On my way into town, I take a bike path that loops under both ends of a bridge over the Colorado River.
A solitary man has been spending nights under the east end all winter, buried in a sleeping bag so only the cap on top of his head is visible. A few days ago when I passed by at noon, he was still there and I had to resist the urge to check if he was alive.
His spot is more exposed than the one under the west end I wrote about here. It's much further below the sheltering span and right next to a well-traveled bike path. In the photo, you can see the slightly compacted spot near the fence and his ground cover rolled up and concealed just below the drop to the river bank.
A week ago the bridge reeked of skunk. The smell hit me first as I passed underneath, and the odor remained strong all the way across the river. I couldn't help but think of the man sleeping there, breathing it in all night.
Because he burrowed so deeply, I never saw the man's face when I rode by, but eventually I was able to connect him to the red bicycle he locked to the fence overnight.
I'd seen him at the Day Center before, but didn't know him. He had the florid, phyllo dough skin of a hard drinker and a history of misadventure showed in the tectonics of his face. He kept to himself, slumped in a chair against the wall, far from my station. He usually seemed to be thawing and simultaneously surfacing from a hangover. He didn't make eye contact, and all the other signs said No Trespassing, so I left him alone.
But today after a warm night, he seemed more animated. I heard someone call him Robert. He was at the table nearby, explaining the laws of algebra to Charley, who has having trouble preparing for the math portion of his GED exam.
When I got the chance, I asked Robert if the skunk smell had bugged him.
He didn't recall it being bad. He said there was a skunk that traveled along the fence every night and passed right next to him.
I can't run when I smell it coming, so I just freeze, he said. It's friendly, like a cat. It'll come right up to my face and sniff my nose. It never gives me any trouble.
I told him a car had hit a skunk on the bridge right above him just last week. Now it's just a matted black lump, with no odor at all.
I wondered why it hadn't been by, he said. That's sad, isn't it?