Happily homeless in Cayucos

June 7, 2019

David Fowler

Editor’s Note: The following series, “Life in Radically Gentrifying Cayucos by the Sea,” to be posted weekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. 


He’s usually entrenched in a parking spot just off the south lot a couple yards north of the little area where the seawall begins. He’s like a cat who has methodically explored and found its place in which to aspire to the ultimate comfort zone, a sort of headquarters to come back to after more exploring. He’s always in good spirits and ready for a little conversation. He’s around 55, slender and a little bent, heavily tattooed, and wears flat silver rings on all his fingers.

He has to be slender to sleep in the rig he’s created—a 6-foot long flat trailer with a bed of cushions and comforters and covered with canvas pitched into a mini teepee. Two small American flags fly from his teepee on either side. He stuffs all he owns—except a simple white plastic deck chair—into the teepee, and hooks the trailer to his mountain bike when he needs to find necessities in town or sometimes in Morro Bay, where he shops in thrift stores for objects to pound out with his little hammer to create crafts of a sort, which he sells and sometimes gives away.

He stays busy as an artisan, yes, but also has plenty of time to idly savor the beauty and pace of Cayucos; and pulls up his plastic chair to soak it all in or study his smart phone or pass the time with locals and tourists fascinated with his rig and his life style, which evidently he’s honed down to an exactness of economy and precision, for he seems to lack nothing. A restroom and outside showers are at the end of the seawall off the pier.

The first time I discovered him was on an early morning walk with Wilbur, when a black jacket was flung over the front opening of his teepee, against which was wedged his chair.

A couple days later I spotted him pedaling down the main drag pulling his rig, flags flying, the canvas filled with blue and red odes to veterans. He was in no particular hurry. Later that afternoon, while I was walking Wilbur, he was seated at his adopted spot pounding little silver objects with a small hammer, head down.

I decided not to interfere with his work. I thought, maybe he’s a recluse not wanting to talk to anybody, beaten down from the system and wanting to be left alone in his suffering. But I knew different when a couple days later I parked in the south lot around 6 in the evening and he was conversing with two young women in an animated manner as they looked over his wares. He talked with his hands and smiled and nodded and laughed like a man totally attuned to the endearing humanity of life, happy to cavort with whomever came along and share what he had to offer.

The next morning, on my walk, he was sitting in his chair doing nothing as Wilbur approached him. He immediately held his hand out to Wilbur and fondled his ears and smiled at me. His teeth were fine. His eyes were benign in a face that had a kind of warped look, leading me to believe much had gone on in his life to send him where he now was, utterly at peace while eschewing all entanglements and conventions, perhaps the happiest and most well-adjusted person in Cayucos these days.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Great, man.” He smiled. “How you doing?”

“Just fine.”

“Great dog.”

“That’s Wilbur. He’s a pretty big personality down here, kind of an institution.”

“I’ve seen that.” He kept petting him.

“You a silversmith?” I ventured.

“No, not really, I just work with stuff. Some I sell, lot of it I give away if people like it.”

“That’s quite a rig you got there. You fit in it pretty snug?”

“I sure do. Fit perfect.”

“No trouble getting in and out?”

“Nope. Everything I own is in there. I sleep with it.”

Wilbur finally spotted another friend and pulled away, and I told the guy it was nice talking to him and he told me to have a great day and went back to gazing at the sea and sipping his coffee from the local coffeehouse or the gas station on the corner.

My guess is he gets social security or has a pittance to live on because as a couple weeks rolled past I discovered him eating a big sandwich, but never boozing. Sometimes his bike and rig sat by itself, and I passed him while walking Wilbur on the main drag and discovered him conversing, standing up with Hubert and a couple guys who idle away days every day doing nothing and always say hello and pet Wilbur. They like to roost on the benches in front of Skipper’s old diner, which closes at 2 in the afternoon.

This homeless guy fits right in. He is unerringly polite. One day he was pounding out some silver to look like an eagle’s wings. I halted to watch him work and he claimed he found the silver at the Cayucos thrift shop.

“It’s the best and cheapest thrift shop in the county,” I told him.

“I love it. And the ladies who work there. They’re so nice, and so helpful.”

“Those old ladies are the backbone of Cayucos,” I told him.

“I can see that. I keep finding more good things about this place.”

I noticed in my walks that he was making more and more friends among locals. He was becoming one of those people others are drawn to. A homeless woman who lives in her dented yellow Honda SUV and boondocks in the north lot on the other end of the pier, visits with him.

I’m sure the county sheriffs and the highway patrol who cruise through town have noticed him and his rig. I’m sure the newly affluent and entitled have noticed him, and hope they do not complain to authorities, fearing their antiseptic existences are tarnished by their interpretation of what is perhaps dirty and tainting.

Most of the homeless people in this area cluster down by the river near the power plant in Morro Bay, which the police clean out every now and then. I’ve seen some homeless people sleep in bags at the park by Cayucos creek. Those that live in cars park them in no-man’s land streets away from homes, like on Park Ave behind the Catholic Church lot. Early mornings they move to the lots around the pier.

I struck up a conversation the other day with the new homeless guy, whose name is Dave, curious if he was an army vet. “No,” he said. “I just like to show my respect for the veterans who allow me to live like I do.”

I didn’t bother to question him. I don’t know what our veterans have really fought for since WWII, unless it’s oil or the arrogant hubris of trying to convince others to live as we do, though the very existence of them strikes fear in anybody who feels aggressive towards us.

We kept talking and he mentioned that he’d been here almost a month, and it was the best place he’d been to, his last being Huntington Beach. I told him this was the last outpost and maybe the last place he could live outside of some small beach towns north of San Francisco. I told him I hoped he’d stay a while.

He paused and smiled at me, but there was no telling where he’d go if he got the restless traveling itch. Maybe Big Sur. Certainly not Cambria, which is truly a kind of artists colony and a bit snootier than Cayucos. I don’t think he’d fare well in Cambria.

I remember my traveling itch after I got out of the army, when I couldn’t sit still and set off from LA and hitch-hiked all over the country and worked on a riverboat on the Mississippi River; and later accessed the entire country by thumb, and slept where I could, and people were generous and kind but for a few nasty exceptions over which I prevailed.

On the road, with only my small pack and sleeping bag and no entanglements, personal or material, I don’t recall ever being as happy, though I had not achieved as compact and skilled a system of survival as the happy homeless man now roosting in such copacetic ease.

Yesterday afternoon, coming up from the beach with Wilbur on a crowded Saturday, I noticed that he was away from his usual spot; but when I walked past Sandy and Carrie’s little shops on the main drag, he had taken over a little area back from the street where he’d parked his rig and assembled his wares on a picnic table before a bench and under some trees, and was holding court with several people, gesturing, nodding, smiling, possibly giving a little away and taking a little in, finding that perfect balance in life Aristotle always preached.


I ran into Dave this morning while walking Wilbur. We’ve become friends, visiting every time I come by. The other day he ran me down on the beach, excited because he had landed a job as handyman and the boss put him in a motel overnight.

He had also shown his crafts to the head of the local art association and was accepted as a member. He is hoping to earn enough money to move here to something small in Cayucos.

But this morning he ran into trouble, as trouble has been brewing among a few locals who have spent time observing him and complaining. And this morning a large black diesel truck pulled up and the driver, a great big guy, informed him that “You’ve been here three weeks now. School’s out. My children will be coming down here. Time for you to move on.”

The tone of the man’s voice was threatening. Dave is always clean, and told me he has tried to avoid a scattering of other homeless people in town because he doesn’t want people to think he is starting an “invasion.”

“I gave a homeless guy a blanket, but otherwise, I’m avoiding him. I’m trying to be careful. I know I’m homeless, but I’m not mooching off anybody, asking for handouts. I’m not a druggie or a crazy person. I just choose to live as I do, and I’m looking to improve my situation. Believe me, this life isn’t easy.”

Others have complained, claiming they work for a living, and ask why bums are hanging out in Cayucos, tarnishing its image, threatening their children with the awful sight of people who are in trouble, ostracized, estranged, mostly miserable; in many cases victims of outrageous rental costs in a state with huge divisions between the rich and poor.

My question to the people threatening Dave is this: “Where is your compassion? Where is your ability to try and walk in the shoes of those less fortunate? Do you know anything about the Great Depression, when the forces of greed and evil and power subjugated the common man? Have you read Upton Sinclair or John Steinbeck? Do you realize you are basically vigilantes, abusing a man who is trying to survive while bothering nobody but your dark mentality, your ignorance, your cruelty?”

Being homeless is NOT against the law.

Perhaps this has all drifted down from Donald Trump’s depiction of everybody who is not rich and white, creating a tribe brimming with arrogance and intolerance and just plain meanness at anybody who is not like them. These people want to drive our happy homeless man out of town, to the Netherlands, just as Donald Trump wants to drive people who are not basically white and rich out of America, and, as a bully dehumanizing underdogs and minorities, making America great again.

For shame.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I love Dell’s writing.

Seems like a cool guy. A victim of high rent I think not. I know ladies in their 70’s on the coast that get $600 a month SS and do not live on the streets. Of course Trump had to be brought up. It’s not racist to have a border. Please answer this easy question. How are we working folks supposed to support the whole world on our taxes?

I think Jordan Peale should make another movie: “The Horrors Of Living On The Central Coast Of California”.

The horror movie would have to be a remake of the 1970’s Cayucos Horror Classic; The Monster of Pedras Blancas.

Before continuing to romanticize the homeless and drifters, remember there are plenty of people like me living in Cayucos. Having moved here in the 1990s to escape gangs, smog, drugs, and violence, working 2-3 jobs to pay for a house, raising two children who attended and graduated from Cayucos Elementary, staying in the same small house to put those kids through college, I now look forward to retirement in this place. I moved here for the peace, the tranquility, the safety. I love this town. Things change, places change. I would rather see that change be big houses with new neighbors than people with no ties to the community camping in parking lots and parks, taking advantage of our laid back attitude and generosity.

It is other way around. Rich valley folks with big houses have taken advantage of our laid back attitude and generosity. The homeless aren’t making the housing prices soar around here- it’s the cash-lined valley people looking to buy a second or third home in sleepy eye.

Suffice it to say there’s a big difference between people taking advantage of a financial opportunity and people taking advantage of the townspeople by breaking the rules because they know they can get away with it. I’m not going to argue one group versus another, who’s bad, who’s good, ethnicity or politics. Just wanted to give an alternate perspective from someone who is directly affected.

Those “rich valley folks” are often extremely long-time locals with vacation homes that have been in the family for generations. They are seasonal locals; permanent locals, folks born and raised here by folks who were also born and raised here, are often as not branches of their families.

What is making the housing prices soar around here are government regulations passed by folks who’ve transplanted from large cities, with little experience in rural and/or small town living OR aesthetics. The concept of “live and let live” flies over their heads. “Planned community” types crave laws and regulations to tell their neighbors how to live and “look” right. Those laws are expensive and drive up the price of homes dramatically, and rentals even more.

You are in California ya know. Like the new free Illegal healthcare hand out, living free, Its a “human right” How can you force us to pay for others health care and then tell us we cant roam freely to travel about and live as one likes. Isn’t that crossing the line of government rule? Cant have your cake and eat it bub.

Cayucos has a long history of misfits and ill begotten.

If you moved here in the 1990’s you would have known “Buckets” the homeless de jour of the day. He was a homeless vegan, who lived with the cows on northern bluffs. He would not eat meat because they, the cows, could smell it and they would “know”. So he only begged for cheese or bean burritos. Crazy or principled? You decide.

He was also a marine biologist who, like you, flamed out in the city and sought refuge in Cayucos. If you didn’t know Buckets you weren’t much of a local. I wonder why you don’t know this dude now?

Prior to your arrival with appreciation for big houses and new neighbors we had middle income “valley rats”. Their love of fog being especially annoying, but most were good folks with long ties to the community. They built modest beach houses offering views to those higher up the street.

Thus far Dell has done a good job of capturing the uniqueness of this town.

You can be born a local and remain so no matter if you continue living there or not.

You can move there and become a local- but this moniker is not bestowed by declaration but rather by ascent.

And finally you can live there for years and never really be a local.

Those have always been the rules. They aren’t always fair.

Liquor in the front. Poker in the rear.

Thank you for saying it so well!! To wit:

“…this moniker is not bestowed by declaration but by assent.” (“Ascent” is a little different) It’s stunning how folks escape from a huge city to a gorgeous place, and they immediately want to “fix” it to be “civilized” and “safe,” making it like the city they left in spirit, if not in appearance. Yet.

And they live here for five, 10, 20, 30 years, and proudly call themselves “locals” and lord it over other city escapees who came here after they did. And they have the nerve to call folks from the Valley, who’ve vacationed/owned property here since LONG before those other self-proclaimed “locals” even heard of Cayucos or the Central Coast, “tourists”!!!!!

And here’s why I really have always loved Valley folks as locals: they would NEVER presume to call themselves a local no matter how long they lived here — they’d say they’re from Bakersfield but have lived here for 25 years, in the house that their great-grandfather built as a vacation getaway in Cayucos, Morro Bay, Pismo, Oceano, or whatever. Would that so many new city escapee “locals” showed the same sense of perspective for what “locals” actually are.

‘Taking advantage of our laid back attitude and generosity’? Try being laid back and generous when you live in MISSOURI, where I moved to so I could pay rent. We’re wading and rowing canoes down our streets! A lot of retirees move to AFFORDABLE places, like Tucson, and Mexico.

Dell, thanks for sticking up for the little guy by telling his story all the while exposing the giant (last paragraph). Keep writing; we can taste the salt air.

Dell’s last paragraph was 100% correct.

I’m amazed how many pointed out his writing was terrific until that last paragraph. As a lifelong Republican, I agree our current President encourages hate. I’m guessing every person who found Dell’s last paragraph “distasteful” are white. Actually, I don’t have to guess. You know they are white.

The good news for Dave and other homeless is the 9th Circuit Court’s decision in Martin vs City of Boise, which states that homeless cannot be evicted from living on public lands, such as parks or parking on public streets, like down by the beach.

As long as Dave and others are respectful of the environment, don’t pollute, don’t disturb the peace of others they can stay on the central coast forever!

Beaches in Boise? Riverbanks maybe.

Yup, being homeless is not against the law.

But without and often even with jumping through many intrusive and EXPENSIVE hoops, renting a little fixed-up studio or well-maintained RV to one of them sure is!!!

Government is the single biggest employer in SLOCO, right?

It’s also the biggest tyrant.

(like someone else said that last paragraph though… what has Trump done for white people? nothing tbh. ). Other than that small detail I enjoyed the great story!