

  5. I live in Atwater and my wife and I have come to know some of the homeless who hang out at the light by Glendale and Glenfeliz. We give them money when we have it, but so many people never carry cash with them since the advent of the debit card. I’ve seen people throw food out their windows at the homeless. I guess they feel that passes for compassion for those less fortunate, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why they just don’t hand it to them. The homeless have stories of their lives and families, yet so many think they are in their situation because they choose to be. In some cases this is true, but in most cases it is not. They have no health insurance, and if they get sick they just have to get by somehow. I used to walk the river a lot in my area and I may have come across you fly fishing north of Los Feliz Blvd. But after having a situation with my heart where I had to be rushed to the hospital, I don’t put myself in areas where it makes it almost impossible to have city paramedics find me. But I often think what happens to those who are homeless who might have the same condition as I. They have no cell phone, no one to run and call 911 from a phone. It’s then that I realize how lucky I am and how wrong it is that these unfortunate people aren’t taken care of by our wealthy society.

    FYI I liked the river in my area of Atwater before the Army Corps of Engineers cut down most of what made the river green and enjoyable. Seems half of the water fowl has moved on since they can’t nest any longer and have no place to hide their young.

  6. “You people” falls hard on my ears. It separates us when we are not intrinsically unalike. I read this morning:
    “Fast by sharing your food with the hungry, bring to your house the homeless, clothe the one you see naked and do not turn away from your own kin.” (Is 5:7-10) and it struck me that if we thought we could do that, and did, everything could change. No more separation. Differences, yes, but an embrace of ourselves in others. He goes on: “If you remove from your midst the yoke, the clenched fist, and the wicked word, if you share your food and give relief to the oppressed, then your light will rise in the dark, your night will be like noon.” I loved your piece for its conscience and its kindness and its honesty. Between you and Isaiah, I am inspired to do more. Your wife.

  7. Hey, great writeup. Very thorough. I’m enjoying reading your LA River urban fishing reports. I also fish urban creeks in SoCal, it’s a fun pastime!

  8. Glad you’re reading, iWalton. The spawn should be coming soon for carp in the L.A. River. We’re slated for some lousy weather this weekend, but, after that, it’s probably a great time to go fishing there. — Jim

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