Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Final Boss of Homelessness Part 2: The Storm

My Friends,
   I last left off detailing my day in Los Angeles waiting for my train home.  Here is the subsequent account of what happened after boarding that train:
   My seat was at the tail end of the train and it was coach, not a sleeper like I have grown accustomed to travelling in over the past month.  But it was cool; Amtrak had me sitting beside Kevin who I quickly decided was an alrite guy as well as a fellow traveller to boot.  Being that he had been living la vida homeless for the better part of the last two years I took the opportunity to pick his brain; he elucidated upon many topics such as where to sleep, security of your possessions (a big one for me) and where to shower.  He had a certain gravity as well, but “gravity” is perhaps not the right word.  Rather he spoke like (and looked like) Lionel Osbourne, the character Tim Meadows played on the SNL skit, Perspectives

It’s now 4:15 in the a.m….
…minus the grey.  Furthermore, I came to admire his serenity: he was en route to New Jersey and aware that it was a damn sight colder than Cali and also that his clothing was a little inadequate, but he accepted this information matter-of-factly.  This sort of acceptance is something I have tried to cultivate in myself over the past few months as I have stared down the barrel of my fair share of shitty situations.  In light of all his real-world experience I was actually flattered when he seemed impressed by my travels and stories which I related to him; he was the real deal and he was in awe of lil’ old me.
   Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Kevin was actually a flawed human being and not the eminent drifter and source of wisdom I had built him up to be in my head.  The first hint should have been when he whispered to me at one point:
Kevin: Hey, just between you and me, you know how sometimes you be on the road and you alone in your sleeping bag?  Sometimes you gotta handle things yourself.  You know what I mean?
Me: (Not grasping his dead-seriousness) Mmm-hmm, I try not to because it makes a mess in my sleeping bag, but I follow what you’re saying
Kevin: Well some people got to do that when they alone and if you not on the road like you and me they don’t understand
Me: (Oblivious) Man, I’ve travelled enough and seen enough at this point that I don’t really pass judgement on people.  Whatever you gotta do to get by.
Kevin: Yeah…
Little did I know I had just given him implied consent.
   The lights went out after a while and I politely declined his offer to share his blanket, I (thankfully) had my own blanket after all.  As I began to close my eyes I felt Kev’s elbow rocking back & forth and I moved my elbow away so he could continue “scratching” unimpeded.  However, when the movement continued it occurred to me that he might not be scratching an itch, at least not literally. I was horrified when I realized that he might well be masturbating right beside me.  It then dawned on me that I had expressed approval for this sort of behaviour and while I was wrestling with how to get him to stop in a polite and discreet manner the movement all but stopped.  I figured I’d leave well enough alone hope he went to sleep and try to do the same.
   Then the movement started again.  I stole a glance over at him (taking special care not to make eye contact).  Covered with his blanket he was awake and alert.  I swallowed my discomfort and made the first overtures toward intervention:
Me: Hey dude, you alright?
Kevin: Yeah, I’m good.  Just kinda watching things, takin it all in
Me: K…
The movement which had stopped while we were talking quickly resumed when the conversation ended.  At some point it stopped again which I took as him finishing.  This whole time I was trying to figure out a more direct way to broach the topic but remain tactful while also wrestling with the possibility that he may not have been doing what I thought he was doing.  Then he pulled down his blanket: During the time I was puzzling over my direct approach I guess he had cleaned up and put his business away because he whipped down his blanket and although he was not exposed, the smell of his B.O. and mischief made my nose-hairs curl.  I was certain at this point that  a “doings” had transpired.  Time to be direct:
Me: Hey dude, remember when you asked me about masturbation earlier?
Kevin: Yeah, why? You feelin’ the urge?
Me: (Mortified) Not at all.  I just wanna make sure that if you had to do that you would go to the bathroom?
Kevin: Oh, um…yeah
Me: Ok cool
Kevin: Yeah no problem man.  (Momentary Silence) Haha, you my ridin’ buddy; we ridin’ all the way to Chicago together (I guess this was an attempt to show what a good sport he was and that there were no hard feelings.  Unfortunately he patted me on the shoulder during this display of magnanimity)
(Uncomfortable silence for a few minutes)
Kevin: So um when was the last time you masturbated?
Me: I’m not really comfortable talking about this dude?
Kevin: Yeah, you right…
(A few more minutes of uncomfortable silence)

Kevin: I think Imma try goin down to the bathroom and masturbatin’ like you said cause it feel good
Me: (exasperated) Dude! I don’t want to hear about this!
Kevin, Yeah, you right.  K, Im gonna go.
   After this I went and asked for a new seat assignment from the reluctant conductor.  He insisted that dealing with weird people was part of riding on public transit.  I was tempted to actually say why I was so adamant about getting moved but I decided that I didn’t want to snitch on Kevin because it was some violation of the homeless code.  I would just content myself with removing myself from the situation.
   This experience was sobering in that it served to remind me that in spite of the hardships I have endured, when it comes to homelessness/drifting/vagrancy I am a poseur at worst and a novice at best.  This guy was a seasoned vet and had all the traits (good and bad) that come with such a lifestyle.  Living on the street is more than just sleeping outside voluntarily and writing cheeky blog entries about your misadventures.  I realize that I could never presume to say that I understand the struggles of the homeless based on my relatively brief experience but I’d like to think that I have gained some perspective.  What I do with that newly-gleaned perspective will really determine how fruitful this endeavour has been.
   The subsequent few days of train-riding were uneventful compared to that first night; had a pleasant evening talking with Marcus and Lucy the following night and enjoyed my layover in Chicago the third day before my overnight train to Buffalo where my Dad picked me up.  
   So would I take Amtrak again?  Well, there were other problems aside from the masturbators who populate coach, but ultimately I think that a train is a great way to travel.  There is a certain purity in it that you don’t get with a plane.  Even a long-distance bus is not quite the same.  Still, it doesn’t match hitch-hiking as far as grassroots travelling goes and this fucked with me because I felt I was cheating myself by taking a quicker route home.  Ever the master rationalizing things to myself, I concluded that while the train was indeed quicker, it presented its own set or challenges which made it a worthwhile experience.  Also, it allowed me to see a good deal of the countryside which is one of the most important aspects of travel for me.  So overall I’m glad I decided to abandon the open road in this instance and have a leisurely, (mostly) enjoyable trip home.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
   

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The Final Boss of Homelessness Part 1: The Calm

My Friends,
   I been playing this game called “Transient Vagrancy” for the better part of the last four months and in spite of having to use a few continues, I managed to not only make it to the final stage, but to beat the game; as I write this I am sitting at my desk back home.  Like any good final leg of a journey, the final leg of mine presented new challenges and obstacles which I had not encountered before, but also better power-ups (greasy American food) to aid in weathering the storm.  However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Instead let’s pick up where we left off; NYE 2011:
   New Year’s was alrite if uneventful. Before midnite I simply took a stroll around the block not really expecting much celebration to be going on in rural California.  How wrong I was: come midnight screaming, fireworks and other explosions which sounded suspiciously like gunfire erupted and lasted for the next 20 minutes.  Also, every house I passed seemed to be having a rave in the backyard complete with coloured lights and DJs.  It was quite the unexpected celebration.
   The next morning (or later that morning if you wanna get technical) Serena gave me a ride north on the interstate and dropped me off at the exit where I could hopefully catch cars heading north to Las Vegas.  I had a secret weapon too; a sign which said “VEGAS BABY VEGAS” on one side and “CANADIAN GONG TO LAS VEGAS” on the other side, an obvious attempt to take advantage of the goodwill other countries allegedly have towards Canadians.  Now holding a sign and waiting for a ride is not really my style when it comes to hitch-hiking because if noone decides to pick you up the whole day you’re pretty much in the same spot you started with no progress made.  However, I opted for this method because 1) The backroads were deserted and not well-marked making hitching there a daunting prospect, and 2) Walking on the interstate would have attracted too much police attention and I didn’t figure I could plead “foreigner’s ignorance” in the States.
   So out there on the ramp I sat for four hours watching people go by with no regard for me and my well-being ’til I decided this sucked and went to go get some food.  The rest area nearby had an establishment called “Harry’s Cafe,” a burger joint as it turned out, and so began my brief yet torrid love affair with bacon-cheeseburgers.  In retrospect, I hadn’t planed on eating unhealthy in the States, only authentically.  As it is, authentic American food turned out to be fast food and gas station breakfast sammiches.  While holding my belly and groaning after my gigantic, golden-brown meal I decided I needed a new strategy to escape the United States, as their culture of fear really seemed to be precluding people from giving me rides.  After doing some research over the phone I decided that I would take Amtrak home; it was more expensive than a flight but would give me an opportunity to see the countryside as I passed through it over the next few days.  So I camped in a farmer’s field nearby the cafe that night (mainly because I didn’t feel like walking much after the fatburger), then walked six hours the next day to the train station in Riverside where I had come in from LA.  I camped out in Riverside this next night near an on-ramp close to the station and let the steady stream of all-night traffic lull me to sleep.
   My proximity to the station put me in good position to get on the first thing smokin to LA the next morning and I arrived at LA’s Union Station as the sun was rising.  I got my Amtrak ticket to Buffalo via Chicago which was still dumb expensive even after the application of a military discount (same team).  As the train wasn’t scheduled to leave til after 6pm this gave me a full-day in Los Angeles.  I decided to head down to “The Grove,”

“Families, dawg!”

an outdoor mall on 3rd and Fairfax.  I actually spent the better part of the day at the Barnes & Noble here reading comic books and such.  However, when my stomach began rumbling I had to feed the machine at a nearby “Johnny Rocket’s.”  I crushed another bacon cheeseburger then resumed my comic-bookery.  Also checked out the nearby apple store to crush some internets while ostensibly testing out the iphone with intent to purchase.  Alas, in the course of all this jackfoolery the sun inevitably made its way across the sky and I found myself having to make haste back to the station to catch my train.  The bitch of this was that JWOWW from “Jersey Shore” was set to make an appearance in The Grove and I had to make my way to the other side of the city when I would have preferred to supplicate myself to a celebrity who is famous for all of the things which are worst in a human being.

Look closely at her face here.  Is something messed with her mouth or is it just me?

That said, if it was Pauly D I prolly would skipped the train and screamed like a high school girl.
   But I got to the train station on time after a brief stop in Hollywood for some groceries and sightseeing and waited for the boarding call.  I’d like to tell you about what happened on the train but that’s a story for another day…another day being later tonight or tomorrow.
Stay Thirsty
-Andre Guantanamo
   

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Dick-Punching the Sunrise

My Friends,
   The travels go well.  I am currently south of Perris, California staying in the house of some friends whom I had the pleasure of meeting my second day in California.  But more on that later, as there is a bit of a gap between where I left off last time in Chongqing, China and where I am at now.  Sooooooooooooo, herrre it is.
   I took the train from Chonqqing to Shnghai early on Christmas morning and was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and livable it was.  It was a sleeper car like the one I had taken in Kazakhstan but it looked quite modern and not like a Soviet relic.  Now I had meant to purchase a sitting ticket from the ticket booth the previous day, but either through lack of understanding or lack of availability, the ticket-sellers (five of them crowded the ticket window giving me googly-eyes [even the guy in the group] and taking part in the selling of the ticket process after waving me to the front of the line in front of a bunch of pissed-off locals.  Sometimes being a westerner in a foreign land pays off) had sold me a sleeper ticket.  As it was an overnight train I really couldnt lament this.
   My bunkmate was a cool guy and we communicated as well as we could with no common language.  Never got his name though… The ride was ultimately uneventful though and the most exciting break in the monotony was our actual arrival in Shanghai.
   Immediately I took the metro to People’s Sqaure in the city-center and set about finding a hotel.  There was no looking for a spot to camp in this city; I was determined to spoil myself with a bed for my stay.  I found accommodation fairly quick (got a good price by taking a room with no windows … also, there was a dead body under the bed but that wasnt factored into the price), stashed my bag and I was off.  More than anything, what characterized my stay in Shanghai was the gluttonous consumption of food; For realz, everything was so good and so cheap that I couldn’t justify depriving myself of anything.  I won’t rhyme off everything I had but honourable mention for the fried pork dumplings served at “Yang’s Fried Dumplings” (more than just a clever name).  Four big, delicious balls of goodness for 6 Yuan ($1 USD).  The old lady at the register laughed knowingly when I went back for seconds.
   Between all of this consumption of foodstuffs I also find time to sightsee.  My first night I walked to the river that runs through the city (too lazy to google the name) and admired the skyline of the city’s Pudong region.  The architecture here (and really, all over the city) is striking and very different from that seen in most North American cities.  The Oriental Pearl…

Pictured Here: Far Left and Bulbous
…in particular goes a long way to making the view very futuristic-looking and awe-inspiring.  The city also has some large malls; two of these I visited, and to deal with the lack of space in the city both were built 7 or 8 stories high.
   My second day in I took a walk south and by chance found a garment district.  While I looked at some counterfeit watches and debated having a tailored tweed jacket made, I decided to opt for small souvenir bracelets only, as I already had a watch and didn’t want more clothing weighing down my pack.  Toward the end of the second day I decided that although the view around the river was nce, the view of the ocean on the east side of Pudong must be even better.  So I took an hour long train trip to the end of the line but realized with dismay that I couldnt get through to the water because there was an airport in the way.  I entertained the notion of going around the airport but after running for fifteen minutes the road ended and I realized that if it was indeed a picturesque coastline they wouldn’t have put an airport in the way.  I made my way back to the train station, sobered and a little wiser for my troubles.
  Day three I managed to find a bookstore which had a small English section and picked up book 3 and 4 of Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series.  Its pretty good so far and good airplane reading.  After this unlikely find I made my way to the Shanghai museum where I spent the better part of my day.  It was good and all but I found myself speeding through it as I was tired and not really in a museum-going mood.  Still, I felt compelled to culture myself so I took it all in even after the point my eyeballs had gone bleary and vacant.  After a large dinner I made my way to the airport with my bag to wait for my flight and also for what would be the longest day or recent memory.
   My night in the airport was sleepless which didn’t bother me too much cause I had about 13 hours of flying to crush so I figured Id have plenty of time to doze.  One thing I will say is that ramen does not make a substantial meal on its own; I went through two giant bowls of it while I waited in the airport and still was incredibly hungry for most of the night.
   Flew to Japan for a thee-hour layover.  While Shanghai had had its fair share of whitey it was still dominated by Asians.  Not the case with the Tokyo Narita airport; not only were their a ton of white people there but black folk as well.  I literally don’t think I had seen any black people at all in Kazakhstan or China.  A lot of the white guys in the airport were also fat neckbeards which leads me to believe that they were in Japan to hone their bushido skills or were on the road to Viridian City.

Little do they know that Giovanni has a trick up his sleeve
Ultimately, it was bitter-sweet; the change in complexions was indicative of how far I had come but I was sadly, no longer the sole foreigner whom everyone was gawking at. 
   Took a ten-hour flight to LA from Tokyo and en route I finally watched Bridesmaids, The Hangover 2 and Bad Teacher, a couple films movies which I had been meaning to see for some time.  Upon landing, I shared a cab to Santa Monica with Paul.  He was killing time on a layover to New Zealand.  I had been in that situation myself a few years back and had gone to Santa Monica as well…
…so I took it upon myself to show him around some.  When we parted ways I took a train east to the city of Riverside on a whim.  Walked SE hard from the station til about 1130 pm and had one of the deepest sleeps of recent memory (remember I had been up for 36 hours because with the time change of flying east across the Pacific I essentially had the length of my day doubled and had been watching movies instead of sleeping on the plane).  I woke up to a beautiful sunrise over south Riverside.  I’m not sure what it is for certain but the sunset the night before had been equally beautiful.  Perhaps its just the smog.
   Anyway, after waking up that morning in Riverside I walked SE til I got to Interstate 215 South.  Walked along there for a while til I got incredibly tired and sore around 1130.  Hit a Starbucks south of Perris, and while there I got to talking to Eric.  Turns out he and his wife practice “permaculture,” which is, briefly, self-sufficient farming which takes care of itself to a large measure.  Their primary output is free-range eggs.  He was quite passionate about the superior quality of these oeufs  and after showing me pics of the darker coloring of the yolks I was pretty enthusiastic myself.  At length he asked if I would like to come by and try some eggs.  It sounded like an excellent idea to me.
   At his house he showed me the whole egg-farming operation they had set up and they fried me up a couple sunny-side up.  When the chickems have a more varied diet than simply just generic feed the yolks are a darker marigold colour and quite good. 
   After lunch, Eric and his wife, Serena asked me if I would like to sleep in their guest room for the night instead of camping.  How could I say no?  So I stayed and today after sleeping in til noon (hopefully getting over my jet-lag) I was taught the game, “Go.”  Apparently its a game as old as chess, and quite strategic.  It almost reminded me of a cross between Minesweeper and Checkers.  Apparently I did good for a first -timer … basically I got my ass handed to me.  Later I went to Eric and Serena’s church for their evening prayers, and afterward Eric took me around to show me the architecture as I had expressed some interest in seeing the various design features, many of which were imported from places I had been in the past few months (Doors from Antakya, Turkey for example). 
  I am here for one more night and since it is still 2011 here for another two hours I am still planning my night.  Since everyone here is early to bed for a wedding tomorrow I think I may go out a little later on for a walk around the neighbourhood.  Eric tells me that the local Mexicans play some raucous Mariachi music on Saturday nights and I think crashing one of these jam sessions could be kinda fun.  Aside from that I leave for Vegas tomorrow via my thumb and when I get there I will start making plans to fly home.  I’m pretty damn excited.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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