It's Saturday, about noon, and Brian is seated on the landscaping, in the shade, just off the sidewalk where Friars Road meets the onramp to southbound Highway 163. He's taking a short break from his weekend job, holding a sign alerting motorists to a 'Giant Used Car Tent Sale' at Qualcomm Stadium.
'I was first introduced to the wonderful world of homelessness by natural disaster,' Brian says, recalling the Cedar fire in 2003 that destroyed the rented house in Harbison Canyon that he'd shared with his girlfriend. The fire also took his truck and some of his carpentry tools. He'd been working as a cabinet installer at the time.
Since, he's been working odd jobs that don't add up to enough money to rent in San Diego.
After the fire, he bought an old station wagon and set up home inside of it. These days, he's living outdoors by permission on property owned by a family in Sherman Heights. It keeps the police off his back, he says, but 'there's only so long I can do that without becoming a burden to them, you know, overstaying my welcome. It's a bitch. It's a bitch.'
Brian, 41, has lived in San Diego County since 1977. A skater and a surfer, he went to Helix High School in La Mesa. He dropped out but later earned his GED.
'I'm a victim of my own circumstances as well as the overall economy shrinking the middle class,' he said. 'When we moved here, [my father] had a job at General Dynamics, Plant 19, Lindbergh Field. He could make enough money as a tool and die maker, as a machinist, to buy a middle-of-the-road-not too much, not too little-house. Do you think a tool and die maker or a machinist could possibly buy one of these places now? Not possible. And the ultimate irony is, I build houses for a living. As much as I love this city, I will never, ever be able to buy a home here. That's the reality.'
This week, he said, he's working on the hardscape-grading, irrigation, cement-on a $5 million house out on Sunset Cliffs. His income is as variable as his job security. 'But even if I make $400 or $500 a week, it's not enough.'
Brian worries that he'll have to leave town if things don't change. Friends urge him to head to the desert, where the building growth is. The suggestion brings a grimace to his face.
'I hate the desert. I'm an ocean guy,' he says. 'Ever swing a hammer in the desert? It's not fun.'