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BEHIND THE SIGNSA Journey through Homelessness
By Kirk Toncray
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Robert Kirk Toncray
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Rock
Someone had already pulled the bus stop signal cord as the bus veered over to the station on the east edge of town. I readied my things and proceeded towards the rear-side door located towards the middle of the articulated people hauler. As I stepped off the bus I saw the two same guys at the same place as I had talked with on and off for the last couple of months. I approached them and made some small talk as I usually would do, just to be friendly. I remembered their names from speaking to them in the past. The first guy I spoke too was Danny.
"Hey, guys, how's it going?" I asked.
"Hey, how's it going Kirk?" Danny replied.
"Just fine, thanks," I responded. "I just got out of one of my computer classes up at the college."
John had nothing to say at the time, he was more interested in rolling a cigarette than participating in small talk. Since I had some money in my pocket, I decided to buy a round of beers for the three of us. They were both happy to accept my generous offer. The other man, John, was the first to jump up and grab his sign that read, "CAN YOU PLEASE SPARE SOME CHANGE? THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS" and stashed it behind a mission newspaper drop box.
The three of us made small talk as we left 'The Rock' and headed towards the mini-mart. I plucked out two of their favorite brand and one of my favorite and set them on the counter. I paid for the three beers and held the door open for the two of them.
We walked over to the nearby fence line, kind of out of sight from the general public, and proceeded with the beer and the bullshit session. John was quiet as usual as Danny and I conversed about different things we had accomplished, and the usual other bullshit. John kicked in a few words but he was anxious to get back on the rock before someone else showed up to take their spot.
There were four rocks sitting along the entry way to a small shopping center that included Albertsons Supermarket, a haircut place, and other small businesses. The small entryway was sandwiched between the bus station and a McDonald's restaurant. The first rock, heading out of the lot, was John's favorite because of the drive-thru at McDonald's. As people were driving out with a load full of kids screaming from the back seat, the last thing the driver wants to do is fumble around trying to stash the change in a pocket while trying to pass out happy meals and drive all at the same time. Needless to say, many people will just hand out the money to the first person that jumps up. That would mainly be John since he would usually sit on the first rock. Danny usually sat down on the second rock so if John missed a 'hit' then Danny could grab it. That way it wouldn't get missed. The other two rocks were up for grabs for anyone who wanted to fly sign there.
They seemed to have fun there too. There were a lot of things that happened both in the parking lot and on the streets because of the busy interchange from the freeway to Main Street and the busy shopping center. Also, there was a lot of joking there as well, John was a quiet prankster.
One day while I stood there bullshitting the two of them, Danny stood up with a dumbfounded look on his face and started walking towards McDonald's while John sang a drawn out tune, "Pee—Pee—Pee, Pee, Pee,—You ain't gonna make it!" Danny turned around to flip John off while we studied a wet spot on the front of his jeans.
It wasn't funny that Danny couldn't make it to the toilet; after all, he was not a young man. What was funny though was how John knew what was going to happen. He had obviously witnessed that before.
I didn't spend much time with them on the rock at that time because I usually was dressed for one of my weekly club meetings that I attended. I felt that hanging around those two holding their sign, while I'm there in dress slacks and dress shoes, with a nice coat covering my upper half might put a damper on their profits.
I knew that the two flying that sign every day on the rock were both homeless and living together in a tent somewhere but I didn't know where and it wasn't any of my business to ask. They were on the dirty side, of course, and this I could understand. They both were always friendly and I often wondered what their previous lives held. Danny talked several times of the filbert orchard that he used to own that included several acres. He had several tractors, specialized harvest equipment, plus two large farm trucks. He also had a nice Diesel pickup truck, and a three bedroom house. He said something about losing it all to someone but never mentioned who or why.
I left them that day knowing I would see them another day and perhaps many more times to come. As I rode the bus towards my parent's house where I was staying, I couldn't help but wonder why they were in that situation and what exactly happened to put them there. Time will tell, I thought, but somehow I couldn't help but feel a bit compassionate for them.
There were no standing rules on the rock except for common sense. Anyone who came along and had the desire to sit down could do so. All the proceeds were split up as to however many people were there. Everyone was included until he or she left, although a slight break to go use the restroom, make a beer run, or to make change was an exception. Usually there were no new faces on the rock, just the regulars; Danny, John, Billy, Linda Lou, Skippy, and Randy; most of the time it was in that order. Usually everyone respected each other's time on the rock as to not allow more than three people there at once, although every now and then the rock would draw a crowd and no one would stop and hand out anything. I figured that most people thought it must have been some kind of party or something along those lines.
All in all, most days went about the same as far as I could tell but I only saw from the outside; not from doing but from seeing. However, later on I discovered a lot more about the people on the rock flying a sign, what happened to put them there and what their previous lives were like.
Staying with my parents was both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. There never was a problem of going without food, clothing, and a warm bed; although remembering how I had already designed and built my own lifestyle, before an abrupt and unexpected divorce, left me with a feeling of living someone else's lifestyle. It just wasn't appealing to me. After all, I was a grown man who had worked hard all my life to make myself who I thought I was.
There were times I had to find a way to get out for a while and unwind. One way I achieved this was to go for long walks which included hiking into territory I had never been before. Going on these excursions included a small amount of supplies. I took my Panasonic headset radio, a can of sardines, and a couple of beers.
One typical morning while getting dressed I got a wild hair up my ass to take a bus ride down to the rock to visit the good old boys there, and then proceed to the mini-mart before heading up on an old log truck haul road. I didn't expect to be gone all that long, just long enough to unwind and spend a little time by myself.
Hardly anyone ever walked up in this area because of the locked gate at the bottom of the road and the lack of people even knowing how far that road actually went. I had hiked this area many times and it always relaxed me. I would listen to my radio and have a couple of beers without interruption from anyone.
While totally ignoring the forecast that I had heard on the radio, I ventured onward and proceeded to get myself in one hell of a mess. The forecast was for freezing rain and lows in the mid to upper twenties. With day-old snow already on the ground, continuing my journey turned out to be a not-so-wise choice.
As the weather turned bad, I continued onward against my better judgment. When the rain began to freeze as soon as it hit the ground, I took shelter at an abandon homeless camp about thirty yards uphill from the main road and completely out of sight. The camp hadn't been occupied for several months, possibly longer. I carefully unzipped the partially leaned over tent to see what I could scrounge up for a nasty night if I were forced to stay because of the weather.
After taking a quick look inside the tent, I decided to walk down and check the condition of the road. Climbing down the trail towards the road was slow and steady although I made it without falling on my ass. The freezing rain had covered the road with a half-inch sheet of ice. I knew there was very little chance of getting down that hill and to the bus stop without falling and possibly injuring myself so I went back to the camp and made arrangements for the night.
Inside the tent I found a three wick candle, a single wick candle, and a lighter. Those items would be my heat and some light for the long, cold night. To arrange the blankets, I chose the cleanest ones of the bunch and put them towards the position where I would be sleeping.
I sat up in the old, leaned-over tent and listened to my headset for several hours until it was time for sleep. During the radio broadcasts I made sure that I paid close attention to the weather report. It didn't sound good and I knew it was going to be a real hassle to get out of there when morning came and I would probably stick it out until the afternoon. That way maybe the ice would have melted off.
Morning came along so I crawled out and took a long, warm pee while looking around. It was cold and icy at the campsite. I wondered what the road down the hill would be like but first things first. I cracked open the can of sardines that I carried up with me. It wasn't really all that tasty but it was energy anyway.
Down the trail I went towards the road with fir boughs painfully slapping me on my cold face. The road was covered with ice and nearly impossible to walk on. I decided to walk off to the side to gain traction from the frozen grass and weeds. Steady and slowly, I finally made it to the gate. I crossed it and walked carefully down the sidewalk towards the bus stop. Once I was there, I stepped on the next bus and headed towards downtown.
It felt good to sit down on the seat inside the warm bus and I enjoyed it the whole trip. I thought about what I was going to tell my parents because I knew that they were worried sick about me. With the weather the way it was, and knowing I wasn't prepared for it, made things really rough for them.
Once I arrived downtown I walked to a phone booth and called my mom. She was panic-stricken. My parents had been left worried sick not knowing where I was or even if I was dead or alive. They were not really aware of my survival skills, doing whatever you have to stay warm and alive, so naturally they were pretty upset with me.
My mom came and took me to their house. Not much was said on the trip home except that they were out of their minds, worried. They had called the hospital and the police. They didn't know who else to contact. There was no way of knowing where I was, so they were not happy with me at all.
I was approached by them that evening and a brief conversation began. Dad told me, "We were so worried about you that we just don't know what to do anymore. We can't handle the stress of not knowing where you are or if you are even dead or alive. I have called the mission and I think it would be wise if you stayed there from now on. We just are at wits end and can't deal with it anymore. You do understand where I'm coming from, don't you?"
"Yes, I do understand," I answered. "I'll get some bags ready to go."
"We don't like doing this but it's just not fair to your mother and me."
"I realize this. I'll be ready in a few minutes," I spoke to my dad in a low voice.
"You don't have to go right now, you can get ready and I'll take you over there in the morning," my dad offered.
The next morning, my dad drove me across town to the mission. I had never been to an establishment like this before so I didn't have a clue what to expect. It was an experience I will never forget. I had never been anyplace quite like it, not even while in custody for being unable to pay child support. After standing in line for Chapel, followed by supper, it was then time to shower with fifty other naked guys, seven at a time. After that unusual event we all got dressed for the night in rags that they called pajamas and went to our designated bunk beds. Not wanting to be there at all was the only thing on my mind as I lie there in bed after the shower experience. I attempted to sleep although it was nearly impossible due to the thunderous snoring and nasty smelling gasses erupting from God only knows whose filthy ass.
The next morning at five-thirty on the nose, out that gate I went never to return except for going back to retrieve my belongings. I decided right then and there I would rather live in the woods, cold and wet, but there was no way in hell I was going back to that place, period!
Chapter ThreeOfficially Homeless
Being out in the elements is no picnic by any means. Simply staying warm sometimes you face unexpected challenges no matter how prepared you think you are. A few nights of snow and freezing rain proved my theory.
One evening while hiking to the campsite area I had a queasy feeling deep inside me that something wasn't right. I continued to the campsite when I immediately noticed the tent was on the ground and cut to shreds. Pissed off, of course, I headed back down the hill just in case the assholes that performed the task were still in the area. I didn't see anyone around so I walked back to see what was salvageable from the mess.
As I dug through the remains I concluded that nothing was missing, the tent was just totally ruined. There was nothing really of value there but what was there was useful. There were just some old blankets and sleeping bags as well as candles and other items of no interest to anyone who had a roof over their head at night.
It was getting late so I figured I'd better find another place to spend the night. The only place that came to mind, that would be easy to find in the dark, was behind the fence where everyone went to drain down a cold one every now and then. Behind the fence there was a row of bushes so I came up with an idea. I studied the situation and concluded that I could easily fit unnoticed between the bushes and the fence.
I needed something to lie on and cover me so I went on a cardboard hunt. I walked behind the supermarket and found just what I needed. I scored one large box, kind of thick, and one that was thinner but larger to use as a cover. I carried the cardboard over to the makeshift sleeping area and proceeded to make a bed. My pillow consisted of an oval shaped river rock about eight inches long and five inches in diameter. It was the perfect size. It wasn't soft, it was a rock of course, but at least it was some elevation for my head.
After I had everything in place I went for a walk around the area. After that I walked over to McDonald's to warm up and use their facilities one last time before returning to my new found comfort zone for what would be a night of cold, wet sleep.
The rain drops on the cardboard kept a constant enough rhythm to put me to sleep. I was exhausted anyway so sleep came relatively easily. When my bladder wakened me that it was time to pee, I rolled out from under the cardboard to discover that I was sleeping under a white blanket of snow. I finished my business and crawled back underneath and fell back asleep. I woke up again at daylight and figured the best thing to do would be pick up all the cardboard and place it back in the recycle bin before things got busy. After that I walked over to the mini-mart for a cup of hot coffee, taking as long as possible to warm up as much as I could.
I then jumped on the bus and headed across town to donate plasma. After I stepped off the bus I walked over to the McDonald's by the plasma center. I used their restroom then ordered a McMuffin and water before walking across the street to the plasma donation center. Inside the center it is always warm and comfortable with a DVD playing for the people to enjoy as they wait for a bed to donate their plasma. Usually there is some kind of conversation in the back of the room, if you want to join in, but I only paid attention to the movies.
After I received my cash for donating, I jumped on the bus and headed back towards the rock. On the bus was a familiar face of someone I had seen on the rock but had never talked to. We exchanged glances a few times before he slid onto the empty seat beside me. He was a somewhat handsome man in his early sixties with gray hair and a neatly groomed gray beard. He stuck out his hand and looked at me with piercing deep blue eyes said, "I see you all the time. I'm Billy the kid, and yours?"
"My name is Kirk. I'm known as Captain Kirk," I answered.
He smiled and chuckled a bit so the conversation was on for the remainder of the trip. We talked of the people who were riding the bus that day, and swapped stories of what each of us had experienced on the bus before. The speaker system on the bus then abruptly announced in a computer voice: Fifty-fourth and main, which was my stop, so I jumped up and stepped off the bus.
Excerpted from BEHIND THE SIGNS by Kirk Toncray Copyright © 2012 by Robert Kirk Toncray. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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