Friday, January 23, 2015

Fourth Entry: A Different Kind of Homeless

Arizona welcomed us with a sunset that wrapped around the sky like a brilliant painting across the blue canvas sky. The streets we passed were full of row after row of thousands of RVs. Snowbirds gather every January through March in Quartzsite for various sales shows from rocks and minerals to RVs, antiques to socks. Quartzsite likely has a vendor for it somewhere in those months.

We thought to search for work doing sales or entertaining on the street or at a restaurant, but when we arrived we realized the slim likelihood. You see, there are several myths that travel through transient free spirit groups. Anyone can find high paying work trimming herb in Arcata, hippy myth.

We went to Arcata and watched dreadheads andvrainbows father in the park waiting for a mythological grower to come hire them and give them food, housing and riches. It might have been that way once for someone but it hasn't been like that in years. Locals are polite and eventually the hippies, jobless hitchhiker away after another El Dorado tale. Locals joke about the impossible seams of those world traveling job seekers. For fun they go by the park and loudly mention they might be hiring just to see everyone spring to attention. We did it, it was like shaking a treat bag for your beloved pet. The kids there were in their early twenties and were kind and clean, generally reminding each other lack of hygiene does not leads to work. We stopped by and house-sat for friends, not what you thought we'd be doing in Humboldt county, but shame on whoever is out there stereotyping a beautiful area off the ocean, with redwoods dotting the landscape. We enjoyed our visit, and the tour of the park with the homeless seekers of quick fortunes. Fortunes that are no more with legalization and regulations dropping prices. There are probably hopefuls sitting and waiting for that pipe dream employer that will never come even now.

You wonder why I mention this myth now? The other myth is "go to Quartzsite, you'll quickly find work and make crazy money." We arrived the day before the big Pow Wow gem show, which is not a pow wow if you're thinking ceremony and rocks like we were.

We joked that everyone was Danny's age, silver haired in new, fancy RVs and smiling when we met. The typical greeting was "So, where are you from?" Over 500,000 people, only about one thousand live in Quartzsite. We met three residents volunteering at the rock show. Every vendor we met took the time to talk and teach us more about stones, techniques and to encourage us to seek work selling in Tuscon as more vendors need extra help at that larger venue.

We ran into my age group and the generation after mine. I was embarrassed. They all looked like they rolled in the dirt, matted rather than dreadlocked their hair- there is a difference. One looks clean, organized while the other looks like a solid mass of hair that gives a hairbrush nightmares. They stunk like lack of hygiene demonstrated independence in some warped way. One guy crawled out from under a tree by a closed business, it was hard to decide which looked more abandoned and neglected. The business did not neglect or mistreat itself, whereas the guy walked with a fifth of hard liquor as he stumbled toward the gas station. It was midday.

About an hour later he was shouting and posturing to fight another guy with a similar Mad Max appearance in the McDonald's parking lot. The Police handled them, quickly and without drama. I noticed that vendors, patrons avoided them. One girl sat with a cardboard sign at McDonald's exit, it claimed that it was her birthday. A local complained that the group rotated through who held that sign. I guess every four days they had their birthday again. When that sign gets old they rotate to another heart rending sign. None of them went to any show or looked for work.

Ironic, they could legally panhandle but busking laws would have required us to get sales tax Id and buy a booth space at one of the sales shows- which only allow vendors with specific percentages of merchandise: fancy way of saying we don't want entertainment. I think if they had a taste of a few good buskers at each show it would enhance the shows rather than down class them like the cardboard panhandlers club did.

I met Spirit the second day in the truck stop parking lot. He had a cowboy hat and a smile. He spent his life driving a wagon with mules across the country until they started spraying pesticides on the side of the roads. He was in a unique position to witness the impact on wildlife, terrapins and pheasants died from it in large numbers. He started working for a cowboy and works in trade for food, housing and enough cash for a basic phone and needs. He's working making wagons in Blythe for a cowboy who's putting together a Wild West show and team rental of Myles and wagons for events.

Spirit is his given name and he tightened my bike chain and we talked of living life in nontraditional ways. He encouraged us to contact his boss and come out and work or visit anytime. He was content to live life appreciating the people and experiences, helping out as he can for free because he can. He said he could see that in me when he saw me, which was why he introduced himself. Spirit is 64 years young.

We went on to stay at Hot Springs that night after wandering a second day and buying more supplies from vendors at the Pow Wow show.

We met Dan, organic farmer and college drop out. Hyper active naturally and aware that it is a barrier in communication for him. He gets accused of being on drugs often as his attention rolls like mercury and his words race like a waterfall crashing over each other to be voiced. He loves to work the land. He loves organic and permaculture gardening.  He has friends who mine, who cut and sell stones. He wanders working for trade, currently working for a place to stay at the Hot Springs. He was frustrated, having beautiful stones and being giving he's been giving his mining pay away rather than selling it.

As we talked he said I need my stones sold, you are honest so I'm sending them with you. Sell them for me and I will get more to send with you. I want to be able to buy a truck eventually. I love being given random sales work for people who are giving. Giving back to them is rewarding. I'm carrying emeralds, kyanite, tourmaline, amazonite, apatite, and other stones in a box to show and sell as we go. I look forward to sending him money. It's refreshing to run into someone in my age group who walked away and is living as they choose. He works for food, he works for his place to live in his tent and he enjoys his experiences. He says more people should take a break to go out and live and work the world. He's always been frustrated taking to people and dealing with the suspicion of methods, when his teeth and behavior don't fit that pattern but they do fit attention deficit with social anxiety. If he could change one thing it would be how people respond to him, the faster he talks the more self conscious he gets. He prefers not to talk very often for that reason and often avoids social situations.

I understood, I spent a year in speech therapy as a child because my words rushed out in incomprehensible torrents. My Speech therapist taught me how to deal with my social anxiety so that I could speak more clearly and slowly. I knew when he first spoke, when I heard the hammered presuure in the words and saw the look in his eyes that his speech patterns shamed him. If you've ever had to deal with your own issues, you can recognize them easily when you encounter them. It makes you instant kin.

As we drove to Mesa we thought of a sad sight north of Niland. A cattle farm in the California desert with the cows stuck in stanchions in a desolate hell under the sun with nothing but a narrow band of aluminum or tin to give them partial shade. No room to move. Hundreds of them. I grew up next to a dairy farm. This was not how cows should be kept. No roaming, no fields. No shade or barn other than that narrow band of metal. I didn't recognize the farm name, I'm going to try to track it down to see if we happened past at a milking time and misconstrued it as how the animals are always kept. Those cows were not happy California cows like the ones in the Atwater area. It's amazing what you see when you wander the country in a car.

In the words of a trucker we met last night, "everyone spends their time doing things they don't like. People should spend more time with the people they love, doing what they love. No matter how much money you make there will always be enough bills to leave you with nothing but a pot to piss in. More people should see the world, travel, talk to strangers and do what you love while you live." He was headed to California on his route. I love my anonymous friends, we can always find friends and will still be friends if we meet again. I hope you have some too. If not, start making them- you'll be amazed where they've been.