Friday, August 19, 2011

Lounging with the High-Tech Hoboes

Like most people, living through this recession has been a challenge. Finding yourself in places and circumstances you never expected because the cash flow you had counted on suddenly stops (for whatever reason).

For me, my life on the streets (or as close as I want to get to it) began a few months ago (and has, oh so thankfully ended--at least for now, anyway. Who knows what tomorrow holds?).

I'm a tech baby. My hands have been attached to a keyboard for decades now. The cell phone/smart phone got added somewhere in there, and eyes are often glued to some cable program or another. That's how I lived. I couldn't imagine life without these creature comforts.

Living without them helped me to realize just how much I need them, and why.

So walk with me, for a minute, won't you? Down into my path of hell?

Mind you, I know there are many who have it worse, much worse. People who, for whatever reason (and yes, their numbers do seem to be increasing of late) find it completely ok to sleep right there on the street. In church doorways, or near highway overpasses. Whereever there is a quiet place to lie their head.

It's a strange sight, seeing someone in a doorway, with a cardboard box covering their heads. Guess it's to keep the morning light out. Still not sure about that one.

But these guys (not too many homeless women, I've noted), at least not lying in doorways, anyway... these guys people have been aware of for decades, since a few recessions ago, at least.

What I've noticed on my new journey into poverty is the step up from that, the high-tech hobo.

So let me take you back a bit in my life (a few months ago). As I said, in my normal life, I am constantly online. I write, I blog, I have a podcast, I'm a regular (as in daily) Twitter poster. Online is pretty much where I live. So, to me, to be suddenly without online access was as close as I want to get to being homeless.

But, I still had my laptop and my phone, and I knew there was wifi to be had. I just had to find it. War-driving, isn't it? I was gonna go out and find some.

First, the easy ones. All these coffee shops and cafes offering "Free Wi-Fi." One close to my house. Thought I was home free. Sadly, these places don't much take to someone camping out and using said Free Wifi for hours at a time and only purchasing a coffee. Or at least the one near me didn't. After a few weeks of regular use, they cut me off. Couldn't access the Net anymore at all. Sad.

So, I sought out other avenues. Libraries! They have wifi. Sadly, they also have very minimal hours. In the time that I was doing this, they were closed on both Sunday and Monday! Two whole days with NO access? My God, how inhuman.

Plus, I'm very much a night person. I get most of my best work done in the wee hours of the morning. Libraries were just closing shop when I was getting going (the latest one open until 8 pm). So, they were kind of out, too.

But there are some places that are open 24 hours and have wifi. I won't tell you the places I found, to protect the innocent, but there are places to be had. And this is what you'll see there. If you go to 24-hour places all around the city of Los Angeles, you'll find men with laptops. At first (like around 9 pm), they are indeed, pounding keys, and looking like they are doing something.

By midnight and onward, you will find them asleep at their laptops all over town. I call them the high-tech hoboes. Don't know for sure that they're homeless, but they definitely have no Internet access.

I started frequenting one particular place. I am thankful that it was available to me during my times of difficulty. In theory, I should've been paying for the priviledge. I am grateful to the kind-hearted staff who let these people just be overnight. But I, like the ten or so others who frequented it (and I mean every night), were just surfing the wifi because it was there. Some folks brought snacks. Some folks watched videos or movies. Some actually worked.

One who particularly intrigued me was a preacher. He was always attired in suit and tie, like he had somewhere important to go. Guess in LA, it's all about what you're wearing.

Early in the evening (between 9 pm and midnight), he would busy himself with religious videos. Someone preaching this or that. Round about 2 or 3 am, when he thought no one was listening, the porn videos would come out. Cracked me up.

The funniest thing about the preacher was that he would often chat up other black folks who happened in there. His theory was that the white folks are planning to "round up the blacks and put them in concentration camps." That he was going to hightail it to South Africa before that happened. Meanwhile, of course, he's spending his nights in this same place, watching his videos. Very strange.

I didn't mention to him, hey, this is a largely white establishment here, and they are kind enough to let you sleep in here, you should really be grateful to them, not dissing them like that. But I didn't. Just let him babble on. Once he got to the part about the aliens, I sorta checked out.

Some parts of me wished I had turned to him, white girl that I am, and said, Hey brotha, it's not about white-black anymore, not even white-Hispanics. It's all about RICH and poor. Haven't you noticed that? It's the rich who are oppressing us. And better to stay here and fight than run away, don't you think? But I kept my silence.

Lotsa people who came in there, and there would often be new ones, acted like they owned the place. Guess entitlement runs hard in LA.

It was a very strange thing to me, hanging out in this place.  But I did come to realize that anywhere you go at 3 am in this town, if it has wifi, you're going to find at least one person there with a laptop, and asleep. This is our new reality.


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