Actual Sequence of Events

~I sit at Starbucks all morning waiting for someone to get my frantic e-mails.
~Dwight gets on gtalk around 1:00 p.m. and I fill him in.
~Dwight calls the gas station again for me to see if my phone has been turned in. No dice.
~Dwight comes to Starbucks to take me to Sprint to replace my phone.
~On a whim, we use his cell call my phone to see if the dirty bastard who stole it will answer.
~Aishwarya picks up on the other end of the line.
~General confusion ensues.

What happened was this: some nice guy (Richard) found my phone at the gas station restroom and was apparently answering all the incoming calls to see if I would call. Aishwarya didn’t hear from me in the morning like she was supposed to, started worrying, and called. Nice stranger Richard answered and explained what happened. He then proceeded to meet her at a local movie theatre and give her the phone.

Aishwarya still had no way to find me – she hadn’t checked her e-mail yet – so she went on to a barbeque with some friends, at which point Dwight and I called, and were very confused to hear her voice on the line.

So – yay!!! All worked out well.

Dwight took me to the Wal-Mart parking lot, at which point P. came out of his RV and mentioned that he had also called my cell, and the same Richard guy had picked up. He had left a note on my dashboard with the guy’s phone number.

I drove back to Starbucks, and Aishwarya met me there in a few hours after her barbeque was done, and gave me my phone and Richard’s phone number. So now I need to call and thank him so, so very much.

The other new development is that starting tomorrow I am going to board Fezzik. The Sam’s Club parking lot is not particularly safe at all (P. mentioned that he had sent another RV-er out there to drive by and see if I made it there OK, and they had seen the jillion random men hanging around my trailer, and were concerned). Wal-Mart is in a much safer neighborhood and the other members of my little RV community are around to watch out for me (I’m actually really touched that they cared enough to drive by Sam’s Club). Anyway, P. told me to come back to Wal-Mart after a day or so and just try to leave every couple of days for a few hours, and then come back and park elsewhere. However, now I’m paranoid about Fezzik attracting attention, so I am going to board him. Dwight has been super-kind enough to front me the money for one month of boarding, for which I am eternally grateful. This way, Fez doesn’t have to be confined all day while I’m at work, and he’ll get to play with other dogs and have people loving up on him, but he can still come home with me when this is all said and done.

Sigh. It will stretch things a bit, but Fezzik is worth it.

Also, I want to give a shoutout to Matt from Homeless Tales, who made the front page of Digg TWICE in two days!!!!! How awesome is that? I say, pretty awesome.

Also, thanks to Danny from Take Part – Jon (Beat on the Street) from Street Seen alerted me to your post on me. Thanks so much for the boost, and for thinking I have something to say. I saw that you guys are linked up with the movie “the Soloist”, and that’s so freaking cool. I just bought that book a few days ago, can’t wait to read it, and for the film.

Anyway – don’t worry everybody, I’m OK! :)

Stranded. Well, Plegh.

Agh!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m stranded. Worst morning ever.

I had to relocate the trailer quickly last night. Got a text message from P. in the Wal-Mart lot. Some kids apparently were teasing Fezzik through the trailer window while I was at work and he started going insane barking and attracting attention, which is very very bad. So, the other RV-ers asked me to move, and I understand. I feel terrible.

So, I moved the trailer Sam’s Club a few miles away (texted Aishwarya who told me to call her in the morning and she’d take me back to Wal-Mart to pick up my car).

Big mistake.

First of all, Sam’s Club is located in a crummier town. And situated right by train tracks. This loud train comes through honking its horn, all night long… about every hour and a half. Which wakes me up every hour and a half.

Then, around 4 a.m., Fezzik starts barking nonstop and I can’t figure out why because he’s not much of a barker unless he thinks that a strange man might hurt me.

I finally get up, step outside, and there are about 50 Mexican immigrants standing around, cooking breakfast, etc. Apparently this is where they stand around all day looking for under-the-table work.

Well, fuck.

So Fezzik is going nuts because he doesn’t like the jillion strange men hanging around my trailer.

(But wait, it gets worse.)

I go to call Aishwarya, figuring that I can find somewhere more suitable to move the trailer, and then get my car. The problem is, I can’t find my phone. Nowhere in the trailer, nowhere in my purse. Since I used the GPS feature on it to find Sam’s Club yesterday, I know the only other possible option is that I left it at the gas station I used yesterday to fuel up.

So I walk to the gas station.

The guy working there says “no, you have to ask the night guy who was here when you came in last night, he’s the one that would know”.

Because apparently they don’t have a fucking lost and found box.

So I tell him it’s an emergency, and ask if he can just call the guy. He says, like I’m an idiot, “no, the night guy sleeps during the day. He’s sleeping”.

Well, duh. I know that, and I’m really, really sorry, but this is fucking important, I’m homeless and I’m stranded and it’s my fucking phone you asshole!!!!!!!!!!

(In my mind, that’s what I said. Not really.)

He said if I left it there, the night guy probably took it with him and told me to come back tonight. Great. Just great. It’s probably gone forever, someone probably found it and stole it, but fine. I’ll try back tonight.

So I walk back to the trailer, grab my laptop, ignoring dumbass whistles and catcalls from 50 Mexican immigrants, and walk two and a half miles in the other direction, until I find a Starbucks.

And here I am, frantically e-mailing Aishwarya and Dwight (please, please check your e-mail, guys!!!!!). If I can at least get to my car, then I’ll be OK for the day – maybe I can drive to Sprint and see if they replace stolen phones. Getting to my car is the fun part, though.

Sigh. I am so insanely, monstrously frustrated right now.

Playing Catch Up

The last couple of days have been insane and I’d really just like to relax, so here’s a catch-up recap:

Two nights ago, came home to notice taped to the window of my trailer threatening to “evict” me: “WAL-MART DOES NOT ALLOW OVERNIGHT PARKING!!!!! MOVE OR YOU WILL BE TOWED!!!!!”

Well, um, actually… yes, they do allow overnight parking. In fact, I called in advance and spoke to a manger, making sure of it.

Turns out some newer moron did some really stupid things, such as running his noisy generator around 1 a.m., littering all around his trailer (we’re talking paper trash, bottles, even socks!), and unhooking his trailer from his vehicle and leaving it in the parking lot while driving around in his truck, thereby technically “abandoning” a vehicle. Not only did he do all of this, but he did it while Wal-Mart corporate was visiting the store, and they took notice.

Long story short, five or six RVs fled that night in search of greener pastures, with no idea where to go. A few others and I stuck around, and two of us (myself and P., the “mayor” of the Wal-Mart parking lot, who has lived there for 4 months and counting) went into Wal-Mart in the morning to speak to the manager. We showered and put on business suits before going in.

The manager lady was nice (although she had to point out that we didn’t “look” homeless. Well, duh. That’s kind of the point). She said that corporate had visited the night before and that when they visit, they always send someone out to post those flyers on the long-term residents’ RVs (although they leave the homeless living out of cars and vans alone, which is lucky for them).

P. showed the lady all of the Wal-Mart receipts he had accrued, demonstrating just how much business Wal-Mart gets from allowing him to stay. I explained that we were quiet and kept to ourselves, never littered, etc. I also told her that I have a full-time job and am not a “bum”, I just need a place to park while I transition out of this, and had called ahead to make sure that would be OK.

She told us that we seemed nice and respectful, and recommended we just stay in the parking lot. She said that the store managers would not call the police on us or have us towed – they don’t want to have to pay to tow giant RVs out, plus, they really have no problem with us being there as long as we don’t draw attention to ourselves. Really, it was just the corporate office’s beef, and they’ve left already. She said that if someone filed a complaint with the police, or the police came by of their own accord to speak to us, they would only ask us to move, not ticket or tow us. She said that if that happened, she would recommend moving to another Wal-Mart a few cities over, or to Sam’s Club, for a night or two. Then we could come back.

So, we have stayed, and no problems so far, for the past couple of days. I feel really bad for the people that they scared out of there with those mean flyers, though. Where will they go? Sadly, the Lord of the Generator was not one of the ones that left, you’d think he could take a hint. P. went over to his truck and tore him a new one, and there has been no late-night generator running since, although there is still litter around his trailer. What a slob. The parking lot is FULL of trash cans. I swear, it only takes one inconsiderate moron to ruin it for the rest of us.

* * * * *

First day of work today, and I think it went pretty well! I love the people that I’m working with, they seem very fun-loving and laid-back. The job itself is busy, but not particularly difficult, or at least I’ve been able to pick up everything quickly so far. The company works with about 500 mortgage lenders, so I may be able to find financing for my house through them, despite weak-ish credit due to about $10K in debt (incurred when I turned 18 – not great, but it could be a lot worse, right?) Two of the marketing girls actually recommended me to one lender, so here’s hoping!!!

I used to drive by “my” house (my best girlfriend calls it my castle; it’s this giant Victorian fixer-upper with a big, gnarly chery-blossom tree in the front yard, and at night it looks like the Haunted Mansion) every couple of days to remind myself of what I was working towards, but I stopped doing it about a week and a half ago, because for a while it just seemed like there was no way it would ever happen and it was too painful – I started to fear that maybe I’d drive by one day and see a “SOLD!” sign on there, and break down and cry, knowing that I had missed my chance forever. However, it looks like there may still be a ray of hope left, so maybe I’ll drive by again and give myself a perk-up.

Goals are important. If I can get the ball rolling on this house, I don’t even care if it takes the full 6 months to purchase (short sale, they can take quite a while). I’ll live in the trailer for 6 months, cheerfully waking up at 5 a.m. every day to drive to the gym and shower, so that I can head off to work and never tip off my coworkers that I’m living in a parking lot. I’ll do it all with a smile on my face and never complain once, I swear, if it means that I can have my house (P.S. God, take note of the preceding. I know I don’t particularly believe in you, but I swear I’ll at least make the effort to, if you help this happen for me!) ;~P

First Things First – Shelter, Electricity, and Water.

When you first find out that you’re going to be homeless, there’s a lot of initial prep work to be done – figuring out how to meet your barest, most essential needs, and then going from there.

I am writing this post assuming that you have a vehicle of some kind. If you don’t, a vehicle is probably the single most important thing that you can get for yourself while homeless. Find a total junker if you need to, even if it has some issues, as long as it runs. Being homeless without any form of transportation is very difficult, and far more dangerous, never mind inconvenient. If your county has a bus system, I suppose you could utilize that to get around (although it’s very slow and occasionally full of some creepy people), but as far as shelter goes, you really need a vehicle.

The first thing that I set out to find was shelter. Obviously, the best plan of attack is to stay under the radar in stealth mode, out of homeless shelters, and off of curbsides/freeway underpasses, etc. As explained in my previous post, I have recently inherited a 30-foot travel trailer that will be sufficient to house my dog and myself. But where does one put a travel trailer? It’s illegal to just park them on most public streets, especially overnight. There are various trailer parks and campgrounds, but they eat up valuable money – at $40.00 and up per day, I might as well be paying to rent a really nice month-to-month apartment (which I would do, if it weren’t for the dog question – large dogs are rarely welcome in apartment complexes, and those that do permit them charge a hell of a lot more for them. Which puts me back at square one).

Through some dedicated Googling, I discovered that certain companies (namely, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club) have a nationwide policy allowing RV-ers and/or truckers to park in their parking lots overnight (and sometimes for several nights). For Wal-Mart, policies vary a bit from location to location, store managers are allowed to interpret the rule loosely and set time limits and regulations if they wish. Certain locations also do not allow it due to space restrictions or city ordinances forbidding overnight parking (although technically, these parking lots are considered privately owned property, and the store has the right to allow overnight parking. But still). In any case, you can find out which Wal-Marts DON’T allow overnight parking here, as well as searching for other free campgrounds out there. If you do not have a trailer but do have a car, you still may be able to take advantage of the rule – many people do.

For safety reasons, I will not give out the exact locations that I frequent, but suffice it to say that I drove by both a local Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. There was only one trailer parked in the Sam’s Club lot (although there were several big rigs) and the store was in more of an isolated area, and a worse part of town. The Wal-Mart, on the other hand, had about 12 RVs in the lot, both in the evening and during the day (I drove back to check), so it would seem that far more people know about the Wal-Mart rule.

If you are homeless and living out of a vehicle, you may think that it’s a good idea to find some isolated spot to park, since apparently it is illegal to live/sleep in your car – go figure, right? I mean, it’s legal to park your car, and it is legal to sleep, but you can’t sleep in your own vehicle? It’s a really insane rule to me. You can eat in your car, listen to music in your car, just sit there for hours and read in your car, but sleep in it? You’ll get marked a “transient” by the police pretty darn quickly, and asked to move on. So I can understand the logic involved in trying to find somewhere obscure and isolated – you just want to sleep without the police bugging you.

However, parking somewhere isolated is also incredibly dangerous, and a good way to put yourself in harm’s way – you could be mugged, raped, or killed. Crazy and bad people seek out isolated victims. Police are also likely to be checking isolated spots – a single vehicle illegally parked on a quiet dirt road stands out. Sometimes the best place to “hide” is right out in plain sight. Think about it – how often while walking through a busy grocery store parking lot do you look around and take stock of other vehicles or people? You’re in a rush, there are cars looking for spaces, you don’t have time to notice if there’s someone sleeping in their car. You’re wrapped up in your own little world, your needs and wants, whatever errand brought you there. Before learning about this Wal-Mart rule, I had never even realized that there were RVs and trailers parked in their lot. I had been to this Wal-Mart countless amounts of times, and I’m a pretty observant person, but I had never actually NOTICED the several giant campers just sitting there. How can you miss something that huge? But I did.

There is safety in numbers. At Sam’s Club, there was only one RV in their lot. I would be far too noticeable sitting there for days or weeks at a time. However, at Wal-Mart, there are many at once, and always more coming or going, at all hours. To an extent, they all pretty much look like each other. The odds are likely that I will easily blend in and remain unnoticed there.

Having decided on Wal-Mart’s parking lot as my residence of choice, I called the store manager. I didn’t give my name, the dates that I would be arriving, or any other personal information. I just asked her what their rules and regulations were on the RV parking policy. She told me which corner I could park in. I told her I would be driving cross-country and visiting family in the area for about a week. Then I asked her if there was a limit to the number of days RVs were allowed to stay, or any other requests from the store. Obviously busy and too harried to care, she said no, just please stay in that corner of the lot with the other campers so that I wouldn’t interfere with customer parking, and left it at that. I thanked her profusely for her time.

* * * * *

Rules and courtesies for camping at Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club or a similar business, whether in an RV or a car:

1) Keep clean. No littering. No pulling out a barbecue or awning or playing frisbee with your dogs/kids in the lot. It’s tacky and trashy, not to mention dangerous (you could be hit by other vehicles in the lot). This isn’t a regular campground, it’s a place of business. Occasionally community members complain about Wal-Mart’s policy, and try to pass city ordinances forbidding RV parking. The most commonly cited complaints that they back this up with are: homeless people camping for a long time, and litter/trash. One rude camper (long-term or not) can ruin it for everyone else.

2) Keep quiet and faceless. People should be able to walk past your trailer and not even be able to tell you are there. You’re trying to stay under the radar, remember? Don’t play loud music, don’t walk around and socialize with others on the lot. You don’t want to give Wal-Mart employees, patrons, or fellow campers any reason to remember your name, face, or vehicle. You want to blend. You are just another camper on a cross-country trip, and you’ll be leaving in the morning (yeah, right). Some people don’t like Wal-Mart’s overnight parking rule on principle, even sans the loophole for the homeless. If enough people notice you specifically, there will eventually be some busybody that will complain about a homeless individual living on the lot – assholes like this exist in every community. They are the next-door neighbor that sits waiting for you to park your car just an inch too far from the curb, or for your hedge to extend just an inch too far over their fence, or for your grass to
grow just an inch too long, before they file a complaint and sic the cops on you. They don’t care about your circumstances, they don’t care if you’re clean-cut and quiet and respectful, they don’t care if you mind your own business and never bother anybody. To them, the fact that you are homeless says everything about you. How dare you continue to live an independent life, relying on yourself instead of on charity, trying to get back on your feet. To them, the only place you belong is in a homeless shelter. DO NOT GIVE THEM A REASON TO REMEMBER YOU PERSONALLY. People like this are vicious and they will pursue the issue. Just. Blend. In.

3) Give the company your business. Wal-Mart is controversial, and many people don’t like them. You personally may not like them, either. If this is the case, and you will not give them your money, fine. But go find somewhere else to park, then. The way I see it, they may very well be a Giant Evil Soulless Bastard Corporation. But – they are doing campers and the homeless a huge service. If you plan to take advantage of it, it’s only fair that you reciprocate by purchasing goods from them occasionally. Besides, it doesn’t get much cheaper than Wal-Mart, except for the 99 Cent Store (but I’ll save that for another post). If you’re homeless, it’s hard to find a more affordable place to shop.

* * * * *

The downside to parking at Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club is that there are no electric/water hookups there for RVs. If you are living out of a car, this won’t matter to you anyway. If you are living out of a trailer, you can get around the electricity thing relatively easily. The lots are well-lit, park under a light. Purchase foods that don’t need to be refrigerated. If you have a phone or laptop, make sure to charge them during the day at a Starbucks or similar location. You can them use them in the evening to watch DVDs, make phone calls, etc. Your monitor can even provide an additional source of light if the lamps in the parking lot aren’t enough.

As far as water, get your hands on several large gallon jugs of water. These can be consistently refilled via hoses or restroom sinks and used to drink, or wash in an emergency (sorry, if you’re all dainty about bottled water only and drinking tap water grosses you out, you will soon realize that you’re going to have a lot worse problems being homeless). If you’re living at Wal-Mart, try to find one that’s open 24 hours (many aren’t). You can use their restrooms. If you can’t live in the lot of a facility that’s open 24 hours, locate another nearby business that is – a gas station, another grocery store, a pharmacy… whatever. You can go there in a pinch. Try not to be one of those people that goes in the bushes or against a wall. Besides being kind of gross and unsanitary, it’s also illegal. While you may occasionally have to bend/break some rules while homeless, you want them to be the dumb and never-prosecuted ones, like sleeping in your car.

For showers, get a gym membership or find a local community center. If you can’t afford a membership, some gyms offer free one-week passes to entice new members. You can print these out at a library or Kinko’s. Use it for a week, then move on to the next gym in the area. Also, you can often start a month-to-month membership and have your sign-up fees waived just by asking. It never hurts to ask. The worst that they can say is no, right? Smaller, mom-and-pop gyms and community centers are your friend. Their fees are waaaaaay lower than superchains like Bally’s, 24-Hour Fitness, Curves, etc. I found a lesser-known, smaller chain called Planet Fitness that offers a $10/month membership, month-to-month, no contract. They have a $29 sign-up fee, but I politely asked them if there was any way it could be waived, and what do you know, they did it for me! So now I have a place to shower, and even work out if I feel like it! Call around your area or visit gym/community center websites, you can often find introductory deals and discounts in addition to guest passes.

So by this point, you have at least temporary shelter, electricity and water. Huzzah!!! See? You can do this. It’s scary and hard, but perhaps not as much as it first seems.

I’m driving 3 1/2 hours to Blythe, CA tomorrow to pick up and tow the trailer. I’m pretty terrified. I’ve never towed anything before. This is one of those times I plan to rely on the kindness of others, to show me how to hitch up 30 feet of train behind me and change lanes/turn corners without running other drivers off the road. We’ll see how this goes.