Sean Patrick Reilly
Sean Patrick Reilly was born in Wilkes-Barre, PA. in 1967. It was where his grandfather’s family landed after fleeing the potato famine in Ireland and coming to America as a child. His grandfather worked with the railroad bringing anthracite coal in and out of Appalachia. He always spoke with reverence and romanticism about that life, the service he was providing keeping people warm and keeping infrastructure working with that coal.
As teenagers, Sean and his friends would drive up into the hills where small residue fires were burning outside the pits, roll out beer kegs they’d carted up there in pickup trucks, and party by the warmth of those fires. One winter night, with snow covering the ground and the fires beckoned, his sister took their mother’s 1971 Mach 1 mustang up the mountain, partied all night and parked the car, covered with mud, in the driveway. She left early for school without first cleaning the car.
As he was heading to school himself, their mother told him to let the sister know she better come right home and take care of the car. His sister was so afraid to come home she stayed gone for three days.
Sean said his mother ruled with an iron fist. The slightest infraction was punished. If you burped without saying excuse me you’d get spanked.
His dad worked for Colgate toothpaste. He also had a heavy hand in keeping the children in line. As quickly as he could, Sean moved out to Ocean Beach after high school where one of his three sisters had moved, living with her and trying to find odd jobs. “My first job was at OB Community Center setting up chairs for the senior citizens at lunch time. I made $35 a week. I wanted to be a welder because that’s what I’d learned in high school. I put applications in at NASSCO, but never got hired.”
He started flipping burgers at fast food restaurants, but the desire to be a welder was still burning strong. So in 1987 he joined the US Navy. He stayed in for two and a half years, but went AWOL twice, one of them in the Philippines, disappearing from his post for a few days without letting anyone know where he’d gone. He was released with an Other Than Honorable discharge, which limits the services he can receive as a military veteran.
Back out in the working world, he floated around doing odd jobs until he started talking with a carney at a traveling circus in Riverside. The carney, working the rings and bottles game as well as the b.b. gun shooting game, asked if he liked to travel, if he could handle fixing the odd mechanical problem. He was hired that afternoon. Later that same night his new friend was fired for skimming $2 here and $2 there off the ticket sales. Less than six hours into his new job, Sean became the manager of the machine gun game. He stayed with the circus for 12 years, working his way up from earning 50 cents of every $2 to earning $3.50 of every $10 in sales at his game. He learned how to cajole people into playing, and lure their friends into playing as well.
Tiring of the road and the 42 hour work weeks, he sought a different lifestyle. Six years ago, finding himself unemployed, a friend invited him to live and work on a ranch in Ramona. During the Crest fire, much of the property suffered damage so he found himself cutting and clearing dead eucalyptus trees in exchange for room and board in a converted cargo container. The owner began forgetting to pay him. He decided it was time to leave.
Sean ended up homeless in San Diego. He researched his options, earned a VCS housing voucher and lived at Island Village until the rent went up and the voucher couldn’t cover it. He ended up back on the street. About that time he was driving used cars between dealer lots and had the misfortune to rear end someone on the freeway. He didn’t have his driver’s license with him. He lost his job, needless to say. He was drinking too much and not paying attention to his health. He got gout in two of his fingers and had to have them amputated.
When researching how to deal with his driving ticket and trolley tickets, he learned about homeless court and Stand Down. So for the last three years he’s been able to spend three days with fellow veterans getting fresh clothes, a haircut, shower, good food, staying sober, and getting on another list for housing. He’s hoping to get indoors some day soon and find another job, maybe finally as a welder.