It scares me how much driving I do just to get to rest areas where I feel safe and comfortable sleeping, to motels whose rates won’t leave me flat broke, or, when I’m working at Joe Dirtbag’s farm, to suitable toilets. These are thousands of miles I’ve driven over the past three and a half years so that I can stay somewhere clean and safe and not have to shit into a festering hole in the ground, like the victim of some ass end of Dickensian London. These miles are separate from the driving I’ve done for frivolous but enjoyable and worthwhile reasons: hiking, cross-country skiing, walking the beach, seeing prostitutes. (On the last point, you’ve probably done more frivolous in Cabo or Aruba, so stuff it.)
These aren’t most of the miles I’ve driven since Joe Dirtbag’s big meltdown and my resulting homelessness, but in absolute terms they’re too great a distance, have been too expensive, and have put too much wear and tear on my car, with mounting deferred maintenance expenses that I don’t want to contemplate. So far, I’ve been extremely lucky with this Civic. I haven’t had to pay for any emergency repairs since 2008. I don’t like to think about how long this luck will last.
The bizarre thing is, as expensive as all this driving has been, and as expensive as it is to fall asleep for an hour with the engine idling so that I can keep the cabin warm, it’s cheaper in the short term than the alternatives. Oftentimes it’s much cheaper. I may have cut my normal fuel economy by two thirds this morning when I passed out from sheer exhaustion with the engine running and woke up an hour or two later, roasting from the full-blast heat I’d meant to turn on for one or two minutes. It was an oh-shit moment, but not a bank-breaking one; I doubt the extra gas will cost me five dollars.
The stolid, sheltered, ignorant elements of the bourgeoisie that enjoy telling the poor how to discipline themselves into self-improvement have no fucking idea how expensive it can be to secure shelter in buildings warranting nuisance demolition. When I was looking for rentals in Eureka in the fall of 2009, I called one of the fleabag motels on Broadway, a horrid-looking place that I had in mind as an absolute last resort, and asked a manager what it cost per month. It was something like $850. You need to understand that this motel was one of a string of four or five SRO’s so visibly squalid and chaotic from the street that they had ruined the built environment along Broadway from Wabash to the north end of the Bayshore Mall. The entire time I lived in Eureka, these places were obscene; I haven’t looked at them recently, but they probably still are. At least one of them, towards the south end of this strip, is one of the Squires properties that Eureka city staff have been trying to abate for so long. I forget which exactly which motel I called, but every one of these SRO’s was a horror show. One of them had mattresses airing out on the balcony for probably weeks at a time; I didn’t pay any attention to the timing because I knew not to expect any better of the neighborhood. There were often shirtless white trash out in front of these places, really dirty, menacing bastards. The women were sometimes better, but not always. As a friend of my relatives’ put it, “If all people from out of town saw of Eureka was Broadway, no one would ever come back to visit.”
There’s a place I sometimes drive past past on the near south side of Redding, just north of the junction of Cypress, Market, and California, which is much better than the Broadway ratholes in Eureka but still repulsive at first sight. It charges $185 or $195 per week, plus transient occupancy taxes. The unhoused poor get hosed again and again by shit like this, and the bourgeoisie simply does not care.
Even Crossland Economy Studios, whose properties are inhabitable, is a goddamned racket. I found it more or less tolerable in spite of its extortionate rents until staff at two of its properties where I was either currently staying (Rancho Corvoda) or had recently stayed (Springfield) mishandled my mail on at least two occasions within ten months. The front desk clerks at Rancho found the letter with my paycheck and stub in a crevice in the back of one of their filing cabinets after searching for another few minutes, at my insistence, so no harm, no foul. Their colleagues in Springfield refused to accept mail addressed to me at their property within a week of my having stayed there, forcing the Post Office to return it to its sender. I went to the downtown Springfield Post Office to speak to a delivery supervisor about this fuckup after my dad told me that baked goods he’d mailed me had been returned to my parents’ place in Upstate New York, marked as undeliverable. The USPS was not responsible for this 5,000-mile clusterfuck. Had the idiot assholes on Harlow Road simply accepted delivery of the mail addressed to me and either held it (adequate) or held it and called me on the cell phone number they had on file for me (better), I would have gotten my fucking mail.
I had been paying their employer weekly rates equivalent to as much as $1395 a month plus taxes for 400-square-foot rooms with half kitchens. This is an important point in its own right: a stovetop without an oven is not part of a full kitchen when voting bourgeois householders make the call, but when private-equity shysters go bottomfeeding among the poories, it’s a full kitchen, and therefore cause to jack the indigent for another $400 or $800 a month in taxable rent. This is the level of service the poor get if they don’t have reliable permanent addresses. In some cases, it’s literally criminal: interference with the US Mail is a federal felony, punishable by up to five years’ incarceration, and I’ve twice had Crossland staff come up just short of the threshold for indictment, to be generous, through their sheer negligence.
So I end up on the road. The alternatives, for the most part, really are that bad. I’m involved in a huge waste of gasoline, and to no particularly good end, but it started because I was working for relatives who are intermittently insane and depraved. By homeless standards, I’m extremely lucky to be able to afford enough gas to get to rest areas and fire up the engine for an hour or two a night to stay warm. According to an NPR report last night, there are homeless encampments in San Pedro where everyone shits and pisses in an open field, making it impossible for their housed neighbors to open their windows for some fresh air. Their choice is between Terry Gross and just fucking gross, and they’re already stuck living in San Pedro. This isn’t the California that Lawrence Welk celebrated in song and dance. Even for them, though, it could be worse. They could be in one of the bad parts of Philadelphia away from Independence Mall, maybe on the stretch of Frankford Avenue in Black Kensington where I got polar-beared, asking whyy, Lord, whyy.
It isn’t my fault that I just wrote that. I didn’t get enough sleep last night. It’s the BBC’s fault for keeping me up from, like, 1:45 to 4:00 with their programming about Eritrea today, the US Civil Rights movement, and something to do with gay Englishmen up hella north getting honeypotted by policemen from the vice squads, but I was half-asleep for that part, so I can’t say if it was as absurd as it sounded. I only woke up in time to hear half of Scott Simon’s interview with the filmmaker who cast Maggie Smith as a downwardly mobile old broad living in a van in some bleeding heart’s driveway in North London, but I did hear the week’s entire sermon on #SPORTS, which was definitely more worthwhile. Some proper old Limey crone who ended up wheelchair-bound in a van because gaaaaaahhhh and got snappy with the successful educated liberals in her neighborhood when they tried to run charity on her isn’t quite relevant to my circumstances. The affluent English are celebrated by their own kind and tolerated by the Cockneys because reasons. Really, they’re all a viciously prejudiced lot at heart who believe that family background either confers or does not confer the privilege to be a weird old coot with social impunity.
The moral of this sad story is that our lot, Yanqui, had good reasons to put that bit about corruption of blood and bills of attainder into our Constitution. If I understood NPR correctly through its FCC-mandated bleepy horseshit, the old lady beshat herself in extremis and her neighbors had to clean it up because it takes a village. This sounded like a bizarre failure of social services in an affluent neighborhood under the jurisdiction of the NHS, so the only object lessons we can take home are: 1) maybe call around the local nursing homes if some ruined old WASP living in your driveway is losing bowel control and you’re always the one changing her diaper; and 2) the First Amendment hasn’t protected us from the most idiotic applications of the FCC’s “decency” rules. If a homeless old Englishwoman of diminished socioeconomic standing shitting her pants in some poor middle-class bugger’s driveway is relevant to a story, at least let Scott Simon frankly use the language needed to tell the story. Sure, he could tell a different story instead, say, one about Steph Curry’s recent contributions to #SPORTS, but of course we’re drawn to the worst things about Great Britain like a dog to its own vomit; we’re Americans. That isn’t even a typical story of British homelessness, but what else did you expect of NPR? Count your blessings; it could have been narrated with the house voice.
That’s why I don’t always sleep in my car, but when I do, I prefer Friday nights. Scott Simon talks a better, more poetic, more edifying story of nonsense about the old country. It may not be representative of anything, since NPR can’t accurately cover the United States, either, but at least Simon doesn’t leave me wondering, shit, cracka, who shoved an old broom handle up your ass.
As a prep school and liberal arts college graduate whose parents have terminal degrees, I was thinking for a moment that I’m a lot more like Maggie Smith’s van spinster character than I’d like to imagine. Then I realized that I wouldn’t be all like, bugger your bloody charity, you condescending gobshite. If anyone reading this is financially stable and interested in swinging by the Holiday at Placer and Buenaventura to buy me a big-ass pile of hot foods, I’m game. They had a bitchin’ sort of teriyaki chow mein last night, and spare ribs so good that I finished mine even after dropping it on the ground by way of my pants, and fresh sidewinder fries, not stale ones like I ate anyway two nights ago. It would be more equitable of you to buy the same foods for some hardcore street grungy, but I’m not too dumb or proud to turn down a mercy feed. Or a mercy fuck (limitations apply). Or free housing that isn’t hella nasty.
Ironically, I’m doing all this driving at a time when many people have been rendered too destitute to afford cars, allowing me to benefit from historically low gas prices. At least the same depression is putting some honored-citizen wankers out of the market to tow his and hers bicycles behind a Jeep behind a late-model RV the size of a city bus on narrow, winding roads with stratospheric baseline rates of fatal accidents, and to do so while not entirely fit to drive the Jeep. Most of these dipshits own their primary residences, and often vacation houses, too; this is how they were able to afford such fine-ass styles of ride for purely touristic purposes in the first place.
I wouldn’t be living like this if the labor and housing markets were healthy for normal people. Economic incentives in the United States today: Are they good? Or are they wack?
Hint: rhymes with “black.”