The Delta Snake Review

The Delta Snake Review


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

On The Road With Al And Ivy - Aug 7th: A Homeless Journal Of Sorts

...let's talk about food...

...I recall at a rest stop, there was a particular garbage can where the top layer had food in it that was unusually in uneaten or only partially eaten. I was on my way to the bathroom around 9pm and saw why. One of the regulars was taking the food out and eating it on the spot...I began leaving food in the waste can also. Americans waste food but in this case, it kept someone fed.

...One guy once asked me if I liked salad, and offered one from his car trunk. I picked the walnut/Apple and set it aside for dinner. When I opened it, the smell floored me. So dinner was the previously scheduled beans and chips, and I discreetly disposed of the salad. I saw him eagerly eating in his car, marveled at the toughness of the human stomach, and prayed that it wouldn't come to that with Ivy and me...

Foodie Tip: if you eat spam with mustard and mayo, it almost tastes like ham. If you use ketchup, it almost tastes like a frankfurter...and if you're hungry enough, it tastes like steak :-)

The Homeless Weight Watchers Diet:

One of the few benefits of being homeless was weight loss. Americans love to spend money on things, it makes one feel like they're really committed.

However, there's nothing like a tight budget to create weight loss. Can the average American live on 3.00 a day? I've lived on less at times...the technique is known by various names, including; the dog eats first, gas comes first, dollar French bread can last all day, I can live without a four buck frap, can of beans are .50 at Walmart, and the centuries old method called skipping a meal.

I've lost around 15 pounds since becoming a free spirit, and can walk two miles a day now instead of huffing and puffing after walking through the parking lot to the pizza parlor. I hope that in a more successful future, I don't regain the trappings of civilization :-)

Taking the point of view that I'm on a diet helps, and tells me that the mental definitely rules over the physical. No luck converting Ivy to that outlook though...

Make no mistake, I'm not making light of the average homeless fact, even before this life I've never thought that any government welfare involving food was a waste of money. 

If we can tolerate the government wasting billions on aircraft carriers that can't launch jets, or expensive fighters that can't fly in rain, then every Anerican should be able to eat. Sure, there's cheaters, but worse than government contractors? 

The typically snarky remark by the well fed troll crowd that this or that homeless encampment looks like a third world country is just arrogance.

If America has a small group controlling most of the wealth, a shrinking middle class that admires and aspires to be like them, and a lot of people that have trouble putting food on the table or are homeless, then that IS a third world just hasn't slid the down the scale as far as Africa or South America yet.


Society isn't all to blame though. We don't live in a pure democracy, otherwise most of the crooks and 1%ers would have been run out of town by now.

We live in a capitalist system, that trades security for freedoms. It's brutally Darwinian even for the big players. 

It's obvious that we're living in a transitional age, like the Industrial Age, and old jobs are disappearing and a younger generation is taking over the workforce. That's displacing a lot of people, and leaving many without access to education to train for the next generation of jobs.

I give that lesson in sociology mainly as background, to make it clear that the growing homeless problem is more complex than Reagan closing the halfway houses, Capitalist Buccaneers shipping jobs overseas or preferring cheaper illegals, etc..

Homelessness and poverty is a situation that a free market economy simply isn't equipped to handle (or gives a crap about). Just like sardines  are there to be part of the food chain for a host of other sea creatures, workers are valued by capitalism as long as they're needed, then it's someone else's problem.


In Silicon Valley, one of the most dreaded events is the layoff. It happens all the time, only the biggest ones make the news. For contractors it's even worse, it can simply be a call to the tech agency to tell you not to show up for work.

It alters everyone's behavior. Managers grateful for keeping their jobs become efficient hatchet men. A laid off person is often escorted out, and sees a lot of faces averted or downcast. Sometimes there's survivors inadvertently laughing and chatting, not realizing that their adrenaline level is sky high.

The main thing experienced is often embarrassment to the point of numbness, that one day there's a lot of pals around, then suddenly you're the guy who just farted in a crowded elevator. Even if you know it's coming, it always has a profound effect.

In society, we are often defined by our jobs (or source of income). The solution is thought to be getting back into the game as soon as possible. The problem is that job searches can take time and not looking busy at it can lead to a perception that laziness or apathy has set in.

...the Puritan ethic...

That's a modern take on the old Puritan ethic where there's guilt permeating various situations. It's often thought of as being a prude or old fashioned, but it still finds it's way into even the most liberal minds.

For example, a teenage girl is still the one who primarily has to deal with the consequences of pregnancy. Even the most feminist liberal can sometimes be seen heaping contempt on her if given political cover (like if the young woman has a famous Republican mother).

Same with a person out of work or homeless. There's always going to be those that thinks it's a matter of fault, or lack of industry. We're not that far from an era of debtor prison and shipping people off as indentured servants.

Napoleon once said, talent is nothing without opportunity.

In other words, it's easy to frame a picture of the homeless as a useless bunch of drug using parasites. It can obscure the fact that there might not be a job there for many, at least for the foreseeable future.

A common piece of advice, often said with contempt, is to go find a fast food job or something.

I've been homeless about six months, many of the homeless people I've seen or run into already work those fast food least until the robots arrive...

...bedtime story...

Had to move to a different area tonight to sleep. Too many semi's in the usual place, lots of noise, not much room. Went to a more populated area, which I normally avoid, but there were some familiar cars there so it looked good (though closer to the fence line than I'd prefer).

The RVs and car homeless are pretty much gone, but the homeless campers are back along the fence lines near the banks of a flood control canal, some even in tents. That probably a good sign, it means no one's paying attention to the area.

Also there's a fresh sweatshirt on the ground near the entrance...I've seen some throw off clothing when they're high, so it means the show is over and they're all asleep.

After a while people know who's who around here, there's several I know by sight and I make sure they know me. Homeless generally don't prey on each other.

Ivy's night routine includes a late supper and a final walk doing the usual dog things. It's been that way for a few years, so I don't try to change that habit.

Looking out into the night from a car seemed daunting at first. The area behind the fence line is pitch black, which makes the voices that come out sound erie and unsettling.

Taking Ivy out on her nightly walk actually turned out to be a good habit. Walking around and seeing the area where we're going to sleep makes it seem less threatening, more familiar.

There's some common sense precautions of course. We don't approach the actual fence line at night, as there's an occasional needle in the dirt areas which are hard to see in at night. Plus, why wake anyone up? They're sleeping in a vulnerable environment in the open, who knows how they'll react?

I've walked in the camp areas during the day, no one's around and it helps to know what's out there at night. Gets rid of the boogieman.

It doesn't mean that it's a serene atmosphere. Sudden lights flooding into the car trigger that anxiety one can get when being pulled over by a policeman. 

When I spent a few weeks in Marin County, I was being pulled over once or twice a week and warrant checked and often found myself sandwiched between two police cars until I finally left a town like Mill Valley. None were unfriendly, but I realized that an old Cadillac in that upscale area was going to always draw attention and that it was best to go elsewhere.

Being unsettled or startled to seeing bright lights in the mirror is something that hasn't gone away yet.

...the value of recon...

It's good to just sit and watch the area for a while before putting up the window shades. The other night I didn't set up for sleep and just relaxed and observed things. A guy came through hooting and hollering and started arguments with a trucker and an employee out collecting shopping carts.

I got out of there fast, and settled in a secondary place where it stayed quiet.

A few months ago, all this would have meant a sleepless, once I'm satisfied it's a good place to sleep, I'll be generally out in dreamland for at least six hours (most of the time) and can catch up with a nap during the day. Being in a car makes that possible, I'm not sure how it'd be in a tent out in the open.

I've learned to wake up early, preferably 6 or 7, and move on. It's also good to do a quick check of the area as you leave. If there's garbage bags (yes, some people are real slobs) and urine filled bottles around, it's a good idea to not come back. story begins...

In a conversation, a homeless guy smiled, then laughed at my short monologue about the Syrian Civil War (yes, homeless people read the news too), and said, "don't be offended, but you seem like a smart guy, how did you end up here"?

Out of respect for a fellow traveler, I kept the answer short...for this blog, here is the long version :-)

...the media view

The media view is almost always of people who are struggling and miserable. Which is true enough in all too many cases.

It's a narrow view, and can lead others who haven't dropped that far to think that they've hit bottom long before they should. The mental is just as important as the physical. It may not seem like that at first, but it becomes clearer the deeper in you get.

...the process before becoming homeless 

Getting out of homelessness can be a long haul, but quite often that big event obscures the fact that getting to that point was probably a long process also.

It's like a plane crash...experts almost always find that it was a chain of smaller errors that cascaded into a catastrophic event. The explosion is what we see, it's not obvious that just before some part malfunctioned, which caused another system to fail, and etc.

In my case the triggering event was a layoff and eviction on the same day...I could only take what would fit in a car and off I went (it's more complex than that, but we'll keep it simple right now).

I had planned for the layoff, and saved a sufficient sum for a long job search...I hadn't planned on living on the road at the same time. But that was just the crash, so to speak.

Looking back, my life was ripe for a fall, one that wouldn't survive a catastrophic event without turmoil.

In brief, I was doing a contract for Google  for three years, was paid well and it was a telecommute, so I could do it in my room. By the time it all ended, I was depressed, on meds, my money tiedup in  vintage instruments with a paper value higher than it's real street price, and spent my time working or sleeping in my bed. It became like living in a box.

I totally lost awareness of my surroundings, though in Silicon Valley terms, it was a life that appeared normal and prosperous. I had a lot of "things," spoke the lingo and was working a respectable contract for a well known company.

...early rookie mistakes 

When it all ended, the next mistake was thinking that it wouldn't for long. In other words, another job or contract would be along and thing would be OK.

So I holed up in motels to avoid the shame of being seen sleeping in my car, and committed, as many homeless would later tell me, the most common rookie error. I thought being in a motel was a smaller fall from grace, but it just ate up my cash fast and I ended up in the car anyway. my new journey begins...

So...I'm in a car now...all that other sociological theory is best studied in more detail at a future time. 

The most pressing questions were; where can one sleep in a car, stay warm on the surprisingly cold nights, and HOW does one sleep in a car?

For the first few weeks, on top of the pressing need to find a job and a place to live, was how to survive in the meantime.

Media stories about homelessness aren't much help. It's either all scare stories, referrals to swamped and underfunded agencies, or a focus on the more newsworthy drug problems and killings.

Nothing I read told me that the first night in a car would be in bad light conditions; that it was easy to lose things (like a flashlight), that steering wheels do hit back, food spills at night are generally discovered later while sleeping, and that eating spicy foods ensures that the you'll be going out as often as the dog.

As far as Ivy, life was simple, she had the whole back seat, three squares a day, she was fine. :-)

The main problem was sleep. It got to the point where a month later I was hallucinating on the freeway from sleep deprivation. I was seeing fallen trees and rivers that needed to be avoided, and at one point, the road seemed to just disappear and the ride was punctuated by panic stops to avoid imaginary obstacles,

Surviving all that at 70 miles an hour at 1 AM became a turning point in how I approached being homeless.

I decided that all the other stuff, like finding a job, etc, could resolve soon, but until then, I was homeless and had better learn to get good at it...

I'll cover that process in the next installments, keep in mind that the intent won't be to offer a course in urban camping, but to illustrate what changed in my mind about homelessness.

The Ivy Corner: in which she provides compelling glimpses of life on the road.

Today's Topic: Proper Care Of Pets In High Heat

As you can see, Ivy has a high tech solution...a battery operated fan. Also, she's become expert at looking overheated so I take her outside to cool off in the shade. It appears to be an effective treatment as she instantly recovers once outside...