Cowboy, Rest in Peace

I learned this week that Cowboy, the most colorful of Laguna Beach's homeless population, had died. I didn't know him personally, but I was saddened to hear of his death, and kept thinking about him. Cowboy was a Laguna icon, and I feel that his passing marks the end of an era.

I wrote this poem as a tribute to Cowboy, a complicated, troubled soul, which I guess we all are in some way. The photo, and quotes that appear in the poem, are courtesy of Stu Saffer's online local newspaper, Stu News Laguna.

“The most recognized of our city’s homeless for the past 15 years is dead. ‘Cowboy,’ Charles Reginald Conwell, 58, was struck and killed in the 1700 block of Laguna Canyon Road at 6:34 Saturday evening.”

The icon of Heisler Park,
The skinny, jangly, boot-wearing standard-bearer
of the way things used to be:
Cowboy, rest in peace.

Cowboy and his kind, “hobos,”
my children call them romantically,
were model vagrants then, their only crime:
public intoxication
again and again and again.

Summer’s sad, urgent wave of squatters—
younger, more violent—made him a relic.
Memories of Frisbee games on the boardwalk
with Cowboy had to be set aside.
It was serious now.
Time was short, people afraid.

Did Cowboy sense that his kind was obsolete?
That the days of hobos jumping trains,
of benign town drunks receiving the blessing of the locals,
were no more?
Did he feel a push—
changing times, fallen economies, shifting populations
—and surrender?
Cowboy, rest in peace.

“Police said he was hit by a mini-van heading west on Laguna Canyon Road as he walked across and into the path of the van. He was not in a crosswalk, police said. It was unknown if he was en route to the homeless sleeping facility located close by.

Conwell was knocked off the roadway and the police log indicated that he was ‘…bleeding, breathing and unconscious.…’ Paramedics took him to Mission Hospital Laguna Beach where he was pronounced dead a short time after his arrival.”