Monday, May 8, 2017

On The Road With Al & Ivy: A Literary Homeless Chronicle

 

"...Presently Jason understood the Pythoness to say that the voyage he must undertake would be renowned in song for unnumbered ages, if he took the precaution of sacrificing to Apollo, God Of Embarkations, on the day he launched his ship and on the night of his return. Then she lapsed into nonsense. The only recurrent phrase he could catch was that he should 'take the true Jason' with him..."

- Robert Graves (Hercules My Shipmate, aka The Golden Fleece. Quote abridged from book)

The month of April was quite eventful. It's well documented in my gofundme updates, so I'll just summarize:

I was offered two places to live while getting a fresh start in the Midwest. One in Wisconsin and the other in Illinois. The idea was to shuttle between both for a couple of months, with one becoming permanent if all went well. It included a one way airline ticket, so one major cost was covered.

The offer was one of a few ideas I looked at on how to proceed into summer, and it was the only one that put me into a room right away. 

All the other paths would have involved staying in the car for a few months, and given the housing situation in the SF Bay Area, probably much longer than that.

My old Cadillac was leaking gas, the tires were shot, the transmission was slipping, there was both a loss of compression in the engine and plenty of smoke. Enough smoke that a mechanic said the car would never pass smog without repairs. 

It wasn't a car that could transition from being a shelter to a commuter car, so my first priority would have been to get another vehicle, further extending the time to get indoors.

I decided that getting into a room was the priority. After 14 months I had overcome some obstacles and felt as "normal" again as I could be, even after the loss of Ivy, and felt that trying to go another summer (and fall) would become a diminishing return situation...looking back at the summer of 2016, when I was in a car that was stuck on a street for almost two months, I realized that in many ways I'd been very lucky to get through it without some sort of trouble from the various populations that roamed and camped there. 

Part of that luck was some old timers spreading the word that I was OK, and the other part was my little friend Ivy. You'd be surprised how often her cute presence diffused an otherwise serious situation.

For the summer of 2017, I was looking at a situation where Ivy and all the old timers I knew were gone. I suppose I'd have survived it, having gotten reasonably good at being homeless, but the Midwest offered a safe room, and what looked like a good job market. 

So I went. 

I'm about four weeks in, a couple of weeks in both places and found that there are a lot of adjustments to make, and those are coming along. I'd lived in the Midwest before so it wasn't a culture shock. I kept wearing Tshirts, trunks and sandals for way too long though, in the colder weather. Old California habits die hard.

I'm still in transition, I'm working hard on my book, "Hide In Plain Sight," and as an immediate job, or at least a source of some income, expanded my Boogie Underground Media promo venture. I'm starting to take on some charity work with it. One is Muttville, a dog rescue organization based in San Francisco.

The book is in the second pass, and I hope to have it ready for line editing within weeks. When I have the book far enough along, I'll begin a serious job search, though next week I figure it'll do no harm to start trying to get some freelance CAD work.

The subject matter of this blog will still deal with homelessness. There's still sections that were written or I planned to write about homelessness that didn't fit completely into the book, and I also wanted to be more topical about the issue in future entries.

There's still plenty of thanks to give to all the people that helped me. I know plenty have been given in the updates, but I'll cover the more in detail in the next entry. 

Future updates will be shorter, and come out more often. Maybe every 7-10 days. The blogs were long in the early days because it was a rehearsal for a book, and the aim was to get used to writing chapter length pieces. Which isn't necessary now, and I'd like to do blog entries more often.

I've seen many things out there, including the death of my dear friend Ivy, that won't be easily forgotten, and I pray that reading about what I've seen out there in this blog and my book will be as close as any of you will ever get to that kind of life.

...airports, and notions of time...

I was in the airport about 12 hours before the flight because it seemed like a good way to minimize Murphy's Law (which it didn't do, I covered that in detail in my last gofundme update) but also because it was a better place to be than a parking lot in Salinas. 

The opportunity to crash out legally and safely in a public place was too good to pass up.

I knew the hours would pass quickly, or more specifically, without any sense of it being a long wait. The flight, which was about four hours, no pun intended, literally flew by and as we touched down in Milwaukee; the wait in the terminal and flight, all that seemed like one big moment.

One of the things about adjusting to a more normal life is regaining my time sense...the world that runs by the clock disappears after 14 months in a car. 

There was a sense of forward motion but it tended to run from event to event, or location to location. There was day and night of course, but as I write this, I still don't have a sense that this or that day is Sunday or Monday or if it's a holiday. 

As a homeless person, having time just float by feels different. Life is a series of cycles that have a beginning, middle and end, and in between is the daily task of survival.

The flight didn't feel like four hours of time. It was a period of intense relief and tears, disbelief and then realization that I was heading thousands of miles away, wonder at how the country looked from so high up and how I could easily find my location using Google maps, sleep, fear and uncertainty about my decision to head east instead of staying, happiness at a safe landing and intense curiousity about my future. The clock said four hours had passed, and that's the other way to look at it.

...landing in Milwaukee...

Once the airliner landed in Milwaukee, time started to come back. It was like entering into another world. Many of the feelings that came back were familiar, some a shock to the system. More than a few times I've sat there on a chair or bed and tried to comprehend where I was.

The parking lots and streets I'd escaped seemed very far away, like waking up in the middle of a dream except that I'd become the person in that dreamscape and only my surroundings had changed. 

...my changed sense of perception...

I was mowing a lawn in Wisconsin, in wonderment at the normalcy of it all, then a man walked by wearing a backpack. It only took an instant to recognize that he was homeless. 

Earlier, in Illinois, I walked by one that was sleeping on the sidewalk near an area with rail and overpasses and wondered for a moment why he didn't sleep back there...there's similar places in Gilroy that's got a few camps, then I realized that it must be safer to sleep out in the open where he was. Maybe hobos, maybe gangs, something made it a better bet to sleep near the downtown area, but then, that's how a homeless person thinks...you look at a place and instantly size it up and have a picture of where's it safe to sleep and where it isn't. 

You take in details like the graffiti and can tell if it's by gangs or just taggers, even if the markings are local and I don't have a clue as to the meaning. 

I see some markings that are just wannabe stuff or trolling, and other signs where I make a mental note to avoid the place...it's not expert knowledge, or street heraldry. Just instinct, and empirical wisdom passed on to me by others who'd been out longer than me.

What is different now is that these perceptions can hit me while simply walking through a downtown area to visit a used book store. 

I pass a CafĂ©, admire some antiques in a vintage store window, walk further and see people sitting outside talking and laughing, then look down an alley and see signs of a homeless crash pad, then continue along and see who's coming to perform on an auditorium marquee. 

I sit for a while looking at the neighborhood, the place where I'm staying is off about a quarter mile. I see the streets, lots, overpasses, and in a few moments I've marked out in my mind all the areas to avoid at night, where I'd check to see if a car could park, a good place or two to hide if I were a backpacker, and any areas that looks "inhabited." Most of all, any area that flashes a danger sign in my subconscious.

I'm not sure it's a reflex that will ever completely disappear, not in a mind that's as busy as mine. The trick won't be to blank it out, but to let it flow in and out of my consciousness without effect...for now...after all, nothing's certain in life, and I might need those instincts again. 

However, I didn't not want those festering or just below the surface. It keeps the other baggage that needs to be worked through too close, and in too many dreams at night. All wisdom is empirical, and thus paid for, so there's no point to throwing it away like a three year old computer, but not all of it needs to be kept around.

...a word about ear plugs...

Wearing ear plugs was a habit I originally started to block out noises while trying to sleep during the day. It was a practice that I continued in the car.

I'd experimented with just using cotton balls or loose cloth but I preferred the superior noise blocking of ear plugs. 

Even if there was no sound outside, the plugs were like a blanket that blocked out unwelcome noises, like arguments but not sudden sounds I needed to hear like sirens and impact noises.

The world outside is only as private as people let it be, but blocking out sound is a temporary blind. Open ears can pick up sound and force me to react, blocked ears can't hear, so it's a form of escape and respite and let's me let go of the constant vigilance...it's not really safe to do that at night. It's a calculated risk, a break from the world.

- Al Handa 
   5/8/17

...cover reveal for Hide In Plain Sight...

 

This is the cover for the upcoming book, Hide In Plain Sight, designed by Jenna Brooks, supervised and edited by Mutiny Rising Media.

-Al Handa

ontheroadwithalandivy@gmail.com


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