Gregory Paul Welch and Ivan Rios couldn’t be more different.
You may not know them, but you’ve seen them. As this holiday season winds down Grand Avenue to its inevitable conclusion, the poignant reflections of these two ghosts casts a spell along the city’s shadows.
Walking the streets of Escondido today, delivering newspapers to stores incarnate, these men’s stories struck an odd note surrounded and smothered as they were by joyous expectation ringing in the air. Their tales were more like the alleys swinging behind the avenue; sad, but true, unfolding even as you and I sit by warming home fires snickering at the cold, cold world outside.
Life is not fair. We know that. But it doesn’t make injustice right. In the case of Welch and Rios, we must give pause, reflect and consider the implications of their situations.
Gregory Paul Welch, late of Kaufman, Texas
Didn’t mean to go on so long about the sad tale of the immigrant tailor, because we also have the bittersweet apparition that is Gregory Paul Welch.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Welch’s tale had to wait a spell. That’s what he does day after day at the 100 block of W Grand Avenue, on a bench just outside of John Paul the Great Catholic University.
Each time I’ve distributed the newspaper — we just circulated our third edition — I’ve given Welch a copy. Frankly, like pretty much everyone, I paid him little heed otherwise. He’s just the guy who sits on the bench with a backpack and bicycle by his side. Cool.
This time was different. He started speaking to me, who knew he had a voice. You know, he said, I loved the last paper, but somebody took it from the bench when I wasn’t looking and I miss it.
No problem, here’s another copy as he stopped my in my tired tracks. Curiosity then took command.
Where did this guy come from and where was he going, I asked. In his mid-40s and not bad looking given his street-side status, a bit worse the wear, but cleanable, turned out he was a native of Kaufman, Texas.
As fate would have it, we made a strange connection there. As a Rice University freshman — Ah, memories — I got my first car at Kaufman, Texas.
My dad asked me what I wanted. I said I didn’t care so long as it weren’t red. Call it passive-aggressive, teaching me a lesson or as my dad said, the only one his car dealer buddy could get at a discount, when I arrived at the dealership and saw my new car, lo-and-behold, it was an Oldsmobile Cutlass with a white top, RED all over.
Bright RED! I drove the car for five years nonetheless, which is another long story not meaning to digress again.
Instant bond. Welch went wild. Never had he encountered all those years later, anybody who had been to Kaufman, not to mention knew of the place, which by the way is about 30 miles south of Dallas. You made my day, he said. He opened up after that telling me, and now you, a bit about his formerly anonymous self.
Here’s the deal. He’s been sitting outside the school for about a year. Kids there help him out with money, food and even clothing. Actually, I hadn’t noticed before, but he was fairly well dressed. He spoke with a slight stutter, and sincerity, and continued.
Welch said he had a son and was a hotel clerk. He kept himself respectable even wore a suit, his hair tied back and worked for many years. His life took a bad turn, he lost his family and his residence — I didn’t really pry — and only wanted to find a place, get a job and back on his feet.
The problem that most people don’t appreciate when seeing the downtrodden is how difficult it is to get back on one’s feet when knocked down by lack of money and prospects. I know this first-hand from the time I lived at Tampa and bottomed out financially. Without money and prospects, even what seems to be the smallest deficiency or problem can become larger than the Colossus of Rhodes.
This guy is trying. I’m not a mental health expert or psychological guru, but I think he has something to offer and more to give back in this life.
Perhaps someone out there will touch base with him and help a bit, or figure out what he can do to get back on his feet. Maybe a place to stay or a job, it’s the old chicken and the egg dilemma. He needs one to get the other.
Welch can be reached at email@example.com or Welchgw45@yahoo.com. Or at the bench outside of John Paul the Great Catholic University.
Let’s just say we heard it through The Great Grapevine. After all, it is the holiday season; why not give Gregory Paul Welch another shot.
Ivan Rios, tailor, immigrant and now on ICE
Let’s end with Rios. You’ve seen him for years, but not lately. Specifically, he lived and breathed hard work, toiling for a decade at an E Grand Avenue tailor shop, hard by the Escondido Arts Partnership Municipal Gallery.
The story itself is shrouded in the shadows. Nobody wanted to go on the record. It was mainly this happened and it’s not right, but, you know, not for attribution. Reasons for this reticence were muddy, too, given the ambiguities of misconception.
Generally, nobody wanted to say anything publicly out of misguided fear. They said publicity disclosing the tailor’s plight would make matters worse for him.
Vehemently, I disagreed. As an experienced investigative reporter, I told them, and it’s true, that the more light shed on the shadows, the brighter the picture turns. Keep it out of the light and blind, unfeeling power sweeps all matter under pavement.
Rios by all accounts, was that guy you didn’t know, but saw at the tailor shop when you got to E Grand Avenue and 9 a.m. or if you left downtown well after dark. He tailored away, pleasant and anonymous except for the many people who nodded his way, said hello and passed on by.
As the name would imply, Rios was Mexican, a native of Oaxaca come to America for a new, and productive life. He raised a young family but reportedly had a relationship problem with the mother of his child. She was a U.S. citizen, but they never married.
In the interim, Rios never bothered to register his status and drifted into the gray fringes of undocumented life. Escondido Police were well aware of his undocumented status and took no action. They said that was a federal matter and looked the other way.
Everything was as it should be on Oct. 22. Vice president Joe Biden finally ruled out a presidential bid. Hillary Clinton testified all day before the House Benghazi committee. Chris Rock was confirmed as host of the 2016 Academy Awards, Oscars, ceremony. Rios was in his tailor shop.
Everything changed on Oct. 23. Based, some said, on a tip from his estranged former relationship, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents descended on Rivers Tailor Shop and hauled away the quiet tailor. He was there for a decade and in an instant he was gone.
ICE iced him away at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility. He languishes there two months later, a man with no country and no home despite family and friends left behind.
Word on the street was federal officials offered Rios a deal. Sign a paper saying he never would return to the U.S. and be released immediately. Rios declined, citing family and a life now put on hold.
Al Rios, his dad, now tailors away at the shop, keeping it going while he continues to try to get his son gone from the dark reaches of Otay Mesa prison.
Al Rios, a very personable guy by the way, was upset with the process and then some. He said San Diego immigration attorney Karla Kraus was representing his son. She said publicity would be bad for his case, and she could get his son out of Otay Mesa in two or three months, according to Al Rios who puts his faith in her.
Dunno, dunno. Maybe she’ll work her magic. Maybe the system will prevail. Either way, what bothered Al Rios most was a lack of financial support for the costly legal fight to extract tailor from government garment. I said people weren’t mind-readers and probably didn’t realize money was needed to achieve some sort of shot at justice. He said people didn’t offer money because they didn’t actually care.