16 October, 2018

Rubber Tramp Stories 1: Big Rock Candy Mountain is Hollow

Mick Parsons, Along the Dirty, Sacred River, Blog, Louisville, KY
I met a hobo once, through a mutual friend. He came in on a southbound CSX and hopped off about seven blocks from my house, near a McDonalds. 

The only number he had was my friend JP's number. Naturally, JP called and invited me to hang out at his place in Middletown. He was always wanting to show me his world -- the world of trains and hobos. I've never met a man so in tune with his world vision, so able to bridge the connection between belief and action. Nearly everyone has ideas. Very few people actually live them. And while I think I'm not shabby in that particular area, I always embrace -- even if I am sometimes amused and/or frustrated -- by his attempts to educate me. 

Although I can't prove it, I think sometimes he thinks because I've spent a good deal of my time in school that I haven't lived.  This point of view isn't a new one, and in his case it isn't rooted in the usual good ol' American anti-intellectualism; no, for JP, the fact is that formal education abandoned him and he's managed to be a pretty well-read and self-educated guy anyway. But when he called and told me I needed to come meet his friend, I knew what he really meant. 

He meant "You're never going to believe THIS motherfucker."

JP and I haven't traded You-won't-believe-this-crazy-motherfucker stories, although we've traded here.
plenty of others.  And no, I haven't hopped trains -- mostly because a part-time hobo with a house out in Oakland named Dirty Face told me, without skipping a beat, that I was too old to start at 42. But I have done my fair share of traveling... as what the old timers would call a Rubber Tramp. When you travel off the beaten path for any length of time, you end up meeting some really interesting people... ones that I wrote about

So made it over to meet JP's hobo friend. I'll call him D. D is neither his given name nor his hobo name -- yes, that's a thing. He was still a little jumpy by the time I got there, but he'd had a shower and JP fixed him a plate and some coffee.

D talked primarily about two things -- a friend who died and his graduate work in Para-psychology. His friend died when he got trapped under an unstable load on a train he'd hopped. He was usually pretty smart, D said of his friend. But sometimes it just happens.

He was more animated talking about his graduate work. He was writing a book, he said. The whole basis of his thesis was that happiness is infectious, and if he just tried to get people to smile, that it would make the world a better place. I pointed out there was something very sociological about that and D shook his head. It was about the spirit, he said. And people, he said, almost always get that shit wrong.

People act like the big spirit is in the sky, he said. But really, it's under our feet. He told us about his epiphany, about how the Earth is hollow and how there's not a molten core at the center, but a city where a beings of a higher plane live.  People keep looking up for inspiration, he said. But all a long it's under their feet. Like tree roots.

I hung out for a little while. We talked and listened to Sun Ra records and drank coffee. But then it was time to go. And while I can't quite get behind the idea that the Earth is hollow, I found myself paying a bit more attention to the terra firma.

[Check out my friend JP's work here. It's good for your soul. I promise.]

Thanks for reading.

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10 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 2

[This is Part 2 of a series that I'll add to intermittently. It may come in waves of two or three posts in a row, or it may be weeks or even months in between. The focus of 'Invisible City' is my experience working with and around the homeless community. The first part is here. Thanks for reading.]

In addition to the usual route paperwork, I carried a list of 100 or so names. 

These are the names of people whose camps were scheduled to be cleared as of Monday October 8th. As of this writing, the three camps in question are cleared. Although there's a certain inevitability to this, it's hard for me to ignore the timing. Not only is it running up to an important mid-term election, with the mayor up for re-election, but -- more importantly -- cold weather is coming. And although not everyone had moved as of last Sunday, I wanted to carry the names of the people we will need to look for -- our organization and every other outreach organization that serves the Louisville's homeless community. 

With cold weather coming, the main thing at the front of my mind is that once again, there will not be enough beds, even for those willing to enter the shelters. The city will say there's enough, because they always do... or actually, they say nothing and point to the various shelters with an inferred, collective shrug that allows them to pass the buck. After all, the homeless don't vote.

But we didn't find anyone on that list this past week. We may when we go back out to serve. While there are some factors that make how camps disperse somewhat predictable, the truth is it's hard to predict what any one individual will do. We did find a guy in the middle of a seizure. We saw him on the sidewalk on a side street, and when we checked on him, my wife realized she knew him from her job at a local men's shelter. He was prone to seizures, and because the homeless in Louisville no longer have someplace to store their things.

While we were there with him -- he was in the process of trying to stand up and get his bearings back
-- one woman yelled down to us that he was on spice... which he clearly wasn't. Another drove by and asked if we needed him to "dial 5-0" and we assured him we did not. The only reason we hesitated in dialing 911 was because the man was in the process of getting back up on his feet and would have turned down transport to the hospital, anyway. As if being out on the street in Louisville isn't scary enough, he's got to deal with frequent seizures that leave him incapacitated for short periods, increasing his vulnerability. He's in the process of trying to get disability, but there is no streamlined process. And, because he's homeless and has no where to store his stuff, he has to carry his entire medical history with him ALL THE TIME.

Then, adding insult to injury, the default position anyone might take in seeing him is that when he's in the midst of a seizure -- a condition that is not his fault -- he will be mistaken for a drug addict. Because that's where people's minds go, almost every single time.



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04 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 1

Trumplandia, Mick Parsons, Dirty Sacred River
Bone thin and tiny even before she tried to fold herself into the air, her eyes were large, dark, and brimming.  She looked young; too young to be living under an underpass or in a camp that is slated for clearing by the city. It was Sunday night and she looked like she needed to be somewhere rushing through homework she'd put off all weekend instead of looking towards one more night in a homeless camp.  Her eyes told me she was almost as scared of being found as she was of whatever led her to where she was at. She hadn't found short term ways to coping -- the shit spice (lately mixed with Fentanyl)  available on the street for 50 cents a hit, or booze, or the needle. The outreach workers who found her said she wasn't alone. That some guy had been hanging around and disappeared when they approached.

I'd seen her some downtown, and she was rarely alone.  Some of the other outreach workers wanted to try and find out if she was, indeed, underage. And even if she wasn't underage, we were all concerned that she was a victim of trafficking... or that if she wasn't then, she would be soon enough. It wasn't just idle. The camp where she was staying has been the root of several reports of what looks like trafficking. But stories aren't proof and proof is hard to come by.

The city's recourse is to clear the camp, which it has started the ball rolling to do. The outreach
Louisville homeless compassionate city not
organization I volunteer with and other small organizations try to work with the Coalition for Homelessness and the city to find them resources, fast track them for housing (if possible) and at least keep in touch with them so that when they move, we can find them.

People who don't know that I do homeless outreach talk about the increase in Louisville's  homeless population. Part of that is due to some recent, temporary, policy changes on the part of the city. The annual clear outs for Derby and the State Fair did not happen this year thanks to a ton of negative press the city garnered for razing a camp with no warning last year. But that sort of thing doesn't last. Politically rooted compassion lasts as about as long as the news cycle -- which here can only bear so much content that verges somewhere near actual news before it implodes under the weight of college sports, and whatever new that falls under the flag shadow of Trumplandia. There are a fair number of people here that want to complain more about bike lanes that aren't really bike lanes and play partisan politics rather than actually fix things... and several of them keep getting elected to Metro Council.

There was no way to prove she wasn't underage, and CPS rarely, if ever, works on a Sunday night anyway. I suppose we could have called LMPD, but it's crap shoot with them. If we get a good cop, they will try and help. If we don't, they'll just slice and dice people's tents and ticket them for littering. We were able to at least get this young woman to agree to go find the resources we pointed her to.

Most of the time, that's the biggest win we get in those situations.


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