Montana, aka Kyle, 32, travelled the roads and rails from his home in Montana to be near his two boys, who are living with Montana’s ex-girlfriend in San Diego.
He jumped freight trains to get here. It was cold going through snow capped mountains, sitting on stacks of rebar in an open freight car. In the boxcars you’ve got to keep the door open because you can’t open it from inside. If you get locked in there, and they park the train on some tracks for a few days — you’re history.
He loves to cook, and has worked as a chef at several restaurants; something he’d like to get back into when he’s more settled in some or other town. He learned to cook from his grandparents. They did everything from scratch. His grandpa, had a long career in the army. Planes were his hobby. His aunt also had a long history in the military and shared that love of planes; she retired from the Navy as a pilot. “She’d still be in it if she could,” Montana added. She flew cargo and passenger planes when she retired from the Navy. She also referees soccer games. She and her female partner have been together for 20 years, he said, “she’s my hero.”
He considers his experience here in San Diego part of a personal walkabout; something that brings out his sense of connectedness to the world at large. “If I could camp out in the woods, I would, cuz I know how to survive,” he said. On several days a week, he sits quietly against a wall outside a Sprouts grocery market on Park Blvd. in University Heights, smiling at passersby. A sign rests on the backpack beside him: “Traveling on Faith.” That’s all. No requests for anything specific, or even requesting anything at all. Still, people leave him food, water and cash, which gets him through a few days. And then he’s back. “That’s how I got through five states to get here,” he said.
His self-sufficiency and self-assured attitude about survival has a foundation in his MMA and Brazilian Ju Jitsu training. He was a wrestler in high school, so he has spent many years dealing with adversaries in friendly competition. When it comes to the not-so-friendly kind of encounters that happen on the street or in the parks, he has a small arsenal of knives he stashes in his gear, as do many other individuals living with homelessness. He was sitting alone at his customary North Park bench one Friday afternoon in August, when six police cars rolled up from all sides. They frisked him and told him to take all his knives out of his backpack. He complied and asked what the problem was. They told him his personal belongings would be available for him to recover at the police station. But the next day, the clerk at the station told him there was no record of any knives, or anything at all, there for him. “It’s a case of police over-reach. This is how they criminalize us. I wasn’t doing anything to anyone. My knives were stored away, I was sitting alone. Then they effectively steal my things! I’m sure they’re laughing about their abuse of the homeless.”
Montana lives for his boys. He sees them nearly every day. That’s why he is in San Diego, after all. One day in August, however, he was walking with his boys, having just left their home, heading to the park to play soccer. He reached down to tie his shoe and was stung by a bee. Being allergic to bees, he got groggy immediately and told the boys to take him back to the house. He slept on the couch for several hours till he had his equilibrium back. His ex-girlfriend, however, was furious, thought he was just drunk, and faking his allergy. So she told him he couldn’t see the boys any more. “I have parental rights, so I don’t even think it’s legal to tell me I can’t see them,” he said. “Meanwhile, it’s killing me not to be able to see my kids.”
He sleeps in the back of a parking lot at night, hiding his gear away from sight so he can be mobile. But without the ability to see his boys, he isn’t sure he wants to stay in San Diego. So he spends more time sitting beside Sprouts, smiling at passersby.