Tag Archives: Berkeley

The First Trip

My first trip started in Santa Cruz.

The plan was to meet M in Eugene. Then we would attend the Rainbow Gathering. It was in Eastern Oregon.

After the gathering I got sick. I think it was food I ate. Hitch-hiking back we stopped in Willits California. I sat on the curb. And threw up in the gutter. It was cold and wet. And I didn’t feel good.

We got back to Santa Cruz the next day. After a short while we got a ride Seattle with James. In Seattle we stayed with her friends. But we didn’t stay long. We hitch-hiked east from the city. We wanted to go to Lewiston/Clarkston. Two towns across from each other on the Idaho/Washington border.

We headed across the desert heat. M wanted to stay on the interstate. But my idea was a more direct route. Almost right away I could see I was wrong. We got dropped off on a road with little traffic. Washington is the Evergreen State. But not the eastern half.

There were a couple small towns. We made it to one about nightfall. I’m not sure where we camped. The next day we were making little progress. Sometimes on the road, under the sun you can find shade. Even a post can help. A sign creates shade. In the dry landscape out there I thought I was going to die. There was no shade. No moisture.

I remember wondering around feeling out of my mind. Thinking there might be shade in a ditch, or under a leaf. One of the towns was Othello. And we decided to never go to a place with the word “hell” in the name. The highway was number 26. And I still don’t like the number.

At last we got a ride. All the way to our destination. The first day in town we went to a food bank. M went to talk to them and I waited. When they came out he asked us if we were homeless. A question which in most cases results in no food at a food bank. This is because Food Banks don’t stock the foods homeless people need. And homeless people tend to not be able to use the foods they provide.

So a bit nervous, I confirmed we were homeless. To our surprise he put us up in a hotel for three nights. We didn’t have plans to stay, or look for work. We made it clear. But he wanted to help us anyway. It was a good three days. The town itself felt friendly. It had the same feel of a lot of middle American towns.

We did look for work. I still had my ID. But after three days we hitched a ride east. Next stop Missoula. We got a ride from a good guy. But we were hungry. And when we stopped for him to get lunch we ate the whole basket of free crackers. We had no money.

In Missoula I lost my ID. It was rough. We spanged at a store for a while. A woman invited us over for breakfast. And we ate at the shelter. The shelter there felt like ones I have been to in Roseville, California or Santa Cruz, or anywhere. Missoula is a neat town. One place I could see myself living.

We headed out after a few days. Feeling a little more lost. But headed east. It had started to rain, so we left. We went through Wyoming. In Casper someone stopped and offered us a ride to the shelter. When we tried to hitch-hike in town the police stopped. They were friendly. Asked us not to hitch-hike in town. And also offered us a ride to the shelter. The next stop was Boulder, Colorado.

We were there for a while. Took all our things out and dried them in the sun. This became a ritual on our trip. Rain, sun, dry, wet. We spanged on Pearl Street. Slept in a corner by the library. We were happy. Once we asked a cop for money on accident. When we apologized, he replied, “what I’m human too.” He gave us some change. But the rains came and our trip moved along east.

We developed a motto. “Tomorrow may rain, so I’ll follow the sun.”

Across the great plains was a straight shot. We got at least one ride from a trucker out of Limon, Colorado. There really isn’t anything else in Limon.

We stopped next in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Another friendly town. But not one we stayed at long. This is where our brief shoplifting career started. We went to the store and then slipped things under the garden fence. Outside we retrieved the items. It was an easy scam. And it fooled me into thinking we could get away with stealing.

Ann Arbor is a college town. It had the same feel as Berkeley and Santa Cruz – and Arcata. I recall going to Food Not Bombs. This organization sets up in a couple different cities. It is like the socialist answer to the Christian soup kitchen. They give food and provide political materials.

From Ann Arbor we continued east. We stopped along the freeway in Ohio. It was a spot where the I-80 and I-90 ran close and paralell. M couldn’t sleep, but she managed to sneak us into a hotel room in the morning. She had found a hotel with a key drop for departing guests. When someone exited she grabbed key and we went into the room. She was good at these things.

When we were going through Portland we slept on Jantzen Beach. She went to a hotel and found left-overs from room service. Then brought them back for us.

After Ohio went passed through Pennsylvania and stopped in Ithaca, New York. We tried our tricks at K-Mart, but they were wise to us. Then I was bold enough to think I could walk out with the bag. It didn’t work. I’m not sure what we were trying to steal. But I store security took me to the office.

The police came and put me in handcuffs. I was upset. Worried about M. I remember crying. They took me to the jail. And fingerprinted me. A judge was going to come and talk to me. The judge wanted to know about M. Did we know anyone? Would anyone be taking care of her? She could see we were alone. And she made me a deal. If I promised to stay until Monday, and then report to court I could spend the weekend with M. And not go to jail.

We thought about running. But the wiser choice was to stay. We knew we would be at a bigger risk if we got stopped again. And homeless people get stopped by the police often.

The weekend was good. Another town. They were beginning to feel the same. Like the Simon and Garfunkel song: “every town is the same to me, with their movies and their factories.”

At court on Monday the prosecution pressed charges for disorderly conduct. I wasn’t charged with stealing. The judge released me on a conditional discharge. And it was one of the smartest moves I’ve seen in my life. I could go, but if at any point in the next year I got a ticket for anything – jaywalking – I would spend 15 days in jail. M and I made our way to the city limits as fast as we could go.

But what a smart move. If I had gone to jail the city would have been paying the bill. And M would have been alone on the street. I believe she knew given the conditions we would leave town. So she saved the city money, and encouraged us to leave with one step.

From there we continued east. The goal was Cambridge,¬†Massachusetts. But along the way we had trouble. Just outside the city is a beltway freeway. All the roads were tollways. We got dropped off at a tollbooth between one freeway and another. And we couldn’t get a ride.

We tried to walk off the freeway, but got stopped. The police drove up behind us and yelled, “get the fuck off the freeway.” We told him we were lost and asked for help. We told him we wanted to get off the freeway, but didn’t know how. He told us to go back to where we were at the tollbooth. Which we did.

In the end we got a ride. But it was the wrong direction. And it was raining again. The ride dropped us in Worcester. We tried to sleep under some trees but we got wet. We sat under the roof of a gas station.

In the morning the lady who opened it was friendly. She gave us some food and hot chocolate. Our things were piled by the door. Once someone looked at them strange. “Their mine, got a problem?” the lady said. She let us sleep in her car for a couple hours. We needed the sleep. Then before we left she gave us some donuts.

M had no sweatshirt because it had gotten soaked. I took mine off and gave it to her. We started to walk to a smaller highway to catch a ride. Someone offered us a ride but M didn’t trust them. Then a guy driving by stopped and gave me a jacket. Later we made it to the on-ramp, the same car stopped again. And M said she didn’t trust them again. So we had to spend the night in Worcester again. It was still raining.

There was a garage or shop of some kind near the road. We walked around back where there were a couple old cars. One truck had the door unlocked. So M and I slipped in and slept on the seat. I felt more in love with her than ever. She was on the side closest to the seat. She was so warm and soft. And I had the stick from the clutch in my back half the night. But we slept and stayed dry. It was a bit of a risky move.

The next day we saw the car from the previous day. We just let it drive past us. In the end we got a ride to where we wanted to go. Cambridge is a cool area. We hung out in the park. And Harvard Square of course. And read at the bookstore. I have M roses. She put them under the shelf and left them. I guess we couldn’t have taken them with us.

In the park we met some odd people. One guy said he once blew a blood alcohol level higher than .50. This means he added, his blood was more than half alcohol. I don’t know if it could even be true. But I did see them mixing ingredients in a bottle to leave in a hole. They were making their own alcohol.

We slept at a park with a fountain. I recall it waking me up when it sprung to life every morning. We went to a Catholic service. It was a good time. We even ventured into Boston. Walking along the street we saw an amazing church. A sign mentioned tours. So we asked for one, and got one. It was so grand and large. We walked around the sanctuary. Then when it was time to leave, the door out seemed so small.

We dried out things here, well mostly. Then it rained and we started for home. In Rhone Island I recall checking one of my notebooks. It had been damp the whole trip. It was so upsetting I just pitched it into a tree.

“There are important things in there,” M told me. At the time I didn’t believe it was true. But now I wish I still had the notebook.

We hadn’t made it far before we stopped to get food. We stashed our things in the bushes and went to a restaurant. We kept a small bag with us. When we returned everything we had left was gone. This meant we now had no blankets. And it was starting to get colder. We wondered for a while confused about what to do next.

Then we met some odd junkies who said they were going to Utah. The woman was friendly. The guy wasn’t so open. They gave us a ride through New York City. We hopped it would be a ride all the way. But they guy kicked us out in Pennsylvania. It wasn’t easy four people in one car.

So we were out again. No blankets. We tried to sleep. When you get so cold you want to stay close. But also to roll up tight. And you can’t do both at the same time. I know I slept little.

The next day a lady gave us a ride. It was a good long ride all the way to Ohio. I was in the front, and M was in the back. This is normally a safer situation for M. But this case was odd. I was talking to the lady. Then trying to talk to M. But at one point she sat back and I knew she was upset. I figured we could discuss it later.

The lady gave us some blankets. She dropped us off at a gas station. As we got out she came and gave me a big deep hug. And turned and just patted M’s back. I knew I was in trouble.

“Fuck me or buy me a hamburger,” she told me. Turns out I hadn’t noticed what was going on in the car. Every time M tried to talk the lady turned up the music. I was flirting with the lady. Not in the hopes of scoring with her, I was with and loved M. But in a more natural relaxed way.

While still in Ohio the police came while we were hitch-hiking at a tollbooth. He suggested a path to another exit, with more traffic. But it wasn’t passable, so he gave us a ride. We told him about the cop in Massachusetts. “No wonder they get shot all the time,” was his reply.

Crossing Ohio we actually got a short ride from another friendly officer.

In Indiana we stopped in Gary. The truckers got us scared to go outside. They said we would get shot and killed. The road had left us with little energy. So we believed the hype. Instead of going out we curled in the bottom of a phone booth in the building. It has a lock. I locked the door and we slept there. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds.

The next day we got a ride from a trucker. All the way to Reno, Nevada.

It was the first time I crossed the salt flats. Waking up in the middle of them is odd. You know it is summer. And it is warm. But it looks like the ground is covered in snow.

From Reno, to Sacramento, to Berkeley. I believe M took the bus home from Berkeley. And I went home to Santa Cruz alone. More alone than ever.

This trip may be the highlight of my life. I learned so much about the country. Some places were smaller than I imagined. And some places were bigger. We live in an amazing country. And it is full of amazing people. Every where we stopped people were friendly and helpful.

This trip emboldened me to take on risks later in life. And it still does.

Berkeley

So Killer was threatening to live up to his name. He was on a rage. And I was in his sights. But I wasn’t alone.

The problem was between him and Danielle. They were drinking. She told him she didn’t want sex. But woke up naked next to him. She was upset. He thought they were dating. She quit talking to him. Somehow he blamed me, assumed I was with Danielle. Danielle and I were just friends.

But he threaten to kill me. One of Danielle’s other friends developed a mysterious black eye overnight. He wouldn’t or could say how it happened. For a while Killer was threatening a small group of us. So we made some plans. Killer’s favorite threat was to take someone to the levy. When we would part with other group members we had our own joke. “If I’m not back in 10 minutes, look for me at the levy.”

But we found a ride out of town. And someone even said there was a party we could attend in the North Bay. We all piled in cars and hit the road.

The party was north of San Francisco. Two or three cars arrived. But the car load of people I was in either changed their minds, or told to leave. It was almost morning. We parked on a hill somewhere. I took a walk and thought about life. The hills north of the city are pretty.

One of the people in the car with me was Tree. We actually had a good chat about VW girl. Turns out they dated for a short period. But then they broke up and she brought a bunch of different guys to the van. She would have sex with them while he was also in the van. Very odd.

The group got back in the car. And we drove to Berkeley. I’m not sure why we choose to go to Berkeley. But someone knew the area a little. We parked and walked along Telegraph for ¬†while. We weren’t the neatest looking group, but we didn’t look dirty.

At one point we talked to a Krishna devotee about local services. They always serve food. But he made a comment regarding how they viewed homeless people. Me and my friend looked at each other, and down at ourselves. We were both thinking, “we look homeless?”

The guy who gave us a ride left at the end of the day. But me and Tree spent more time in Berkeley. At one point we were spanging next to a pizza place. A woman started to chat with us. Then her friend came out and gave her a dirty look. We were still there when she left.

“My friend said you’re the kind of people who sell drugs to your little brother’s,” she said. And Tree said, “actually I did.”

I don’t recall most of my first visit. And I am not sure where I slept most of the time. I recall the first night though.

The area was new to me, and someone showed us a spot on campus to sleep. But it wasn’t any good. At 5 a.m. the cops came. It was dark and I was trying to wake up. They had bright lights in my eyes.

“Are you on drugs,” they asked. I told them no. But they wanted to know why I was having a hard time answering questions. It was a lesson to avoid the campus at all cost. And for the rest of my stay. And during following stays I never slept on campus.

In fact this is why I worried so much about the girls from Salt Lake City. People’s Park is used by everyone. But it is owned and policed by the campus police.

If I remember right I slept in backyards. Maybe once or twice near a frat house. I know one place I slept there was a crosswalk talking all night. There is a special place in my life for Berkeley. But it wasn’t as easy to be comfortable there as Santa Cruz. On my first visit I left quickly.

The thing I recall about mornings in Berkeley was Wing Nut Breakfast. It was at a local church. They fed a lot of people. And many of them were a little crazy. Some more than a little.

People’s Park was where I spent much of my time during the day. There was food there sometimes. And a box of free clothes. It was actually cool. And it is understandable it was removed later. But I know I found some good clothes in the free box. Some people would take clothes from the box. Then sell then at thrift stores.

The park was a fun place. The kind of hippy park you might see in a movie. It felt like it was always summer. But I am sure my memory is playing tricks on me.

I must of earned money spanging. And when not buying pizza I shopped at Andronico’s market. It was the local grocery store. A funny story is how years later I took my sister to Berkeley for a visit. We stopped at Andronico’s. Her friend asked, “how did you find this little place?”

It’s a grocery store, I thought. Not some place special or hard to find. It was on the main street in Berkeley.

There was a salad place on Telegraph. I used to love the salads there. They were huge and affordable. Many times I visited the place when back in Berkeley. The sad news is it burned down a number of years ago.

I loved Berkeley because it felt free in a way no other place did for me. I Recall putting on a hospital gown and baggy pant from the free box. Then just walking around and acting crazy for fun. No one was really bothered. And people were friendly. The students and others didn’t seem to care about a person being homeless. They would treat them the same.

What I recall most about nights in Berkeley was the Hate Circle. It was started by the Hate Man. An odd fellow who forced people into saying “I hate you.” He had a theory. If someone couldn’t say it, he wouldn’t trust them. Hate Man believed showing you could say those words, proved you would if they were needed. But I don’t recall telling him I hate you. And we got along well.

He got his name because he went a bit crazy one day. Started raving in the campus fountain. After a couple days the students started calling him the Hate Man.

The Hate Circle was a drum circle. Except there wasn’t a drum is sight. The drums were old plastic buckets he got from some place. People would come out and beat the buckets with sticks. On some night there would be a good beat. But the point wasn’t to make music. It was to beat the buckets and make noise. I think it was a form of group therapy for a lot of people. Some of the people may have been students. But mostly it looked like homeless people.

Most of my memories of Berkeley are just walking around. I spent a lot of time just walking on Telegraph. There were always vendors with items for sale. At night I walked for hours. I never recall finding a good place to sleep. I know one of my camps was at a school. It was under a ramp to one of the classrooms. It was an elementary school and must have been out of session.

And of course I met the Salt Lake City girls in Berkeley. The city is just one of the amazing places I have been in my life. And I hope to be able to visit it again soon. The last time I went with my mother. We drove over from Stockton.

It was a visit for her. I had my experiences in the city. And I thought maybe we could visit and share memories. I was born in Berkeley and she had talked about the city. But while the trip was fun, it wasn’t insightful. I guess my hope was a little bonding. And a little bit more understanding about her young life.

Genesis

For two years I lived on the streets. In Santa Cruz. In San Francisco. And in Berkeley. At the end of the two years I was born again. Not in the Biblical understanding. I was not the person who left Bethany, when I moved to Portland. But in someways of course I was the same person.

The change was so dramatic. My believe system had been totally gutted. My family concepts had been remade. My plans for my life back on the drawing board. I used to think I had created myself completely in those two years. And it was a hard two years.

There were times I slept directly in the rain. Times I camped on sidewalks. And food was never certain. For two years I was a nobody.

When I rented a room in Portland, I got behind on the rent. My landlord would yell at me. He’d threaten to kick me out on the street. My lack of response just made him angrier. But I had been on the street. I wasn’t scared. And as a friend pointed out, I was used to being worthless.

I did a lot to create the person I am today in those two years. And there is no way I could ever be honest and say different. But, I wasn’t 100 percent a new person. The pieces of who I became was a jigsaw puzzle on the ground. Many of the parts I used to build myself were new. But many more were not. They had been there before. Maybe inactive like dormant DNA.

But I have to be honest and say, my mother, my sister, my great-aunt and many others helped create me. I think there was a part of my who wanted to think I didn’t owe anyone anything. Being born into the world by oneself means freedom. No one can say, “I did something important for you.”

And yet many people did.

A lot of important changes took place in this time period. It is hard to say when it all started. During my last year of college I started to think in a different way about politics. When it came to be Woman’s History Month, I took note. I started spelling woman with a “y.” And Black History Month.

At one point I recall reading a book about metaphysics. My roommate at the time, (not Ben) disapproved. I dyed my hair blue. And it was the scandal of the campus. In 1996 I started the year off by becoming a vegetarian, and I still am today. I was growing to feel less and less like Bethany was home for me. So, wanting to travel wasn’t a surprise. Feeling the need to explore the world.

And I met Krishna devotees for the first time. The beauty of the religion. The tastiness of their food won me over. They became close friends. And I often went to their ashram. Not just for the food, but for the service. For what they call bhakti yoga. And sometimes what they called karma yoga.

My new friends had their own dogmas. They don’t eat onions. One devotee told me you should never be naked. Even when you are alone. Because you could offend the sky. And sometimes I would wear nail polish. This was also frowned on by devotees. But, they were always loving.

But I have been able to let the dogma go. In a way it is harder for me to do with Christianity. Maybe because the church and I have deeper wounds. And the dogma is more rooted at a deeper level.

It has been years since I have gone to ashram often. But I still love their music. And their love of god. Christians always say, “Jesus love Me.” A devotee once pointed out. But what about their love for God.

During these years I met Micheal. Who is still a rock in my world. Though I stay in touch with him too little. This was the time I had the deepest love I may have known in my life. And the best of my travels took place in these years. So much of who I am, goes back at least in part to these two years.

But even what sometimes felt new, was old. Moving into a new faith was easy for me. Because I was never aligned with the mainstream views. My faith in God has never been something critical to my identity. And I think my upbringing is the reason. My great-aunt might not approve. But I learned to think independently from her.

My years on the street also gave me courage. And it boosted my confidence. Even today I know I endured two harsh years. And I know now, I can endure almost anything. My time on the streets made me stronger. It made me more self-reliant. More willing to take a risk.

But Mother in her own way planted the seed of courage. For better or worse, I doubt she made it possible. Just by being who she was as a person. A stubborn person who didn’t follow the rules. A person who enjoyed reading, and thinking about things for herself. I haven’t given my mother the credit she deserves too often. She is a strong woman, with a lot of challenges. But she raised three healthy adults. Well, mostly healthy.

In my last year of college, I was depressed. And on the streets I was also depressed. In my opinion homelessness is just a symptom. The real disease is depression. It is the biggest struggles for most on the street. I know it was for me. Being on the streets didn’t solve my problems.

I took a break from life. And they were waiting for me when I came back. They are still with me. But a light was born inside me in those two years. I can’t say how or why. But looking back, my life started to get better. Not just relative to the basic rock-bottomness of the streets.

I changed my name to Rainbow. No longer was I a child of a poor mother. Or a person out of step with my community of believers. People on the street don’t judge you like other people. Whoever I was for 18 years of my life. I was now in charge of my life. And in some ways I have never felt more in charge since.

I burned myself to the ground. And like the phoenix I came back. Two years of the streets. And then more years of struggle. But who is to say my life would have been easier. What if I had gone down the path I had planned. My fear was, and is, I would be facing a deadly existential crisis about now.

Would I be one of those people who have it all. But one day is found hanging in their closest?

Only once in my life have I ever really felt like I wanted to die. And it wasn’t on the streets.

During these years I don’t know what happened with my family. From this point on, they slip further and further out of my life. I recall one Thanksgiving. I had planned to visit them in Fresno. But Mother was complaining so much about my sister. I told her, “I’ll call you back.” I hung up and called a friend in Seattle, Washington. “Can I come see you.” Then I called my mother back and canceled. I rode the bus for 24 hours to have Thanksgiving with my friend. My love. But her story still waits to be told.

If I had my life to live over again. Those two years on the streets would be my choice all over again. In two years I grew more than 10 years before and 10 years after. But it isn’t a choice for everyone. And it is a choice which comes with a lot of risks.