By Pete Moss
(Click here for Part X )
I sat in the Packard, under the freeway, trying to make sense of the past 60 days.
I couldn't. Everything happened in a blur.
The sun went down. Lights came on. Traffic rushed by. I fell asleep.
But at some point there was a tapping on the window and I woke up. There was some guy tapping on my window. He didn't look totally street. He was clean and had all his teeth. But there was a kind of feral look in his eye. I figured he probably didn't live in a house either.
"Dude, does this thing run? You gotta move it's street cleaning." He said.
"Huh....uh...yeah, it runs. Street cleaning?"
"Yeah dude, it's a $60 dollar ticket. I can tell you're a newbie at this. That's how they get you, with the street cleaning tickets. You get 6 unpaid tickets and they jank your vehicle. Be a shame for a nice old ride like this to get janked. What is this? A '52 Packard Patrician? Man! Nice old car. Still, you gonna live in your vehicle you really wanna live in a van. That's my van across the street. See the '77 Dodge Maxi with the home made poptop? I'm Pete Moss by the way."
The guy sticks his hand in the window. And I shake. "But yeah, anyway, you gotta move your vehicle to the other side of the street. They'll be coming through any minute...."
"Oh yeah, pleased to meet you," I mumble. I reach for the keys. "It's a '53, actually." I say, slotting the key and pumping the pedal.
"Oh wow a '53. Packard went out of business in what '54?"
"Actually Studebaker bought Packard in spring '55 then they sold a couple thousand re-badged Studebaker Hawks as Packards in '56 and '57 and then shut down the marque for good in '58."
"Dude, you know your Packards."
I cranked the Packard and it fired up, making its customary rumble, amplified by the surrounding buildings and the freeway over head.
Pete Moss stepped back with a delighted look of awe on his face.
It was about 2 in the morning so I just made a big U turn in the middle of the street and slid the Packard up to the crub beside Pete's big yellow van.
I got out of the Packard to stretch my legs. Pete came over.
"So you're like a Rook at the mobile dwelling. So I'll be your street daddy. Don't worry, I'm not trying to get into your pants. I'm germaphobic. So come check out the side of my van. See the mural on the side? My daughter painted that. She goes to the art institute on Chestnut Street. Not that crappy Academy of Art on Hooper. That Academy of Art is like some kind of goofy cult, you ask me. Say, you hungry? There's a really great dumpster around the corner. We call it the Chinese Food Bank...."
"You eat out of a dumpster?"
"Yeah, it's the one for Rainbow Foods, they toss all the expired shit in there 6 nights a week....."
"But I thought you're germaphobic?"
"But you eat out of a dumpster?"
Pete looked at me, perplexed by my confusion.
"Anyway, yeah, I am hungry, show me where it's at," I say. And away we go. This Pete guy, who must be 50, his walking pace is what a lot of people would consider running.
"One other thing, you're gonna need a bicycle...." Pete blathers on and I begin to see that this mobile dwelling is gonna be an all-consuming lifestyle.
There's an excited crowd of hobos waiting around by the roll-up steal door behind the Rainbow Grocery. Morale is high. They are joshing and greeting each other and trading cigerettes.
They all know Pete Moss. He seems to be some kind of hobo aristocrat. He works the crowd, enquiring, greeting, advising, like a popular mayor of a close knit community.
And then the roll-up door rolls up and Rainbow employees tell everybody to stand back and they roll out 3 dumpsters full of discarded food.
There's a rush and then jostling. The hobos work diligently, digging through, snatching what they want, stashing it courier bags or pockets or reused liquor plastic sacks.
In 10 minutes Pete has picked out 3 tubs of cottage cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mangoes, papaya, soup, bread, trail mix and several other items.
"Wo great nite!" says Pete. He crams everything into his own jumbo size courier bag and shakes hands and slaps backs, "See you next time," he says.
"C'mon, let's go over to Jane's. She makes the best Tortas. You still hungry? You know Jane? She's a fantastic cook...." And Pete is off on another long diatribe, describing Jane and her vehicle and her cat and dog and how her mom was Carol Doda and so and so forth. And he's not walking any slower, even with 20 pounds of discarded groceries in his pack.
But we don't have far to go. Janes rig is parked about 2 blocks away. It's an impressive rig. A super size cab over on a '72 Ford Campr Special painted purple and pink.
Pete knocks on Janes door and we hear Jane shouting out inside, and her dog barking, and a radio blaring punk rock.
Jane opens the door. She's framed by blue light spilling from inside her rig. She has a massive pile of orange hair and is awash in sashes and scarves and belts and vests and shawls and jangly jewelry.
"Hey Jane, this is...hey I forgot, what is your name?'" says Pete, turning to me.
"I'm Hollister McElroy..."
Jane sticks out her hand and we shake, her grip is firm. I look into her face. Her eyes are black, unreadable, but she's smiling. "Well aren't you a fine looking young man," she says.
"Yeah, he is. All the street girls around here are gonna be fighting over him by this time tomorrow. He's a rook, never been on the street before. He's got the coolest '53 Packard he's living in...."
"That true? This your 1st time on the street?" says Jane, interrupting Pete.
"Uh....I'm afarid so."
"Oh don't be ashamed. I've been living in my vehicle for....well...a long time. Anyway, where's my manners, come on in. Sorry, the place is a mess. I see you been over the Chinese food bank. Why don't you let me fix some breakfast?"
I realize dawn is cracking, actually.
Jane retreats into her rig and Pete and I squeeze on in. It's really crowded in the camper. There's boxes and bins and crates of fabric scraps and beads and trim and lace and sewing supplies.
"I'm sorry, the place is such a mess," says Jane, clearing a small space and telling me to sit.
"It's not really a mess," I say. "It's crowded but I can see a method to it."
"Oh my god, aren't you such a gentleman! If I was 20 years younger..."
Pete laughs out loud and slaps me on the back. There's barely room to move but he's managed to unload all the food out his pack and place it all on the miniscule counter. Jane has brought out a chopping board and camp stove and she hands the chopping board to me, along with a knife. I slice up onions and garlic and tomatoes.
Jane splits three rolls, coats them with butter and fries them face down. She sprinkles on the crushed garlic then adds kidney beans, cottage cheese, sliced ham, olive, tomatoe, lettuce, sliced jalpenos and a bunch of other stuff. Finally she hands me a finished sandwich that is huge and decidely messy, and also incredibly tasty. I forget that all the ingredeints were sitting in a dumpster a few minutes ago. I'm actually quite hungry and the torta goes quick. Jane asks if I want another.
Over the next two weeks I learn the ins and outs of living in my vehicle on the street.
I get a membership at the gym where I can shower, take some steam, swim and soak in the whirlpool.
It takes almost a hundred dollars to fill up the Packard and the tank is half empty in 3 days. The bus isn't free, though not as expensive as the Packard, but the bus takes too long. Pete Moss digs me up a bicycle and takes me to the Bike Kitchen, a free bike repair co-op.
I need a job. Problem is I don't have my social security card. I'm not sure what my social security number even is. Granny wasn't keen on mundane details like social security cards.
I go to the social security office and they tell me I need a copy of my birth certificate to obtain a card. I go to the city to try and get a copy of my birth certificate but they can't locate any records.
"Where were you born?" says the clerk.
"I...think right here, in San Francisco," I say.
"Well, what hospital?"
"Uh, I don't know."
"Well find that out and we can start from there."
Now I don't know who to call. Granny never mentioned where I was born. I never asked. I never talked about it with Great Aunt Elizabeth either. And of course I have no idea where Carmen is, who, according to Germaine, wasn't my mother anyway. I could call Germaine, she might know, except I forgot to get her number, I was distracted by Granny's funeral and Germaine showing up out of the blue.
I explain my predicament to Pete Moss and he thinks about it for a minute and then grabs his bike and we pedal off.
We head down 3rd street to the Dogpatch neighborhood, past shabby old warehouses and fancy new live work lofts. We come to a parking lot under the freeway. There's a motley collection of vehicles in the lot.
We ride up to one, an old aluminum Airstream.
Pete knocks on the skin of the trailer.
"This here is the Street Girls Feminist Collective," says Pete, sweeping his arm in an encompassing gesture.
"Is that you Pete?" comes a voice, not in the trailer. We turn and there's a tiny black haired woman, dressed in a camo jumpsuit with a pistol in her hand.
"Dijay!," says Pete. Dijay holsters her weapon and she and Pete exchange hugs.
"Sorry about the gun. We've been having trouble with the Pennsylvania Holes Crew," says Dijay.
"Yeah, those PHC guys are rough. So hey, meet my freind, this is Hollister McElroy."
I step forward and shake hands with Dijay.
"He's your new driver."
"Oh is he? I wasn't aware I needed a driver."
"I heard Lenny got busted."
"Oh no, not again."
"And I know you got gigs coming up."
Dijay turns to me. "Are you on drugs?" she says, her black eyes piercing.
"No, I don't do drugs."
"What kind of ride you got?"
"A '53 Packard Patrician."
"That sounds kind of old."
"It's a totally cool sled, runs like a dream!" says Pete.
"Well I suppose we can check it out. Where you parked?"
So we saddle up and ride our bikes over to Division Street.
"Oh wow, this'll do quite nicely," says Dijay. "You willing to get the windows tinted and have the car detailed?"
"Sure," I say.
"OK, you're hired. Pick me up at the Collective tomorrow night at 7. We got a show in East Oakland. I'll call my mechanic and have him go over the car, tint the windows and get it cleaned up."
"Aren't you forgetting something?" says Pete.
"What?" says Dijay.
"Oh, that. I'll give you 50 bucks a night," says Dijay.
"C'mon Dijay. You make a grand a show."
"That's only for the big shows. Lots of littler shows I barely make a couple hundred. But OK, 50 bucks plus expenses."
"OK OK, 75."
"How about 75 for the small shows and a c-note for the bigger ones. I know your gig tomorrow nite is at the Crucible, there's gonna thousands of people there, all the Burner crowd. Face it, without a good driver to get you and your gear to the show you won't make anything."
"Sure, the artist always gets ripped off," grumbles Dijay. "Whatever, be here tomorrow, no excuses."
"I'll be the best driver ever, you'll see," I say. Seems like the kind of thing I ought to say.
Dijay smiles. "I think you might be at that." Then she gets on her bike and rides off.
(Click here for Part XII )