I spent the rest of the day looking forward to tomorrow’s visit to Starbucks, where I would hear the rest of Erwin’s story (see Another Starbuckeroo—The Intentionally Homeless Guy for the introduction to his story). After all, it’s not every day that I befriend a homeless person. Even in L.A., I would have to go out of my way to do so. Of course, it’s much easier to befriend the homeless when they come cleverly disguised as a middle-class self-employed type, as is the case with Erwin.
Why he has chosen to live in his car
As I learned from Erwin today, his story is atypical of those living without a house in L.A. Few among the sane have chosen it. But he has.
And he seems perfectly content with his choice to live the homeless life. As Erwin explains it, “I was living alone and had few possessions. Even in a small one bedroom apartment, I felt like I was rattling around in all that extra space.”
Erwin felt that the “four walls” effect of an apartment only increased his loneliness. And then there was the debt he had accumulated. It was eating into his soul. Being a mostly out-of-work musician and actor in a tight economy, his hope of getting financially back in the black looked terribly distant, given the overhead of rent and utilities. So…
“So, how bad was the debt?” I asked.
None of my business, of course, but I was curious and he was talking, so…
“Almost ten thousand.”
Hmmm. Thinking on my own debt—which stockpiled from nearly zero to over 30 thousand bucks during the financial dearth of the current recession until the freelance writing gigs picked back up—living without the overhead of housing and utilities started sounding pretty sweet.
But how do you…?
I was prepped and ready with questions for Erwin, having spent the previous day wondering how he handles the basics of life and living. My questions basically drove the following discussion.
- How about surviving in all this stifling 90-plus degree heat we’ve been having?
“I spend my days at Starbucks, usually on their covered patio. And at the library. And a friendly neighbor lets me park under their shade tree when it’s real hot.”
- Doesn’t Starbucks mind that you’re not a paying customer?
“Apparently not. But then I try to be respectful. I don’t sleep here in their seats. I clean up after myself in the Starbucks bathroom. I don’t use their paper towels, but just let me hands air dry. When the store’s crowded with all seats filled, I’ll leave. I mind my own business for the most part. And I don’t dress or smell like your typical homeless person, which helps.”
- Right—you’re not the least bit odiferous … how do you shower?
“I get an annual membership to 24 Hour Fitness, which means 24-hour access to a shower.”
- So, do you have any income at all?
“Some, yes. But mostly unemployment income checks.”
- But, wait … don’t you need a mailing address to get unemployment checks or to receive other income-related mail?
“I have a nearby friend who lets me use his address for receiving mail.”
- What about the noise of the city? It drives me nuts sometimes, and I find comfort in retreating to the sanctuary of my home—the chance to crap in my own crapper, to nuke something in my own microwave, and all that. Do you miss that?
“Sure, sometimes. But my car is quiet enough to give me a break from the city’s noise. And I can block it off by plugging in to my noise cancelling headphones. But I do miss access to a kitchen—I don’t eat nearly as healthfully as I did when I had a place.”
- What is your diet like then? Just a lot of prepared snacks or fast food, or what?
“That’s a story for another day, Ric. But the short story is that I haven’t paid for a meal in nearly a year.”
Now that’s a story I can hardly wait to hear. And to share with you. But he seemed reluctant to tell me that story yet, and I had to get back to work on a client’s job.
So, on that note…