When he was 15 and living in Ventura, David Burk said, his parents gave him an ultimatum: He could have either his family or the drugs.
“I told them, ‘Drugs are my family,’” Burk remembered.
It’s been roughly 40 years, and Burk hasn’t had a steady home ever since. Like Al Joad from Grapes of Wrath, Burk can hardly keep his hands out of engines. He told New Times he used to build mopeds for neighborhood kids with deadbeat, drunken dads and said that by the time he turned 23, he’d amassed 500 cars in a wrecking yard and was making a decent living stripping engines and selling parts.
That didn’t last long.
“I just go in circles,” he said. “I get a few things going, but can’t keep ’em because I didn’t have other things.”
After the wrecking yard went to pieces, Burk moved around a lot, looking for a place to start over. He ended up in SLO, when he heard a rumor about a friend’s dad who had a broken down truck to give away. By the time Burk got here, the truck was gone, and Burk was stranded. Then, he said, he was hit by a car.
“I lost everything,” he said.
Now, Burk is struggling with heart problems, pinched nerves, and other unhealed injuries from the accident. Without insurance or a stable home, he’s been unable to wade through the bureaucracy of Medicare to get the physical therapy and treatments he needs. He could use some help with the forms.
Burk vacillates between sleeping at shelters and in bushes by the creek. He wanders around town with a backpack full of his medical history and pictures from his younger days.
He pointed to one and said, “See? I used to have a truck and be a person.”
With a truck, Burk says he could haul laundry, lock up possessions, sleep safely, and—most importantly—earn a living. He’d be happy to fix any abandoned wreck. ∆
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