Everyone should ride on Greyhound at least once. A large part of America travels this way and to travel as they do, gives you some perspective.
I was only traveling from Flagstaff to Phoenix and what would have normally been a trivial two-hour drive was a multi-hour ordeal complete with multiple stops in incredibly remote places. Some people travel from coast to coast this way. They plan family vacations around the Greyhound routes and schedules. Those who can Greyhound together stay together because they have seen some things.
Our bus pulled into our final destination at a large bus stop in downtown Phoenix. From there we took a city bus to Tempe, Arizona where I spent several months living on the streets.
Cuddles was always vague about his living situation but he told me he knew of a squat where we could live for the time being. This squat was an empty abandoned property’s yard next to train tracks and there were a dozen or so of us that took up residence there. If you think Poopie and Cuddles are colorful names, we also had a Rooster, Cretin, Gideon, HaveYa and a Sphincter. Spider and I were the only women in the camp who slept there. Women showed up from time to time for the other guys but they always seemed to have homes or vans.
Spider and Cuddles were never really right for each other. He spent most of his time trying to avoid her but he had a hard time breaking up with women who were homeless. If a woman had a home he didn’t have an issue breaking up but I think he knew all too well what our lives were like on the streets and he felt like he needed to look after Spider. Alas the relationship deteriorated to such a point that it ended with her chasing him down the street throwing her socks and leggings at him out of her backpack.
Cuddles taught a master class on how to live off the streets. We went to bed around midnight and woke up with the sun. Sleeping in wasn’t an option. The temperatures were unbearable and the flies would start to land all over your face and buzz about you until you thought you’d go mad.
We didn’t have a bathroom at our squat, so we encouraged everyone to use public bathrooms before returning home. Occasionally though, someone had to go and we tried to have them go as far away from where we slept as was possible. I didn’t have a sleeping bag so I relied on Cuddles sharing his with me.
I had a routine that I stuck to every day and it helped with the reality of not having a place to call home. What is a home anyway? The saying it is where your hat is, is absolutely right. Home is where you feel home. It is where you feel like you belong and it isn’t a place exactly. No, it’s a state of mind. You can make any place a home if your mind is in order. If it isn’t in order, nothing will ever feel like home.
My routine was simple. Wake up, then make enough money to buy a bagel if I hadn’t saved money from the day before. I’d wash up in the public restrooms or shower in the fountains, have coffee and work on money for dinner. Everything else was social time. I had a very active social life, which I think people don’t realize homeless people have. We have our own communities, networks etc. and despite what people think about us, we weren’t unhappy. There were things that sucked, for sure, but I wouldn’t describe it as miserable. Let’s just put it this way, living off the street, eating other people’s leftovers and facing that kind of insecurity was a step up from the psychological abuses I faced at home. I’d still take the homelessness every day.
When I tell people what I just told you they minimize it and fit into their preconceived world view. They say things like, “Well, you had good health. You were in a stable mental state. You had privilege, yaddy yadda.” All of this is undoubtedly true. I did in fact have good health and yes, it would have been much harder on me and those around me were I in poor health. The privilege they mean is that I have white skin. As I have never been anything other than white I can’t say if that helped me or not but it sure didn’t feel like it at the time.
I was, however, privileged to be female. There’s a reason you don’t see many homeless women on the streets, and that’s because people will help a woman or a child long before they ever help a man. I know people mean well when they point these things out but it feels heartless. I would like to think that my ingenuity, integrity and other contents of my character got me to where I am. We all would like to think we are the authors of our fate. Of course those pointing out my supposed good fortune are often far left liberals who are white. They are the preachiest of people. They should save the sermons and go out and practice – if they dare.
I’m accustomed to life’s fuck yous. I’ve never been the right anything and when I succeed there’s always someone to tell you around the corner that you didn’t earn it and that you were just lucky. Strange, isn’t it, how luck seems to find the same people over and over again, isn’t it?
You’ve got to be your own cheerleader even if you cheer all alone as you often will. Maybe there’s some truth to what the naysays say but there’s no way to know. All I know is what I lived – and I came out the other end, alive. I think I had something to do with that and it wasn’t all what I was born with. I made choices and mistakes and survived.
If I had any luck it was that Cuddles wanted to share his sleeping arrangements with me and keep me warm at night. If I had privilege then, it was my vagina. I wasn’t half bad looking, so I would have been fine for quite some time. There would have been a man who wanted to save me or take care of me. If I had a penis, those options dwindled drastically. It would have to be a glorious penis. As a dear friend of mine likes to say, “dick is abundant everywhere and has low value.”
Bagels back then weren’t that expensive. I liked them because they were filling and had a good amount of fat once you slathered them with cream cheese. Both the bagel and the little tub of cheese could be obtained for under a dollar. Coffee was often free but if I wanted something fancier I’d have to come up with a few more dollars. Usually dinner was Burger King or Jack-in-the Box. Both had options with protein for .99 cents. If I was really lucky and we somehow came up with five dollars we would splurge and have Vietnamese food which was rice and vegetables. When you are malnourished food tastes incredible once you have it. You don’t really have a discerning palette. You just need calories. Hunger is the best spice.
On the rare days I couldn’t find out how to make money, I would drink creamer and sugar from the coffee shop. Sometimes I would find honey packets and down those. Cuddles and I formed friendships with some of the cafe workers down on Mill Avenue in Tempe and they would throw their leftovers out at the end of the night in blue or green bags so we could spot them and pull them out. Legally they couldn’t give us food for health reasons, which is so dumb and ridiculous. I suppose the health department would rather we starve to death than risk us getting food poisoning. I also ate food off people’s plates once they got up and walked away. It was, and is, amazing how much good food is wasted. We have an abundance of calories in the United States but no efficient way to get them to the people who need them the most. The people who don’t need them often have too much.
So how did I make money?
Well, at first I was shown the ropes around spare changing or panhandling. And to my shame I did this for a few days and I felt horrible and dirty when I did it. The biggest motivation for me to stop was a father with a child who took the time to stop and lovingly tell me that he’d love to help me, but he had to give every spare penny he had to his child. Naturally. Duh! I realized I didn’t want to take money from anyone anymore or frankly ever again if I could help it, so I sat around and tried to brainstorm ways to make a living. If I could somehow make $5 a day, I could eat enough and maintain a good quality of life.
Unfortunately, because of accreditation nonsense -- high school diplomas and degrees -- and minimum wage requirements, I couldn’t land a job. Unlike Dab Nabbits, I didn’t have anyone who’d pay me under the table to sweep floors or clean bathrooms. Yes, you guessed it, this is why I’m anti-minimum wages. I’ve seen what it does to poor people. When you draw an arbitrary line and say that those who are on the other side of the line can have something and those on the other side cannot, you create boundaries which punish the poorest among us. Minimum wages protect people with diplomas, not those of us without them. We would do any type of labor, really, just so we wouldn’t have to beg, steal or sell ourselves.
I couldn’t get food stamps as I was underage and technically a runaway, so I would have been picked up and sent back to live with my mother. And that was unthinkable.
So, I started lots of side hustles that made a little here and there. The first hustle was going to what was called The Free Store, which was part of a cooperative grocery store. You were allowed three free things a day from the store, you just had to put your name on a list. I took my three things every day and walked over to Buffalo Exchange and sold what I could. If I didn’t find clothes, I would take books over to the bookstore and sell them.
Cuddles wasn’t down with my grind and instead preferred to panhandle. I usually took a nap when he did this because it was so embarrassing. He told lies to people about our situation, which never sat right with me. I was always bothered by it, but I wasn’t in any sort of position to criticize him for doing what he needed to survive. Except, Cuddles had this weird thing where every now and then he’d show up with a twenty dollar bill. He’d make up excuses for where he got it, but later on down the road I discovered he had a bank account where his mother would drop some money in there from time to time. There wasn’t ever more than $100 dollars in there at a time but he had more money than any of us and he’d mysteriously always have enough just in the nick of time for things.
What Cuddles didn’t tell me was that he was on the streets by choice, not circumstances. He was a person who wanted his life to be harder and wanted to be cast out by his family, but he had a loving mother who wanted him to come home. He was a rare type of homeless person who romanticizes being on the streets. There are more like him out there as I would come to discover, but he was pretty unique in that there was literally nothing wrong with his home life. He had to make something be wrong, else he couldn’t live with himself. It was an interesting struggle. He was homeless by choice. The more Cuddles trusted me, the more he let me in on who he really was. I kept his secret from the other squatters out of fear of what they’d do to him were they to find out he was fake homeless.
During this period though, I was under the impression that he was down and out like myself. So, I shrugged off the twenty here and there and didn’t question it. I did my best to try not to rely on him for anything, because he could discard me the first chance he got. I needed to learn the homeless ropes for myself.
We didn’t fall naturally into a romantic relationship because intellectually we had little in common. I liked to use my spare time to be social or read books while he preferred to street perform. He loved people’s admiration, praise, astonishment and disapproval. He thrived on it. But we both needed one another at that point in our lives. He needed someone to care for and look after and I desperately needed that for myself. Cuddles was my protector. He watched out for me.
Cuddles had this way of sitting that was odd. He squatted in his chairs or wherever he sat. He didn’t sit normally. The position was like people who work in rice patties and he could hold that position admirably for hours without complaint.
One day we were sitting on a curb by Java Road, our favorite coffee house, and I don’t know what came over me. I looked at Cuddles and asked him if he wanted to go make out under the Mill Avenue Bridge, which was a place we liked to sleep when we wanted to get away from our squatter companions. You had to watch out for flash floods or you’d get stranded in the rafters. He agreed and we gleefully ran a mile to the bridge and spent the night there, just the two of us. It was romantic and fun. I didn’t know how long it would last, but I didn’t think about the future much at all. I lived for the moment and the moment was good. I just thought about how to get my bagel, how to stay warm with Cuddles and where I’d sit down from time to time. Life was simple and I had very few complaints.
“dick is abundant everywhere and has low value.” This quote is excellent! Great read, I need to go find a Greyhound, sounds humbling.
Been meaning to sub. Your life has been intense. I’m curious of how you’re working through the publication concept. I’ve been through trauma as a kid and people are stoked when they see how life has turned out, but I actually enjoy focusing on the future more than rehashing abuse, drugs, abandonment and death. But it’s like the story needs to be told so others can see what we are capable of. I was going to do a blueprint day w Forbes books / advantage media but still not feeling it. Anyways, thanks for sharing, keep cranking C