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The wonderful world of transients in California

I saw a lot of transient people when I lived in California in the 1980s, and as far as I know there are still plenty of them. Nowadays the word "homeless" is used to describe all of these people, and many people have no idea that there are two types of transients, which traditionally were described as "tramps" and "bums". And there is a very big difference between the two!

Those old-fashioned terms marked a sharp distinction between people who wandered around. Physically, they looked the same, dirty, deeply tanned, and usually with awesome hair, but there was a difference between people who were just "beachcombers" and people who were traveling around simply to steal things and to avoid work and responsibility.

Speaking for myself, I would have never made a good transient person. I like my creature comforts, and I wore contact lenses in my twenties, so the thought of waking up somewhere without clean running water and, uh, facilities, just horrified me. But I saw a lot of these people who just walking up and down the coast. They had no fixed address, and they "tramped" around, but they weren't "bums". They usually found a job somewhere long enough to get back on their travels, and they weren't interested in being criminals. They were transient, which meant they just traveled around, they weren't bums or beggars. There is a very sharp distinction there!

Unfortunately, places like Santa Barbara attracted not only tramps, but bums. Yes, I know the term is no longer used, but the bums, beggars, or pan-handlers, would crowd the sidewalks, harass the tourists, and just generally get in the way. The tramps didn't do this. I would see the tramps when I would take early morning walks on the beach, and they'd be waking up, gathering up their stuff, pulling on their backpack, and heading out. If they came up into town you might see them dumpster-diving, but they didn't sit on a sidewalk on State Street and beg for money.

If you've never been on a California beach at sunrise, you may be surprised at the amount of life that you see stirring. There are seagulls, and sea lions, and people who are just walking, tramping along, with no fixed address, seeing a world that most people never see.

Image at the top of this post: Hendry's Beach, Santa Barbara, California

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