“Jesus will save me for I am with child,” my mother said through the payphone. My stepfather hadn’t been home to pay the rent leaving my mother to depend on Jesus, who she believed would intervene. I needed a miracle. I had three days to save my sister before the official sheriff lock out.
I gathered my belongings from where I was being raised in foster care and took the bus to San Bernardino. I walked through the Victorian ruins of downtown’s Ninth Street, a crumbling bullet-riddled wasteland filled with zombie-like miscreants. I passed the liquor store where rival gang members pumped quarters into the “Street Fighter” arcade machine.
Food stamps were the most common currency.
Skeleton frames of bullet-pierced muscle cars were abandoned like grocery carts, sometimes upside-downed by roughnecks who didn’t have cows to tip.
My brother and I devised a plan. I can’t tell you how we raised the money. All I can tell you is my brother was a wizard with electronics, I was a master of locks, and we were both REALLY big Metallica fans.
We rolled quarters, scavenged, scraped and schemed. We were both far too young to legally rent an apartment. A receipt proves that a toe-headed boy and a tall little girl paid the first and last month’s rent, plus security deposit, for a three-bedroom apartment in the much nicer uptown San Bernardino with………. QUARTERS.
Minutes before the sheriff came to evict my mother, we moved into a serene mountain town. My little sister looked up at me with her big blue eyes and delivered some terrible news:
“Maybwee, I’m hungwee!”
What would you have done? My last penny had paid for the roof over her head. I needed another miracle.
I walked to the market with my heart in my hand and asked the store manager to loan me some groceries, which I promised to pay for when I got paid on Friday, so I could feed my sister. Naturally, the store manager turned me down.
Believe in miracles….
A moment later, a man in a well-tailored suit who had overheard my conversation opened a large leather book of receipts and offered a tax donation receipt from his church in exchange for my requested groceries.
My box of groceries just happened to contain the exact ingredients for sloppy joes. My mother said grace and thanked Jesus for saving her.
In San Bernardino, I walked through graveyards while reading vampire and science fiction stories with my vampire-like friends. I read broken home-themed poetry at the local bookstores, and played acoustic sets of broken home-themed songs at local cafes in exchange for my supper. I met a boy visiting San Bernardino who I would write a lifetime’s worth of heartbreak songs about, songs like “Stay with Me.”
I heard stories filled with pride about Randy Rhodes, who was from here, and was buried here.
And I heard stories about Rose, the 12-year old girl across the street, whose parents locked her in a closet for a decade. Her first words after being rescued taught me a priceless lesson.
She said she was happy to be free, and “to see the sun for the first time”. A local legend worth looking up to, many of my first songs were written about her.
I spent my change on tattered vintage clothing from thrift stores, which I mended. I hauled discarded furniture home, which I restored and sold via yard sales. I babysat and cleaned houses.
I braided daisies into my sister’s hair.
I hiked into the mountains to see the sunset every night.
One day on my mountain hike, I found a secret waterfall.
A real waterfall!
Every day afterwards, I hiked to visit my secret waterfall. I never saw another soul on my path, making this waterfall mine alone.
At the waterfall and en-route to the waterfall, I made my big decisions about life. What I would stand for when I grew up. What I would wear when I grew up. I would never wear gold jewelry (it seemed important at the time). I would never give up on the causes I believed in and carried picket signs for. I would never forget falling in love with everything that I fell in love with here. I only lived in San Bernardino for a few months before I got signed and moved to LA.
In LA, I played on the Sunset Strip and lunched in the Eurotrash district. When my label shelved my band Coal’s record, I had to get my first “real” job. With each passing year, I made more money than the year before, doing session work, studio work, and giving music lessons. I worked in film and television.
The harder I worked, the more the money poured in. For the first time in my life, I could buy anything that I wanted. I felt as if I had successfully “washed off” where I was from.
I paid cash for houses and sports cars.
I dined at the most expensive restaurants, took the most expensive vacations, and bought the most expensive jewelry and clothing I could find on Rodeo Drive, as if those status symbols would show everyone I belonged.
I was represented by the best lawyer in LA, and my songs were being covered and considered by A-level stars such as Pink. I danced victory dances across my lawn when I opened my royalty checks.
I was “on the list” at every club. My expensive blonde highlights matched my expensive blowouts.
I did what industry pros told me to, and played, wrote and performed whatever paid the most. I wore what they told me to wear, ate what they told me to eat, and said what they told me to say. Selling out is a good business to be in.
My management company at the time forbade me to go out in sun, because it made me look “too ethnic.” (I am of Amazonian descent on my Father’s side, indigenous Ecuadorian, to be precise)
I was told not to eat.
When I balked at the thousand-dollar price tag attached to a pair of jeans, my management said, “Do you NOT want a career?”
At the height of my life’s income, and most promising moments of my career, when I was in my twenties, I fell asleep in Los Angeles for what might have been forever and woke up… in San Bernardino.
Are you cynical, critical, or optimistic? That might determine what you think about falling asleep in Los Angeles and waking up in San Bernardino.
If you value money, you might see this as a bad move. If you’re like me, you might think this awakening was genuine magic.
Immediately after a complicated neurosurgery, was disoriented, dizzy and sick. The ride home from the hospital was scary and confusing. Had the buildings all moved around in Los Angeles while I was sleeping? I was scared about my medical bills and the fact that I wasn’t working. (How would I afford my weekly Burke Williams?! Gucci?! Prada?!)
I was in bad shape. I couldn’t drive.
So I walked. And walked and walked and walked.
I walked to the liquor store and bought a cup of ice (it was summer). I walked into a thrift store and bought a Stevie Nicks-style sweater, which I mended. I spent the spare change in my pockets at a taco stand. I remembered having lavender hair, writing broken-home songs, carrying picket signs, hanging out with vampires, surviving on spare change, and visiting my secret waterfall.
I fired my management, walked in the sun, joined a rock band, and started the framework for a silver lining-themed record album, which I would call “Volume.”
On December 2nd 2015, a couple opened fire at a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. Fourteen people were killed and even more were injured. My heart goes out to the victim’s families and anyone affected by this atrocity.
Here are several ways you can help:
The American Red Cross always needs your blood, even when there hasn’t been a headline-worthy high-profile shooting or disaster.
The United States Department of Justice Web site refers to the Riverside and San Bernardino County area as “the methamphetamine capital of the United States.”
How did they get that title?
I’ll tell you what the locals told me. The mayor of Los Angeles at the time supposedly came up with a plan for cleaning up the streets of LA while simultaneously alleviating overcrowded, underfunded prisons.
Some locals claim LA’s drug criminals were granted early parole in exchange for taking a one-way bus trip to sleepy San Bernardino. Apparently the assumption was that this was a town where a criminal would be likely to clean up his act.
The plan backfired, ruining a formerly peaceful college town and forcing it to declare bankruptcy.
The once-charming town just below the arrowhead-marked mountains still has a long way to go. She could use your help. Supporting the local commerce, assisting in neighborhood revitalization projects, and donating to programs for ‘at risk’ youth are a few ways that you can help.
I truly love San Bernardino. It is a magical place to me, filled with butterflies, mountains, rainbows, secret waterfalls, and miracles. In San Bernardino, I drive up the mountain to the arrowhead for the view. I wait in line at Sundowner’s for the best cash-only steak in Southern California.
I’ve been hunting for the waterfall from my youth for years, but I’ve not yet found it.
Buildings have been constructed and cul-de-sacs have been created.
Maybe they dammed the stream? Maybe it dried up? Searching for the waterfall is almost as much fun as it will be to find it.
I wish you had your own secret waterfall.
Finding a secret waterfall is like finding a hidden door in your closet that opens up to Paris. I wish I could give something back to San Bernardino, like a café where next-gen kids can read their broken home-themed poetry.
Like most of us, there are a lot of things that I would do if I only had the money. First, I’d build a David Geffen-sized wing for the hospital that saved my life and name it after my childhood doctor. I’d rescue a small part of Ecuador’s Amazonia in honor of my ancestors and their lost waterfalls.
Dang, I hope one of my songs makes that possible. Miracles happen.:-)