Friday, October 7, 2016

An Encounter With Drifters

I just love it when the day gives you what you don't expect. Sometimes, these things can wreck your day (say a car accident), but sometimes they are a pleasant surprise and teach new life lessons or give one an unexpected outlook. That happened tonight. I decided I would take a dip in the communal hot tub that the residents of my complex enjoy before it closed. So, I robed myself in the proper attire and sashayed across the street to the hot tub.

I was sitting quietly in the tub when two people appeared out of the dark. A guy jumped over the fence and said "Mind if we join you?" Following close behind him was a girl. These people clearly were not residents of the housing community. They both had on jeans, boots and a lot of chains and studded accessories, which they probably classified as jewelry. But, I figured "who cares if they mooch off a hot tub?" And also, how was I, a twenty-something female sitting in a hot tub going to stop them? So I said "I don't mind." And I didn't mind.

The guy removed his shirt and then began to lower himself into the hot tub. He looked at me quickly and said "Do you mind?" And I replied " could take off your boots.." "Ha, I'm too lazy!" and with that he plopped himself into the hot tub with a grin on his face. "We don't have bathing suits," he informed me. "Fair enough," I thought. The girl then joined us, she was wearing a bikini top and jeans. She informed me that her bikini top was her only bra. "Fair enough," I thought again. They pleasantly introduced themselves to me and we began to converse.

I knew these were interesting people, so I decided I would make the most of this situation. "Where do you live?" I asked the guy. I was naively thinking he lived in east Portland and found himself on the west side jumping fences to soak in restricted hot tubs. "I'm homeless," he replied. I wondered if that meant he slept on friend's couches, in shelters or on park benches. So I asked him "Where do you sleep?" "Mmm, mostly under overpasses and stuff,' he replied. I informed him that he was going to be awfully wet tonight as he was wearing his regular street clothing (including his sturdily built lace-up black boots) and he happened to be immersed in water.

I then turned my attention to the girl. I asked her where she was from and she told me some town in California. Somehow I found out that she had been in Austin and well, Portland is often compared to Austin. I wanted to know what it was like and she said she didn't like it because the cops were jerks. I suppose when you're a street kid, the town sheriff matters because they hassle you to stop sleeping on park benches and to not pan handle and what not. To people like me, the friendliness of the cops really isn't a reason for me to like or dislike a place. I've never had a proper run-in with the law.

Anyways, I learned quite a a bit about this girl. She was homeless for three years in her town in California but then things went south. She had to pay to sleep in the homeless shelter and there just weren't enough resources for homeless people, so she left. She hitchhiked all over the country. She had most recently been in Kansas City and had been in Portland for just a week. I asked her how she got from place to place and she told me through truckers. This rang an alarm in my mind. "Do you ever feel unsafe?" "Well, I'm still alive!" she replied. She then informed me her methods of hitchhiking with truckers and how she sits in the truck for a moment before it takes off. Apparently, drifters and street kids learn how to read people pretty well and she told there are characteristics you can pick up on right away. Sometimes she gets out of the truck and other times she decides it's safe. She has never had a regrettable experience.

I mostly conversed with the girl as the guy was contorting his body in unusual ways, making funny faces, emitting a variety of sounds, and being generally happy. But the girl was a chatty one and I wanted to know her story. She had a horse when she was young and she sometimes worked as a stable girl in whatever town she ended up in. Normally people didn't let her ride their horses, but she did know what she was doing. She found a cat in a storm drain and gave it a very long name, which I can't remember, but it goes something like this: storm-scuff-death kabie-gutter-babe-something-something-sheba-the-third. She and the guy had just met hanging out somewhere downtown. I commented to her that I think there is only one guy like the guy she just met. He certainly marched to the beat of his own drum and was a friendly one. She informed me that he was indeed pretty unique, but you meet interesting people when you live on the street.

I really have no idea what the world of the drifter is like. I've only seen the movie "Into the Wild" (and read the book, and bought the t-shirt). But, I have met some people when when you ask them where they live they say "nowhere." And, these people did quite strike me as those types.

I said I would cover them if security asked about them. I would just say I have my hot tub pass and they are my guests. I liked these kids, even though, I do have to admit, they had their issues. But they certainly weren't snobby and they were very friendly. I also think they enjoyed me asking them lots of questions. I wanted to ask them more like "What about your family?" or "Do you have any rooted relationships with anyone or do you just drift and meet random people constantly?" I wondered if they had a vision for their future. Did they think they could really do something with their lives? Did they even want to? Did they think this life could go on forever? I mean, it's cute and interesting and exotic when you're 22 to be a street kid/drifter...but time has a way of, well, moving on.

A group of Indian guys joined us (probably engineering students working on their master's, hey sorry for the stereotype there, but stereotyping serves a relevant purpose!). I think they thought the street kids were weird, and they were. We didn't talk to them. But, I realized there were two groups in the hot tub and I was a part of the homeless group, although I have a home.

After awhile, I got lost in my own thoughts and we all became silent and let the bubbles in the hot tub boil us and make noise. I had gotten a lot of information out of them and I was feeling too relaxed to make anymore conversation so, I said goodbye to them. "Thanks for putting up with us," the guy said. "Well, thank you for making it interesting," I replied.

I then wrapped a towel around myself and slipped into my $80 trendy travel sandals, feeling a bit pretentious. And yet, I knew these kids were not judging me for having expensive shoes and access to a pretentious hot tub.

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