Erwin is a musician, late 50s. Which you would never guess (that he’s nearly 50). He looks to be a good 10 years younger than that. He’s played with a couple of bands that you would immediately recognize if you were listening to music in the 70s. I cannot tell you which ones though, because I have changed his name in this article to safeguard his identity.
Erwin’s been a regular Starbuckeroo for a long time, but I didn’t know it because he’s part of the patio crowd. The patio at the Eagle Rock Starbucks has a much greater seating capacity than the indoor section, so a regular patio sitter might not know a regular indoor sitter. But, with the patio under construction, Erwin ended up sitting right next to me inside for a few days in a row.
At first blush…
Based on his attire, his intelligent and inoffensive banter, and his comportment, I took him to be a regular, middle-class Joe blow, typing away on his laptop. The only thing dazzlingly unique about him was that he was working with a music notation program and tapping out rhythms. Although, come to think of it, a musician tapping out rhythms at a Starbucks isn’t so terribly unique in Los Angeles, is it?
Then, day two…
As one of the other Starbuckeroos was leaving, the guy (whom I would soon know as Erwin) made a comment about how he thought the exiting patron I had been chatting with might be homeless.
That surprised me because, based on my previous conversations with Mister Exiting, I thought I recalled him talking about his home in Pasadena.
I mentioned to Erwin that I didn’t think he was homeless, and then countered with what I thought would be merely an interesting conversational bit: “I tell you what though, Erwin, I am pretty sure that many of those who sit here or pass through to use the restroom are homeless.”
“Oh, they are,” Erwin said confidently.
“In fact, you know that storage facility just down the street? I suspect that there are homeless people who are sort of living there during its open hours.”
“Umm hmmm,” he said with equal confidence, and not the least bit surprised. “I’m one of them, sort of,” he added matter-of-factly.
That was the beginning of one of the most interesting conversations I have had all this year.
And, mind you, I have had a lot of interesting conversations.
Erwin, the “houseless” man
First, you should know that he’s offended by the term homeless.
He prefers houseless.
Because he sleeps in his car, you see. So, sure, it’s not a house, he explains. But it is in fact his home.
Even as cars go, this is a small home. It’s an old Geo Metro.
It’s not in great shape either, but that’s part of his security system, so to speak—an old beater is less likely to be burglarized or draw attention.
Erwin parks his Geo Metro “home” in front of the self-storage building, using one of the storage units as his closet. He’s an environmental activist, so he keeps his car parked almost all the time and travels the city by means of his bicycle, which is a pretty decent one.
The only trick is that—like Cinderella and her time-limited carriage that turns into a pumpkin after midnight—Erwin must get his bike back to the storage unit before it closes and he’s locked out for the night. While Eagle Rock isn’t a slum, it’s still a bad place to leave a bike out overnight, even with a chain lock. He has had a bike stolen once before.
Erwin’s got a Plan B though; if he misses the closing hour deadline at the storage facility, he’s got a secret spot where he hides the bike away from the street, thanks to the help of a cooperative neighbor.
Self-storage … literally!
Erwin also confirmed my suspicion, that some homeless people probably do “sort of” live there at the self-storage facility. The self-storage building has limited hours, and certainly doesn’t permit people to sleep in the storage units overnight. But that doesn’t mean that a unit renter cannot sleep in his unit during open hours.
So, in other words, those who have no home, and not even a car to sleep in, are sometimes wandering the night and then returning to the self-storage building to enter their storage unit for a snooze during operating hours.
It makes me wonder though to what degree the self-storage building management is aware of this. I suspect that know and that they allow it unofficially—quietly looking the other way, almost as a public service, as a way to help out the downtrodden.
The fine art of living homeless in L.A.
What Erwin then introduced me to was the fine art of gracefully living the homeless life. Fascinating stuff, and truly an art!
But that conversation took place over the course of the next two or three days because I was pushing a tight client deadline, so I had to wait and learn most of his story after this brief introduction to living homeless with finesse.
As must you.