HOMELESS LIKE THEM - PART II
I've owned more cars than I can remember and I'm pretty sure that I slept in all of them at least once. Sometimes that meant pulling over at a rest stop during a road trip and sometimes that meant by necessity because I was too drunk to drive after a concert or game.
But now I was to perform a bit of a social experiment for a week of my life by preparing to sleep in, and live out of, my car. The backseat is just about wide enough for me to stretch out entirely (with knees slightly bent), so my pillow and sleeping bag would be more than sufficient for comfort.
One of the first things I recognized was how much conscientious forethought must go into preparations when one is homeless. Organizational skill and efficiency is a definite key to survival even with all of the advantages I had in place at the start.
What would I need within reach...and what would I not need? How would I protect myself? What would I say to a police officer if discovered? And, most importantly, how would I find an innocuous parking spot each night?
I learned quickly that the answers I thought were correct for those questions were not accurate whatsoever.
Red Bull and Pop Tarts. Yes, those were the staples I chose. I write this not for comic relief but instead because I actually drink a Red Bull every morning before my workout and I love snacking on Pop Tarts. My go-to snack is Cheetos and those are sadly not an option with the potential for orange crumbs and fingerprints everywhere.
My clothes were kept in the trunk: selections for a week at the gym and office alongside toiletries, vitamins, and clean wipes. One of the other rules that I established for myself, but failed to mention earlier, was that I would not urinate or defecate in public. I have not adhered to this mandate for five decades, but felt it disrespectful to pollute the streets upon which I was parking and sleeping.
The stench under the freeways where tent encampments exist is foul. It's beyond foul.
When I had to pee in the middle of the night while living in my car, I did so into a water bottle...while lying on my side...performing a gymnastic-like maneuver. The bottle held 32 ounces, so overflowing was never an issue. On my walk to the gym I would pour the urine onto some shrubs or bushes, then clean it out thoroughly with warm soapy water. I peed into the bottle every night and never splashed or spilled a drop. And oddly enough I take great pride in this.
One of the more timely miracles in recent memory was discovering this yellow - and most importantly unlocked - portable toilet at approximately 5:15AM one morning on Carondelet Street.
I was just three blocks and one elevator ride away from my gym, but that was still too far. This was an emergency.
Afterwards, I started to imagine how homeless people with no other options would respond in a similar situation. It must happen often. Their ragged appearances at any hour of the day have them denied entrance to restaurants, hotels, and stores; I can pretty much talk my way into using any bathroom, anywhere, based on my looks alone.
I sent an email to the City of New Orleans later that afternoon and, though I'm sure it must have been just a coincidence, there were toilets and sinks delivered to the tent cities less than a week later. I'm not taking credit for anything, as I'm sure there have been countless requests to install portable facilities (see photo below) in these areas, but at least it shows that someone in city government cares. That's the altruist in me. The cynic feels like too many people (like me) complained.
Regardless, my personal experience that morning was a catalyst to at least reach out.
Sleeping in my car was really not that bad. I've slept in much worse locations, both alone and with someone else, and as an experienced hiker and outdoorsman I've come to know what "roughing it" really is - and this was not it other than extremely minor inconveniences like peeing in a plastic bottle and blocking out streetlights by covering my eyes with a t-shirt.
One of the major considerations for most might be safety, but I can handle myself and never really felt in danger. I kept a folding knife nearby, just in case. The bigger scares were when twigs would fall from trees in the middle of the night, or when I would hear the conversations of people walking by or riding bikes and fear discovery. But no one ever saw me, and if someone did they didn't acknowledge my presence, so I generally felt that my car was a bit of a sanctuary. I feel this is more common than we all can possibly imagine.
I'd often fall asleep sitting up partially so that I could fully extend my legs: one sticking through the opening atop the center console, the other nestled against the back of the front passenger's seat. It took me a few nights to discover that this was even a possibility. The real lessons were to come when I moved into my tent.
This story concludes with Part III.