Friday, December 9, 2016

On The Road With Al and Ivy: A Homeless Literary Journal 12/8


Know, kings and fortune cannot make thee more.

- Alexander Pope

Most of mankind has come to view nature as simply the weather, or when to eat a turkey dinner. It's something we think we've mastered and control, and have become ignorant as to its complexity and the fact that it's still very much in charge.

A good example are California beach houses that were built decades ago, and had to be abandoned because the owners (or the state) can no longer afford to keep artificially rebuilding that coastline. You can change a condition for a while, but nature always wins because time, which is really an invention of mankind, is always on it's side.

The homeless aren't any different about countering nature...a common sight is a car or truck with the engine running to use the heater or air conditioner. One time I saw a guy run his car air conditioning for three hours on a hot day to take a nap. 

Out on the street, you do occasionally end up trading gas for functionally...I'll use my cigarette light inverter to run a shaver if the battery's dead, for example, but to a car homeless, gas is life and isn't casually wasted.

It's been unusually cold this week, and I'll run the engine in the morning for a few minutes to warn the car up while putting away the night gear...but as a rule, if I need to warm up the car, parking it in the sun with the windows closed works works for amphibians and only mankind would take nature's gift of sun and create devices to covert the sunlight into electricity to run a heater...which isn't necessarily a criticism by the way...

Mankind loves gadgets...many are necessary or at least fun but are often are just attempts to be more clever than nature; which runs complex cycles more efficiently than people. Modern medicine produces real miracles, but we're lucky that nature designed our bodies and that foctirs are in reality skilled types love to visualize a world run by omnipotent robots, but that's just pure ego...humans haven't developed any mass produced appliance that you could trust with your life, with the possible exception of the rotary telephone or spoon.

...feet don't fail me now....

One good example of nature's genius is in the fitness field...the perfect exercise that almost all humans can do is's low impact, requires no training, and will take care of virtually every fitness need.

Mankind has turned fitness into an expensive boutique industry, and mixed hard core athletic event training with simple fitness and is in the process of creating a generation of people with bad backs and limbs who will be prime candidates for hip replacement surgery.

As said in The Godfather novel, it's the perfect business that creates more business.

Ancient Greek and Roman soldiers walked hundreds of miles in sandal, yet most moderns won't walk until they don expensive workout shoes priced in the cigar category and set goals that are more suitable for an athlete who intends to perform at a peak level for a single event with every intention of backing off afterwards, knowing that trying to maintain that peak will wreck a body as surely as tuning an engine to last one race.

I was a pretty good tennis player in my youth, but quit the second it was obvious that my knees wouldn't handle the pounding into my late's best to tailor exercise to the aging cycle...trying to run four minutes miles into middle age is in effect robbing Peter to pay Paul, trading a few less pounds for later joint and muscle pain, and constant sports injuries.

My morning walk, which runs between 2 to 3 miles is virtually always done wearing Birkenstocks. The ones I use cost 6.00 at an outlet store, and work fine...I do have good walking shoes and boots but save those for hikes on trails or terrain.

Wearing a good pair of sandals teaches good walking habits, and keep the feet cooler than the most expensive athletic shoe. I admit it's not for everyone, but it works for me and I trust my body's judgement.

I figure the Romans did fine with sandals and their soldiers walked around the world for Birkies ties me in with a simple and winning tradition. the land of bees and honey...


...the PG&E access road...

I decided one morning to route my hike up a PG&E access road that intersects my normal shows as a road on Google maps, but it's really a dirt road that follows a series of power lines to a grid on the outskirts of the city, and cuts between an industrial zone and farmland.

It was a nondiscript journey for about a mile, then the road appears to end at a ranch house and several small housing units...since the structures were right off the access road, I figured it wasn't private property in the classic sense of the word and entered the compound. It was plain looking but too nice to be a migrant shanty town, it looked like one for supervisors and perhaps workers with key skills. It was deserted but as I passed, there were signs of permanence like a rudimentary playground and picnic area.

That led to another mile or so of dirt road that stretched between two large fields, and a small bee hive thing that struck me was that in this very isolated area, there were no signs that any homeless had used this area...which may have been another way of saying it was clean of the usual patina of fast food wrappers and odd junk items that were salvaged out of dumpsters and later abandoned again as excess weight or if no value in trade.

As I neared the end of the first stretch that the map said intersected a street that led to the freeway, a larger housing complex came to view that had a path around it that led to the next street...the problem being that there were several large watchdogs behind that fence, and the last thing I needed was to follow that fence line and find a hole with some guard dogs a rural area, if a guard dog looks and sounds mean, it is...

The safer path unfortunately led to a barbed wire gate, which was the only opening to a fence line that made going around impossible...that wasn't something I climb wearing a small pack while carrying Ivy in a shoulder bag, so the plan was to slip her under the gate, with me climbing over it. 

Ivy and I weren't on the same wavelength so everytime she was pushed under to the other side, she would crawl back as I was trying to get over the barbed wire on top...probably thought she was being put into a cage or being left behind...but finally I slipped her under and wrapped her leash in the mesh to prevent movement and accepted a couple of small but painful wounds from very quickly flipping myself over the barbed wire to limit the amount of time Ivy spent complaining about being abandoned...I was pretty irritated by this time about the cuts and barking, but went with the flow and stayed irritated as anger releases adrenaline which not only dulled the pain of barb wire stabs but temporarily numbed the shoulder that got slightly wrenched while flipping my aged body over the top of the it an holistic application of emotive biochemistry. 

Ivy was overjoyed, of course, that we ended up on the same side of the fence.

The rest of the walk was uneventful, as the road then continued on the an underpass that we'd seen before and to a familiar route. 

We passed a sort of transport hub for the was an area where the shopping cart types parked their collection of vehicles. In this case filled various scrap materials that would be sold to the recycling center was on a bridge that crossed a very marshy marshy that even homeless didn't live on the banks and was used as a dumping ground by them and the respectable folks too judging no by the number of consumer type goods laying about.

It wasn't an outstanding hike, but for about a mile of it, it felt like being in the middle of nowhere, which would make it a pleasant regular change of pace except for the guard dogs and that hellacious barbed wire gate...that's too much civilization for me.

...fear is our friend...

...the homeless life is often about that ever present fear. Old timers regard it with a confident familiarity, and experience illuminates a lot of the mystery that causes anxiety, but it's always there. 

Sleeping in your clothes, making sure the car is locked down, that no valuables are showing, and etc., are simple common sense measures that reinforces an undercurrent of fear.

When I stay up for an hour or two before going to sleep in the car to make sure the area is quiet, it's a basic precaution that settles the mind; but I always know that once my eyes are closed that all bets are off. 

Particularly in an area where there's been car jackings.

You rehearse in your mind what to do if a car jacker picks you instead of the next guy, how to react if some stoned guy breaks your window for a smash and grab, or some drunk teens chose your car as the next homeless person they bully. 

When you're new to the game, it all seems complex and full of belligerent responses and unrealistic self defense fantasies. Even worse, people try to find that sense of security in weapons.

What becomes obvious after a few months is that nature has imprinted the most simple and effective survival technique into all of us; it's hide, run, and fight only if cornered and even then only long enough to create an opening to run.

Even the awesome grizzly bear or the deadly rattlesnake will generally choose to leave rather than fight in an intruder situation. 

Also, no shark can eat you if you never jump into the same section of ocean.

Thinking in terms of a macho Hollywood movie hero, where the badass hero takes no crap and kicks butt will just get a person hurt or killed (or arrested). Way too many people think that running away is cowardice and shameful, and not common sense.

Without the option of running away like a jack rabbit, every danger scenario in the mind becomes imbued with paralyzing fear because the options all involve unknowns that very few normal people can conceive of and it runs counter to the escape instinct. 

If you accept the gift of self preservation that nature's given you, then there's no need for years of training and your odds of survival are higher.

Most of any Army's boot camp training is geared towards eliminating the basic survival instinct. That's a fact that can be googled. The instinct to fight is really the second option only for when you're cornered and can't escape. A fight subjects you to the simple math of force versus force, and opting first for combat is in effect choosing the course with the lowest odds for survival.

Once I learned that survival on the streets is actually a simple matter of acknowledging that the instinct to escape wasn't cowardice, then my fear was manageable. 

In other words, if there was trouble in the air, I would just leave the area and sleep somewhere else. I always made sure to have at least three places I knew were generally safe. I listened to my fear, ignored territorial notions and went to a place where the fear abated.

Fear is really a survival instinct that gives you a self defense discipline that requires no training or conditioning...a massive dose of adrenaline is provided free of charge to give the flight response the maximum chance of success.

 Self defense experts will, correctly at times, point out that panic will lead to wrong decisions. 

That's true, nature does require that you know your environment and how to best survive in it, and mankind is a lousy teacher when it comes to assailent with a gun is more than fear alone can handle, but like in the ocean, if you cross paths with a shark, the bigger predator will generally win, and that may not be a destiny that can be escaped...however, as I said earlier, your odds improve against a shark if you stay out of the ocean.

As I sit in my car and look out at the world, there's a lot to be afraid or wary of, and in the homeless world, if someone wants to kill or hurt you they can. The police can't come soon enough to prevent it, even if someone bothers to call 911, but that fear also motivates me to avoid trouble, and gives me a survival strategy that's time tested and simple...if people laugh or point fingers at my graceless and undignified retreat from trouble, I'll be too busy at the time to notice anyway.

- Al Handa 12/8/16

The Al & Ivy Homeless Literary Journal Archive:

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My intent isn't to become a donor funded homeless blogger, I'd like to do much more...until then, a donation would help Ivy and I to survive and continue efforts (like seeking work, etc) that can bring us out of homelessness as opposed to dropping further down into a transient lifestyle.


  1. How did you become homeless? Please share your story. I believe most of America is only a couple of paychecks away from homelessness. You are a very good writer and I believe sharing your story will help many people. I pray you are safe.

  2. Thanks Michelle, I agree that many in this country are on the precipice financially, and at a dangerous tipping point that a recession like 2008 could swamp people. A lot of the prosperity talked about is overly concentrated with a small percentage and there's trillions in printed money that still "hiding" and hasn't circulated America handles the homeless problem would be an important template for the future, but that would take an attitude change, which in some ways is harder than a mass relief effort.