Where I Live: Los Angeles Heights-Keystone

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Dominic Gonzalez stands under his ornamental pomegranate tree in the backyard of his Los Angeles Heights home.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

On the surface, Keystone looks aged and run-down, but it is rich with Mission Revival homes, magnificent trees, and working-class families. The scents of car exhaust and blooming flora intertwine, as do the sounds of chattering birds, buzzing lawn equipment, and ice cream trucks. –Dominic Moreno, Los Angeles Heights-Keystone

Before I moved to Los Angeles Heights-Keystone, I lived in a downtown gated community with great amenities: dining, parking, green space, and security, to name a few. That place was Haven for Hope.

My health and finances bottomed out in 2016, leading me to Haven for Hope, where I lived for 12 months. Returning to a homeless shelter where I used to work was a difficult choice, but the caring staff, who were once my coworkers, supported me with the utmost compassion. 

I occupied myself at Haven by washing linens for the Prospect Courtyard, helping friends get to medical appointments, and tutoring students. Life became recognizable while volunteering, and this discovery inspired me to commit to a 12-month term of service in AmeriCorps under San Antonio’s Department of Human Services.

I moved out of Haven and into the Keystone neighborhood on September 15, 2017, a date I remember distinctly as both the conclusion of my bout with chronic homelessness and when I moved in with my girlfriend after building a relationship with her and her family. I miss some things about the homeless shelter, especially now that the amenities and community I relied upon can be miles apart, but the mobility of living here easily trumps those few conveniences.

On the surface, Keystone looks aged and run-down, but it is rich with Mission Revival homes, magnificent trees, and working-class families. The scents of car exhaust and blooming flora intertwine, as do the sounds of chattering birds, buzzing lawn equipment, and ice cream trucks. Like a Gershwin-esque rhapsody, Interstate 10 twice daily roars with the soprano of rolling tires and the bass of diesel engines accompanied by rustling leaves in tenor.

Westward, I jaunt to the Deco District for services and staples. The Art Moderne buildings on Fredericksburg are thought-provoking. I think about how these streamlined buildings with pronounced silhouettes were designed for luxury but now serve our city’s working class. Low-income neighborhoods like mine typically don’t have such architecturally interesting buildings and houses.

Eastward, I wind up in Beacon Hill, which features bungalow architecture and one of my favorite bodegas, Isi Kat Quick Mart. Here, I grab snacks when I’m out for a stroll. The adjacent shops at Fulton Avenue and Blanco Road are fun for weekend shopping and dining. The intersection features a tiny roundabout, and while I can’t fathom why anyone would make it so small, it adds a unique sense of continuity to the adjoining neighborhoods.

The Isi Kat Quick Mart is a 12 minute walk from Dominic's residence.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Isi Kat Quick Mart is a 10-minute walk from Gonzalez’s residence.

Northward is Hildebrand, a street known for local businesses like plant nurseries, antique shops, and restaurants. My dad told me that when he was my age, the farther north of Hildebrand people lived indicated their level of success. Now, it seems that living anywhere south of Hildebrand is becoming an increasingly greater financial feat.

Because walking and public transportation are my primary means of commuting, I experience my neighborhood at the pace of life it was built for. Cruising by in a car seldom provides opportunity for appreciation. Typically, I walk to the Deco District, Beacon Hill, or Hildebrand to commute elsewhere, because the neighborhood is surrounded by highly connective bus routes.

However, being a pedestrian around here can be rather precarious. Like other aging neighborhoods in San Antonio, the neglected infrastructure makes me vulnerable. Sidewalks are either nonexistent, narrow, or in disrepair. Walking in the street means looking over my shoulder for cars while making sure I don’t trip on shattered pavement. Once in a while, a loose dog preys on my pant legs.

There have been some improvements here. A sidewalk was installed on the access road of I-10 from Hildebrand to Fredericksburg. The creek alongside Oak Farms Dairy has foot paths now, and I typically see folks from the area exercising on it. This creek is the home for turtles, red-winged blackbirds, and egrets.

I live with my girlfriend, Monica, in a 990-square-foot house built in 1941. Her mom, aunt, and uncle grew up here, and her uncle rents it to us. The minimalist traditional architecture features little ornamentation, an elegant floor plan, a small front porch, and bland portrait windows. It’s not Instagramable by any means, but it’s perfect for a millennial couple who are beginning a chapter together.

The interior design depicts a young couple negotiating their tastes. With our growing collection of spices, I cook up an ever-expanding menu of world cuisines. Monica has been making soap in the kitchen when we’re not cooking, and she wants to learn cold-process soap-making next. Simultaneously, I placed visual art on hold to focus on my writing. Using a hefty unabridged dictionary, I finish pieces at the computer that I started remotely from my phone.

Meanwhile, I’m gradually introducing myself into this domestic identity with sloths. I have a growing collection of sloth decor from loved ones who see the resemblance. Sloths may not know the clock, but they are masters of the compass. They move patiently, happily, and deliberately. I’ve learned to identify with sloths, because they have found harmony between passing up life and life passing by, which is on my mind ever since my homelessness. Their likenesses in my house remind me that slowly going somewhere on purpose is more virtuous than quickly going anywhere on accident.

When I lived at Haven, my property had to fit into a locker that was about 2 square feet by 4 feet tall. Any excess was placed in a bin under lock and key. The simplicity of bare necessities is refreshing, so we regularly donate unwanted possessions to charities. I’m doing the same thing with my interests: focusing.

We have four trees in the backyard. During the day, squirrels scour the ground for acorns under the red oak, and cardinals meet in the crepe myrtle. At night, I hear possums crunching through pecan husks while the surreptitious skunks prefer pomegranates.

The most striking features of the front yard are shrubs, a bougainvillea that refuses to grow, and a dead tree’s stump. Somehow the dead tree survived the storm on June 6, but it inevitably wound up in pieces for brush collections. Monica and I are learning about native trees to replace it. Whichever tree we choose, I hope that we can watch it grow together.

Dominic Gonzalez and his girlfriend at their Los Angeles Heights home.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Dominic Gonzalez and his girlfriend, Monica, at their Los Angeles Heights home.

I used to hesitate to plant trees at my previous rentals because I believed I was investing in temporary situations. In my life, I have placed upward mobility above inward character growth, but I’ve reflected heavily on this philosophy since I was homeless. Thinking with permanence in mind, I find myself more committed to my environment and myself.

I used to dream about elaborate suburban houses or extravagant urban condos, but after laboring on half an acre and then having my share of claustrophobic living, I’ve come to appreciate the elegance found in a starter home and connected neighborhood. In this one-story house, the stories we build are with each other. Here, I am living with purpose while tolerating life’s ambiguities. I am grateful to rebuild myself on this post-and-plank foundation.

43 thoughts on “Where I Live: Los Angeles Heights-Keystone

  1. Very well written and an amazing story. I feel you are going to make a great contribution to San Antonio in the realm of public policy. I wish you the best!

  2. Well written.Love your descriptions and philosophy of life experiences.Very Alive.Brings back memories of family that lived near your area.

  3. What a great story. Thanks for sharing your reflections on your personal challenges and successes. I love how you described Haven for Hope, and how helpful it can be to people in transition. Best wishes as you continue on your journey!

  4. Dominic, you ARE a writer! I felt like I was right beside you on your daily and new-found journeys. I look forward to reading more from you.

  5. One of my favorite..”where I live” stories yet! Thank you Dominic for sharing your story and PLEASE continue to write!!

  6. What a wonderful way to capture and present your neighborhood, your story and your thoughts. I really enjoyed this!

  7. Thank you for sharing your story. Your writing style is very captivating. And, I so appreciate your talking about living purposefully – that is what makes life meaningful and impactful. I am sure you will make a huge difference to all you meet.

  8. This guy can write, that’s for sure. Dominic, thanks for a terrific story. And you’ve learned something really important: tolerating ambiguity. Sprinkle it around as you go about your volunteering.

  9. You have a beautiful gift and a beautiful heart. Thank you for sharing this fascinating glimpse of a good life. Godspeed to you and Monica

  10. What a wonderful and meaningful story. For sure Dominic has the gift of observation and the writing of this mini chapter of what promises to be a very rich and fulfilling life displays wonderful talent. Monica bless you for your recognition of a superior man, regardless of the past situation. Keep it up!

    Note to The Rivard Report: Hire this man! n

  11. Dominic, let’s meet and talk about opportunities to write more for the Rivard Report. You have the gift of story telling. –RR

    • I was hoping I’d see a note from your here, Mr. Rivard!

      Thank you for this story – you absolutely have the gift of storytelling, Mr. Gonzalez! Keep up the great work!

  12. Thank you for telling us your story. Maybe you can share your perspective on hopelessness in San Antonio. What the city and community can do in addition to what they’re doing to help with this problem? I always have felt that our local governments promotes cheap labor and do little to require the business community to pay more.
    As a community I also feel that we turned a blind eye on the educational system that is broken in so many of our forgotten communities. Once again thank you for your story looking forward to reading more in the future.

  13. Your writing is compelling, thoughtful and so pleasurably descriptive. I look forward to reading more of your story and observations. Thank you.

  14. This should be required reading for every member of the city council and staff. Dominic has touched on so many issues that can make the difference between a good and great city. Homelessness, infrastructure, transportation, historical preservation, volunteerism, hope — and the list goes on.

  15. You are an amazing writer. I absorbed every word. Keep writing because you have important stories to tell. Blessings on you and Monica.

  16. Currently, I reside in a lodge in the Sunshine Estates. Which is somewhere in between Saint Cloud and Hillcrest south of the La Risa Apartments on Babcock Road. I may end up moving into the La Risa Apartments. A house in the neighborhood would prove to be costly. Unless there is a program that could assist in offsetting the living “program fees”. I truly applaud Mr. Gonzales. His story is inspirational towards folks like me, chronic homeless. I lived in Haven for Hope for 8-9 months. Yet, for some months on end, I lived in boarding homes and in the SAMM Shelter. I pray others are inspired to move on from this Homelessness crisis in our American cities. San Antonio is quite welcoming with the Haven for Hope, centralized as it currently stands. Keep tha Faith, Keep Cool, & Keep Walking in Beautiful San Antonio, Texas; Home of the Missions. A M E N.

  17. Thank you for sharing your story. The writing is beautiful and pulled me right in. I love the detailed observations of both your surroundings and your own life. I wish you all the best. Please keep writing!

  18. I loved this story! Your writing is superb ! I want to read more ! You should join the staff of the Rivard Report ! Their writers are tops —and so are you !
    Wish you many future successes!!

  19. Exquisite writing, I personally loved how you evoked the beauty of your neighborhood. Beauty is not only unearthed in the higher socioeconomic neighborhoods. It is in all facets of this unique city.

  20. What a great piece! Dom, your writing is truly inspired and your honest sharing is refreshing. Good luck to you as you journey forward, building on all the experiences that have brought you to this point in your life. Blessings on you and Monica. PS-I never knew that I grew up in (Los Angeles Heights) Keystone!

  21. WOW! After reading all the above comments, I want to add my praise for all your talents, beautiful writing ability, honestly, and obvious beautiful spirit. (Monica, I think up have found a winner.)

  22. I would love to have a printed copy of this story. It is beautiful and inspiring. I tried to copy it but it did not come out clear on my printer. Is there a way that the Rivard Report could email me a copy? Thanks

  23. I have traveled this area by car many times but felt my foot steps along side yours as you walked it. The colors and sounds were made clear in your words. Great story sir! I’m sure if you stay there long enough you will never want to leave.

  24. Dom,

    This was a great story to read. I still remember your first day as a AmeriCorps VISTA with COSA’s DHS. I saw how you grew with your time with us and excited to see your continued commitment to our community. Keep it up!

  25. Well written and interesting Dominic. You have a knack for words and a story. I grew up in that region you live in and describe so well. I attended the now closed St. Ann’s School and Catholic Church a few blocks south of Woodlawn ave and the I-10 crossing. I lived in an older area on W. French Pl and between the interstate and Woodlawn Lake. It was a great place for families and as a place to grow up. My first (unspoken) much felt crush on a girl lived across the interstate (then just north freeway – only one in town I believe) and had a mansion, Sylvia’s dad owned a big piano store down town and she was so pretty. Used to ride my bike over to her street and gaze longingly at “the mansion on the hill” as it seemed to me. It was a great neighborhood and hopefully with more folks like you and your girlfriend, will be again. Good luck, I will try to keep up with your story. Mike

  26. Wonderful story – thank you for your willingness to share. Keep writing! Would love to hear more as your journey continues.

  27. What a fan club we are! I join all the voices above to say – thank you Dominic, gorgeous writing and great heart in this piece, you transport us in every paragraph, we would want to read anything you write. Power and better sidewalks ! Hope to meet you.

  28. Thank you, Dominic for sharing your story. Like all the “Where I Live” stories, it is so insightful.

  29. I’m absolutely blown away by the reception of this piece. Thank you for reading it and contributing your personal experiences and praise. I am humbled by the amount of loyalty given to my future writing from just a single piece.

    This story was a team effort behind the scenes. It was made possible by Blanca Méndez who edited it and Scott Ball who photographed it. Their gentle professionalism reflects first-rate journalism. I look forward to sharing more with you through the Rivard Report.

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