Tom Parker's favorite crossword puzzle ran in The New York Times a couple of years ago.
“They're so clever,” he said on a sunny afternoon not far from where the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier is anchored at the shore of San Diego Bay. “There was ‘Parisian five whip local favorite,' It was ‘French Lick, Indiana.'”
He chuckled. His gray beard and dirty, wrinkled face gave him the appearance of the sort of man one might meet along a path in the woods in a Grimm fairy tale. He wore a blue sweatshirt and jeans, and he'd set himself up under a tree with some food and water. He had the San Diego Union-Tribune's crossword puzzle on his lap, half-filled with block letters written in black felt-tip pen.
Parker lives on the streets more or less by choice. He was born in Los Angeles, but he and his wife moved to Oregon, where they had four children and bought a house. Parker started a trucking business moving hay between farms in the rural eastern part of the state. About 35 years ago, he and his wife split, and he abandoned the American dream.
“I just didn't care about things like that,” he said.
For the next 35 years, he worked a variety of jobs, mostly driving trucks, and he even occasionally had apartments, but, he says, when the mood struck, he'd leave whatever he was doing and “hop freight” or hitch a ride to somewhere else. Now retired, he lives on the $557 a month the Social Security Administration deposits in his bank account (he proudly displayed his ATM card, the first he's ever had).
He's stayed on good terms with his wife, and he's in touch with his children and his five grandchildren—he's even met his great-grandchild. On occasion, one of the children will reach out to him, but mostly he just calls them to let them know he's coming to visit.
Parker came to San Diego to help his brother, who lives in Point Loma, do some housing maintenance. He's enjoying the good weather for now, sitting on the grass and solving crossword puzzles. When the mood strikes, he'll leave.“Here I am,” he said. “Until I go somewhere else.”