One of my main personal rules for street living is to be as mobile as possible and to never get overly attached to one camp no matter how nice it is. It's natural to want the security of a home base, but the reality of the lifestyle is that it is not practical for that base to be permanent. At any moment the police could raid you or your camp could be invaded by other bums. Not to mention the fact that anyone could sneak up and kill you in your sleep.
I believe it is better to pare down to the necessities and take your home with you, mentally, wherever you go. But you'll frequently see green proto-homebums, fresh to the streets, building fortresses out of cardboard in some hole behind a building, trying to preserve some semblance of their lost domestic tranquility.
It's been raining here so for the last few nights. I've been holed up under my favorite bridge on West and 6th Streets. Not all bridges are created equal and this one is a true gem possessing both practical utility and mythic resonance. It's constructed of giant stones, real old school like, and is surrounded by lush greenery. It runs over Shoal Creek and when it rains the creek floods up to where I'm sleeping and threatens to wash me out, but the place is so big and elevated that it's never gotten me. At night you can hear the people partying up on 6th Street and at 8:30 PM, like clockwork, the bats come in and swoop around for a few minutes before moving on to the next bridge.
It is the most magical place I have found in Austin.
By vagaries of the geography and architecture, which I'm at pains to describe, the space under the bridge is strangely isolated and somewhat hard to get down to which is why I was so surprised to be awoken this morning with a flashlight in my face and a huge cop standing over me yelling, "AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT, YOU CAN'T SLEEP HERE."
I was startled awake and sat up quickly making sure to keep my hands visible. As he walked toward me I had no great fear in my heart but simple resignation to the inevitable. The possibility of citation or arrest are a constant Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of any homeless person and eventually you just learn to live with it. Besides, I was prepared. My drugs were safely hidden under a rock 100 yards away so I knew the only thing he could hit me for was camping which would be a two or three day maximum if he wanted to be a dick about it. As luck would have it I drew a humanitarian.
"Look, don't worry." he said, "I'm not going to arrest you or anything. I'm just going to write you a citation for camping."
I said to him, "I want to point something out. I've only been down here for a couple of days because of the rain and yesterday I picked up a whole garbage bag full of trash and packed it out. There were beer cans and food wrappers and dirty clothes all over the place and now it looks great. I honestly feel I had a positive effect on the place, if any."
This is true. I always pick up all the trash wherever I sleep whether it's mine or not. I do this in the interest of aesthetics and general cleanliness but also so I can play this card in just such a situation. Though the cop could tell I was telling the truth, and claimed to sympathize, my efforts had been in vain.
"Don't take it personal. I'm sure you're a great guy. This citation isn't a big deal. Just take it down to city court and the judge will give you community service. You won't even have to pay a fine."
"Alright" I said, "But look, can I still come down here and read during the day? It is a part of Shoal Creek Park and it's such a beautiful place."
He said I could still hang out there and that he could see why I would want to.
Before leaving he said, "You've been doing pretty good if you've been here for over a year and this is the first time I've had to talk to you."
"I don't commit crimes." I told him. He didn't get the irony.
So on the plus side I now have official authorization to continue reading in the park but with the stipulation that I must perform community service for sleeping in a place no one ever goes. America is a fascist police state, but I already knew that, end of story.
Later while I was walking down to skid row to see about scoring some drugs I noticed an old guy over by the homeless shelter trying to pack a new box of cigarettes. He was in a wheelchair and appeared to be suffering from some form of Palsy. He was shaking pretty badly and kept dropping the box of smokes on the ground until finally some kind soul picked them up and offered to do it for him. (for a cigarette, of course)
"Damn" I thought, "Imagine what it must be like for that poor dude trying to survive in this environment. It's a sign of a sick society that someone in that condition isn't better cared for."
I walked around the block for a few minutes looking for discarded drugs on the ground. I came around to the local convenience store (MadDog 20/20 & Fried Shit) and out front I saw a couple of bicycle cops jacking up that poor old handicapped guy! They were writing him a ticket for flying a sign in front of the store asking for change. The cops were big and gruff and were menacingly explaining to the guy that if they caught him panhandling again he would be arrested and brought to jail.
It just goes to show that for every "friendly" cop there are at least two pig scumbags waiting to bully and harass an old Palsy victim just trying to make a little scratch. And even the "friendly" pigs still give you the ticket.
So I''l go to City Court and do my service but what is that old man going to do? Can he pick up trash off the side of the road? How can he pay a 180$ fine when he's just struggling to survive? The simple fact is that he wont be able to pay it and the next time some bully cop has nothing better to do but run his name he'll be shipped on down to the Dell Valley Jail with every thief, rapist and killer in Travis County. I'm sure he'll receive compassionate medical care from their highly professional staff.
People go insane here all the time. Just today a relatively normal guy I've known for months shit himself and started pounding himself on the chest screaming "NOOOOooooooo" over and over again. For two hours. Some say it's the drugs, and that is a piece of the puzzle. But an even bigger piece, in my opinion, is the lack of empathy and understanding with which this society treats it's least fortunate members. Why, in the face of such cold and irrational neglect any man would eventually go mad. Except for me, of course.