Routine

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Barbara*, 1939-

“[And I encountered] hostility, especially from little old ladies. But anybody, really, you try to say hello to first. If they say hello to you, it’s fine, you can return it, but the queen speaks first!”

I try to have a day routine; I think it’s psychologically healthy. Every Monday*, we have an animal lovers’ group that I attend. On Thursdays, I’ll walk to the senior center. It is a small group of seniors; not homeless, just seniors. It is a wonderful group; they sit and talk about their grandchildren, I talk about animals, she smiles. On Sundays, I go to the Unitarian Church; not that I grew up a Christian, but they are good people, so I like to go there.

Every day, I get up at six o’clock every morning, and walk down the hill. I panhandle every day I can. People seem to like me and they stop because I’m in robes, but you can sit there all day and earn nothing, or just $3. It is hard work. I encounter kindness, and hostility, especially from little old ladies. But anybody, really, you try to say hello to first. If they say hello to you, it’s fine, you can return it, but the queen speaks first!

Getting to places is the hardest. As I told you, many bus drivers refuse to let me on the bus with the wheelchair unless I am sitting in it. The senior center, for example, that’s five hours away, so I walk it. . .


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[* She asked to use a pseudonym, without photos. Locations were deleted as well for privacy reasons.]

 

My Grandchildren

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Barbara*, 1939-

“They sit around and talk about their grandchildren; I talk about animals.”

We have an animal lovers group that I attend. Generally, they sit around and talk about their grandchildren; I talk about animals. Cats are one thing, dogs are another, and I like them all. Growing up, I had dogs and cats, but my mom would cart them off to the pound; that’s just the way it was. And we had chickens in the backyard for consumption, that was the kind of old-fashioned life that I had. I knew a woman who considers herself mortally wounded over having observed a chicken’s head being cut off, but you know, it didn’t harm the rest of us.

I feed pigeons when I can, and never kill insects just because they are there, I pick them up. If pigeons got themselves stranded on a sidewalk, I’ll move them, and you can see their smile as they fly away, she laughs. Speaking of birds, I saw a bird fall off a curb one time. He wasn’t paying attention, he goofed up, which was kind of funny, she smiles. They make their own mistakes, too!

Would I want to own a pet? Oh, I am getting old, you don’t want to have a pet killed because you are no longer there to take care of them. And besides, the street is no place to raise an animal.


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[* She asked to use a pseudonym, without photos]

 

Arch-Nemeses

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Barbara*, 1939-

“They don’t argue, these bus drivers, they outloud you, they do. I don’t have the volume in my voice to out-scream them. Nonexistent skills of communication, they raise their voice and quit listening. It’s a living nightmare.”

“Ma’am, you can’t get the wheelchair on the bus,” they yell.

“How am I supposed to move around? I have bad knees and diabetes,” I sometimes try to fight back, but they don’t care. “If you are not in the chair, then you are not disabled and can’t bring it on the bus.” Of course, I can’t sit in my wheelchair, they know it; everything I own is on it. “Ma’am, step away, I am closing the door.”

They don’t argue, these bus drivers, they outloud you, they do. I don’t have the volume in my voice to out-scream them. Nonexistent skills of communication, they raise their voice and quit listening. It’s a living nightmare. I can’t have arguments with six or eight drivers every single day, and keep my composure.

It is a daily struggle for me. Beyond the drivers, there is the issue of my stuff falling off when they brake. Fat ladies aren’t going to come flying out of a wheelchair, but books and stuff do, they simply go flying out. And I also need the help of a bus patron to carry the wheelchair onto the bus. So, sometimes I’ll be able to ride the bus, and other times, I’ll turn around and get out, but I’ve got to get another bus. . .

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[* She asked to use a pseudonym, without photos]

 

Happiest on the Street

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Barbara*, 1939-

“As happy as I have been on the street, parts of me get obliterated, and most people just don’t hear it. I thought you wouldn’t, either.”

I’ll tell you, I have never been happier in my life. I sleep outside, and still feel the happiest I have ever felt. I am freer, not free; you know, one of Trungpa’s books was The Myth of Freedom, you are never really free. It is hard being on the street, but harder to be trapped inside with too many rules. I have a small pension, but it’s not enough to get housing, not even a room. But I know how to camp, I can survive in the woods or urban camping, as I call it.

The biggest surprise on the streets is that there are some un-socialized people out there. They aren’t breaking the rules, they simply don’t process them. Their mother left home at 5 a.m. and came back at 11 at night, the kids were on their own, they don’t know any better. But on the street, there are as many different stories as there are human beings. Each one has their own, you would be surprised. I was actually going to cancel this interview. This morning, on the way here, I thought how complex and multi-faceted it is. How difficult it would be to explain it, and the risk of misrepresenting the complexity. I was rehearsing how to turn you down. As happy as I have been on the street, parts of me get obliterated, and most people just don’t hear it. I thought you wouldn’t, either.

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[* She asked to use a pseudonym, without photos]