It was about 11pm and I was in downtown LA walking back to my car from an event. I was tired and ready to go home and sleep, but little did I realize my night was just beginning. When I got to the parking garage the gate was closed. Apparently I didn’t see the sign for the hours nor did the parking attendant say anything when I got there earlier. I called their number many times, but there was no answer. I couldn’t even leave a message because their message box was full. I called my girlfriend to let her know what happened, but I didn’t let her come get me because she had work early next morning, and she’s been so tired and getting sick from working so much, so I didn’t want her to drive 50 miles round trip late at night. I called some of my buddies near by, but no answer. It was close to midnight on a Monday, and I figured they were all asleep. So I gave up on the idea of calling my friends, and I didn’t want to fork out the extra cash for an overpriced motel. I’m sure the money could be used in better ways.
The street was empty with just a few homeless people trying to sleep. Otherwise it was quite peaceful. I was glad that at least it wasn’t too cold like it was the last few nights. I didn’t eat dinner so I was getting hungry. I then walked down Broadway looking for something to eat.
I found a convenience store that was open 24 hours and I bought a bottle of juice and some fruit. I walked back over to the parking garage, sat down in front of the gate and tried calling the company again a few more times, but no answer. My phone battery was dying, so I called my girlfriend one more time to tell her not to worry, and I shut off my phone. As it got later in the night, it started to get colder. And I decided to walk over to Skid Row to see what was going on over there.
When you see a dead rat on the sidewalk, you know you are in Skid Row. That and along with the trash everywhere, the smell of feces, and urine. It was mostly quiet, with the occasional sound of someone cursing and yelling echoing through the streets. Most people were asleep in their tents though. A police patrol car pulled up and put a spot light on me. An officer said sternly; “Get off the street! Why are you jaywalking? Are you on parole?” “No sir” I answered. Then he abruptly drove off. Suddenly I heard the sound of a shopping cart rolling by. An African-American man in his early 50s said to me; “what are you doing out here at this time of night son?” The man’s name is Charles, and I explained to him what happened to me about the parking garage. “There is some crooked shit out here in downtown” he said. Then he had me tag along with him because he felt it wasn’t safe for me to be out here on my own.
I went recycling with him, walking for hours, rummaging through the trash. He told me that he refuses to panhandle or beg for money. He sometimes does janitorial work at a warehouse nearby for cash. Charles admitted that he’s a drug user, but he earns his money through honest work. He told me about his troubled past, growing up in a broken home, and feeling alone most of his life. And that drugs became his way to escape.
He was reluctant to do drugs in front of me. He felt that it was disrespectful. He was glad that I never tried drugs before, and he didn’t want to be a bad influence to me in any way. But as an addict, he couldn’t overcome his need to get high, so he asked me to watch his shopping cart while he went into a public bathroom to smoke crack cocaine.
It’s common for the public bathroom on Skid Row to be used for drug use or having sex. And Charles had to wait a while before he could go in to use the bathroom since someone was in there shooting up on heroin. After Charles came out of the bathroom, he was twitching a little, his eyes looking more dilated. At first he had trouble speaking, but he was able to understand me. It wasn’t long until the initial rush went away, and he was coherent again. “The numb feeling throughout my body is still there” he said “it makes the pain of my loneliness go away” he added.
He walked me to the Greyhound bus station so I could get some rest there. He told me once I’m there not to come out or let anyone talk me into coming out, and to keep my wallet and things in my coat pocket. He told me to keep to myself and not to trust anyone. He had this concerned look on his face and said “I feel responsible for you.” Then when we got to the station, and he felt I was okay, he gave me a hug and walked away. It was close to 4am, and the terminal was getting busy with buses arriving and departing. The loudspeaker was blaring and the metal benches were hard and uncomfortable. I tried to sleep but I could only manage to doze off for a few minutes at a time. I assumed that the parking garage might be open early, so I decided to forget about sleep, and instead walk back to my car, going through Skid Row along the way.
When I was back in Skid Row, I ended up at the LA Mission as they were opening up their doors for breakfast. I followed some of the other homeless men into the chapel for morning service. Many were sleeping during the sermon, as the speaker shared from his own experiences of living on the streets to finding hope in his faith. The music that was playing was comforting, and the place felt warm and cozy. Finally I fell asleep there for a half hour or so. Then I walked back to the parking garage as they were opening up at 6am. When I finally got home, I appreciated in a whole new way, how good it is to have a roof over my head, to have a comfortable, peaceful place to sleep, and to know that there are people who worry and care about me. One night being homeless was certainly tough, but I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be out there night after night, or for weeks, months, even years. As Charles said when I asked him how long he’s been homeless; “too long, son. too long.”