Having awakened at an early hour - the sunrise was not totally complete - I headed for the nearby McDonalds whose large neon arches had remained brightly lit all night. I assumed, (wrongly as it turned out) that the place was open 24-7. Unfortunately, it didn't open until 6:30 AM and the sign had been left on all night by a forgetful employee in of haste to close down at 11 PM the previous night (this was a common occurrence at this particular location and it was a portent of things to come - but much more on this subject later).
With nothing to do and very little enthusiasm for the day ahead I proceeded to the bus stop at the northwest corner of Speedway and Campbell and just watched the world go by for a couple of hours. As the day unfolded, I witnessed a wide array of people on their way to work and the general hustle and bustle of life in a small part of a big city.
I noticed a contingent of what I assumed were homeless people on each corner of the intersection selling newspapers or holding panhandlers signs asking for money or food. Occasionally I would move to another bus stop to lessen the chance of arousing suspicion as the police seemed to have a strong presence in this particular area.
Before too long, a somewhat thin but very energetic street person approached me, offered his hand, and introduced himself as Jay. He sat down and we conversed for some time and basically exchanged stories. As I was to find out later he had approached me to determine if I was some kind of undercover cop or something of a similar nature. This is a common tactic among street people and I have since used it to my own advantage countless times. Jay was an extremely easy person to talk to and was very friendly and sympathetic to my plight. He offered to buy me a sandwich which I declined but when he offered me a cigarette I readily accepted. A bond had thus been forged between us and it turned out to be very fortunate for me.
Jay asked me where my "spot" (homeless slang for where do u sleep) was but I remained kind of vague about the location because I was wary of revealing my only place to sleep. He proceeded to tell me about (but not where) he slept, describing in great detail about how good it was including having a roof and running water. I was impressed not only with Jay's seeming independence but also his ability to get along on the street.
Soon, a couple of other guys came along and Jay introduced me to them. Ricky and Butch were both slightly drunk but affable. Both dressed in somewhat tattered clothes they nonetheless seemed content with their lot. Both of them were very friendly and helpful, offering useful tips on streetlife. I have since found out that most (but by no means all) street people are the same way - willing to share what they have with their fellow homeless.
They asked me if I drank alcohol or smoked pot and I answered negatively to the former and positively to the latter. They said they would smoke a joint with me if I wouldn't mind running across the street to the 7-11 store and buy some beer for them. Seems they were both "86ed" (banned) from that particular place for going in to purchase beer while intoxicated. They handed me enough change to buy a 12 pack of beer (beer is surprisingly cheap here compared to Massachusetts) so off I went. I returned a few moments later and they each opened a can of beer right on the bus stop - being careful to hide the cans behind their packs while they were not drinking. Butch fired up a joint and we sat there and smoked and talked for some time.
After a while Jay returned and asked me if I would like to earn a couple of bucks by taking over his traffic island and selling papers for a while. Being almost broke and with nothing to lose I donned the fluorescent vest that is required of all newspaper hawkers and panhandlers in Tucson (several of each had been killed and injured in the past couple of years and the city had been forced to act and came up with this solution). Jay informed me that although the single cover copy price of the Tucson Citizen was only 35 cents, most people were willing to hand over a dollar bill to avoid the inconvenience of having to stop at a store. With a few other instructions (notably: don't step into the street itself, due to the police's proclivity for handing out jaywalking tickets, particularly to the homeless, while the average citizen seemed to be immune to such sanctions, and to be polite and smile a lot - things I really didn't need to know). I soon embarked upon what was to become a full time occupation for me down the road.
In about two hours I had pulled in $20 and change which I split with Jay. He then informed me that if I wanted to meet the sales agent for the newspaper, to be on the corner at 10 AM the following morning and he would make introductions and that I could take over his island when he wasn't around. I readily agreed and made arrangements to meet him their the next day.
I took the $10 and bought a pack of cigarettes and a couple of burgers and a soda at McDonalds and was feeling pretty good about the way the day had gone. After all, a job providing enough money to eat and smoke was a particular godsend at this point in time.
Back to the bus stop to sit around and wait for nightfall. The day was winding down and many of the same people I saw at the start of the day were beginning to disembark from the SunTran buses which arrived about every 10 minutes or so. A few of the people nodded to me and I returned their nods and muttered hello's to them as well. I watched as Ricky and Butch, both completely drunk by now, stood or sat on the traffic islands holding homemade cardboard signs saying things like "Hungry" or "Homeless Vet - Please Help". Now and then a car would halt for the light, the driver's side window would come down and a handful of change and in some cases dollar bills would change hands. I watched this play out, fascinated, as such activities were strictly illegal in most of Massachusetts and this was a new phenomenon to me. Ricky spotted me and came across the street and offered to let me "fly" his sign for a while but I refused on the grounds that I no longer had a vest and was pretty well set for the day. What I didn't tell him was that I had an aversion to asking for money from people simply because I needed it. Selling newspapers was, somehow, a more palatable way of earning money and I had plans to stick with that for a while, at least till I figured out what to do with the rest of my life.
As day turned to night I headed back to the next bus stop down the line and smoked a few cigarettes in preparation for another night over the wall and in the dirt. Soon, a very pretty young lady came to the stop and we struck up a conversation with her opening line of "Didn't I wait on u at McDonalds a couple of hours ago"? Sure enough, I knew I had seen her somewhere and that was it. We exchanged names and hers turned out to be Serena. Serena, besides having a beautiful name was also a very beautiful girl. Turns out that she was only 17 (soon to have her 18th birthday in October), the unwed mother of a six-month-old baby who she had relinquished care of in favor of her parents who lived in Florida, and who was living in a group home for teenagers in need. She told me that she was homeless herself at age 13 so therefore she knew the deal pretty well. She was just working at Mickey D's for a couple of months to save some money for her eventual return to Florida, imminent because upon her 18th birthday she had to leave the group home.
We talked easily for quite some time, something I had no problem with altho I was 35 years older than she. I attribute this to my lifelong hobby of collecting heavy metal records (numbering over 4000 pieces before I lost it) and therefore my connection to younger people. If u can gain a teenager's attention by knowing a subject such as metal as well as I do, it opens up a whole new world of communication. Music, especially rock and roll and its bastard son, heavy metal, have a language and a camaraderie all their own and if u can speak it to a teen u can easily gain their respect. I did this for several years on the Internet without ever having to reveal my true age and it worked wonderfully for chatting about my favorite subject.
Anyway, back to Serena. She informed me that if I were to come in the restaurant while she was on duty behind the counter, she could "take care of me" by giving me free food and sodas. Being damn near broke this was very appealing so I agreed to take her up on her offer. Her bus finally came and we parted company knowing a lot more about each other than just a mere hour before.
Watching carefully for pedestrians, bicyclists, and cops, I hopped over the fence and was asleep in a few minutes, armed with the knowledge of having made some new friends and acquaintances. I slept well!!!