Or should I say, meat my friend Ramon. Does that sound fishy?

Well, that’s what Ramon does, for work. He takes charge of the meat and fish department at Ralphs, the one on Cloverfield. I shop there once a week, usually, and I always stop by his area even if I’m not buying anything there that week. We chat for a few minutes if he’s not busy with a customer, pleasantries really. You may have a similar “relationship” with someone at a local business.

So aren’t I being a bit presumptuous to call him “my friend”? Nope. He declared it so, the second time I encountered him. He had asked me my name the first time, and darned if he didn’t remember it a week later (or two or three – he doesn’t work every shift and sometimes I miss him) – as he hurried from the far corner of the store, where he was busy stocking product, and called out, in a loud voice, “CHARLES! CHARLES, my friend, what can I do for you? Salmon?”

Yeah, he remembered that too. I was impressed, and a little awed. I’m sure he serves a couple hundred customers per week. But, I guess I’m special, right? You bet I am. But not to Ramon. He treats everyone that way. Ramon has an awful lot of friends.


This past week our conversation got a little more revealing. He volunteered that the Santa Monica Salvation Army helped him get this job. “Yeah, I was on the streets,” he told me, “and they took me in and gave me training.”

They might have “trained” him to be an employee who is friendly, positive, thoughtful, always putting the customer first – or maybe that’s his nature anyway. But Ramon takes it to his own level. Who else, at a supermarket, in his recognizable  voice, thanks everyone, individually, for shopping there. Even the folks who didn’t buy any fish or meat? And offers the sincere wish that “I hope you’ll come back and shop with us again!” Talk about a company man.

As I have before, I took a moment to seek out the manager on duty and tell her what a gem I thought Ramon was. The young woman just lit up with the biggest smile and agreed, “Oh yes, we just love him, and so do all the customers. He’s something else, isn’t he?”

 When I called the store yesterday to make sure I was spelling his name correctly,  I got Arthur, who chimed in. He told me he had been working at that location about three years “and I love it. Here we are in one of the biggest cities in the world but it’s Santa Monica and it’s its own small town really, and we like to treat people that way.  So Ramon fits in perfectly. I shop here myself on my day off and I usually bring my kids and they always insist on going to see Ramon. He’s like an uncle to them.”

My experience is that almost all the people at that Ralphs are very friendly. Big contrast with the now-closed “crime” Vons at Lincoln and Colorado, where I also shopped. Corporations are still, by nature, not your friend, but sometimes an individual outlet can be a delight because of the employees there. That’s where I would rather spend my hour pushing a shopping cart up and down aisles. Especially when I can count on a friend there to lift my spirits (and find the plumpest salmon filet).


More people are finally coming to understand that the “house them! build build build!” approach to helping the unhoused is a cruel hoax, serving those who gain power and money by building our little city to the skies and to the edges of the sidewalks. Not only is such an ideology hurting residents, housing without the right services is useless. Worse than useless: it gives false hope.

Our City Council has, of course, been grappling with these very persistent, difficult  issues. One thing nearly everyone has come to agree on is that a team trained in psychological-social sciences is usually better equipped to deal with people who have been living on the street, especially those in the throes of a breakdown, than are police officers armed with tasers and guns. We now have two of those teams operating. The first comes from the Salvation Army and was initially funded by St. John’s hospital. The second comes from local company The People Concern. Neither is operating east of Lincoln, and there is definitely a need.

The Council last Tuesday voted to add another team for that large, neglected area, which is good. They went with the City Manager’s recommendation to choose The People Concern. Still good, but… their price tag is more than $400,000 for a team of four, and they operate during business hours; no nighttime, no weekends. The Salvation Army team is operational 24/7. And at less than half the cost. One member is degreed and certified in this area, a professional, and the other three are ex-addicts, who would clearly know the landscape and psychology. To me, this is another example of City government doing the right “what”, but maybe choosing the wrong “who.” And our money is wasted. (You can go visit a whole huge bunch of it at our outrageously expensive office annex building. Be sure to visit the high tech composting toilets.) I have only heard good reports on the Salvation Army’s rehab efforts, and now I have Ramon as a great example. Two more street teams for $400K, or one?

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 37 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at