It’s sunset. The long-since blown-out shocks of my vehicle float around the city of Boulder, Colorado. I’m looking for a place to park and sleep in my car for the night. Turn after turn, the traffic pulls the energy from my mind. I hate driving―especially in the city. Perhaps a back-road out of town will yield a pull-out with some privacy. I cruise out of town, breathing the slightly fresher air. The road winds up a canyon, the twilight breeze rushing through the windows as I drive upwards. Floods have washed out large sections of road. Uprooted trees, rocks, and various forms of Nature’s destructive force strew the land, beautifying the road. My lungs suck breath after exhilarating breath, my ears take in rushing wind and water, and my eyes dart from rock to rock with clarity. I see a large dirt pullout created by the force of pure Nature. The car reaches a halt and I hop out to take in the inspiring solitude. Write. I need to sit down and bleed on a page. Notebook in hand, I take a seat on a granite stone. The river roars around me. Poetry, I never liked it before, flows out–rhyme, verse, structure be damned. Chaos on a page. My emptied mind and the flow of the river drift me off to sleep.
Put to bed by nature, I feel as if I might wake well rested. But sometime after midnight, I wake to, “Tap, tap, tap.” “Hello?” “Sheriff ’s Department.” Shit. “Yeah, just a second.” I stumble out to bright headlights in my eyes. Apparently parking on public lands off of high mountain roads is a crime. “Can I see some ID?” I already have it in my hand–done this before. “Are there any warrants out for your arrest?” “No.” “Ya know you’re not supposed to park anywhere in this canyon–especially with the flood damage.” Well, I know now. “Do you know anywhere I could park?” His mustache wrinkles, but produces no speech. That’s an answer enough. “Are you homeless?” “Yeah.” “Looking for work in Boulder?” “Mmm-hmm.” “Well I’ll let you park here the rest of the night unless anyone tells you that you absolutely have to leave.” “Thanks.” Wait―who would tell me I have to move? At least he let me stay.
He pulls out slowly and I don’t get back in the truck just yet. It’s hard to fall asleep after things like that. I unzip my fly and let loose a strong stream of urine. The small adrenaline rush subsides. But anxiety remains. “Are you homeless?” The question remains in my head, retaining Sometimes home is a truck. multiple meanings. He meant to say, “Do you have a physical place of residence?” Yet I answered a different question.
I wake to the soothing sound of sliding snow upon my windshield. Brewing tea and turning the pages of Arabian Sands from a warm sleeping bag is about as good a morning as they come. Morning routine complete, I coast out of the canyon. I drive directly to the library. The homeless people hang out there during the day, especially during a slushy, snowy day. I nod and produce low greetings to a few familiar faces. I feel out of place here–I own a computer, a car and I wear decent clothing. Yet I carry a backpack wear boots and a hat, haven’t showered or shaved in the past couple days, and my face shows the lines of a hard night in the past. I exist somewhere in purgatory, feeling entirely neutral–a strange feeling indeed. I pass the time by finishing a book and scrolling the same craigslist feed of rooms and shares one hundred times. At three p.m. I have a job interview at Trader Joe’s. I head to the bathroom, change clothes, brush teeth, wet hair, and feel quite content with my outfit and masculine looks. I leave the bathroom leaning away from the homeless look and more towards the confident intellectual.
I arrive at Trader Joe’s too early and pass the time by thumbing through the pages of a book without absorbing the literature. In the store, I wait awkwardly for Lance, the boss, as I force a smile and personable composure. This activity I excel at. After a twenty minute wait, Lance and I enter a small room and the questions begin. I flip questions into jokes and stories of adventure. Lance seems like a nice guy, and the job sounds fun. I even tell him about the expedition I am planning. Here, exchanging stories about the future and the unknown, the smile is true, the laughter comes easy, and I’m hired on the spot. I finish the day out by rewarding myself with a membership at the YMCA. Physical therapy for my healing knee, a sauna soak, and a shower are the sweetest of pleasures in the self-denial of a simple life.
But pleasure is doomed by the incessant search for a place to sleep. After roaming roads out of town, I decide to hide by fitting in. I pull into a residential neighborhood where parked cars crowd the street. No head lamp to read by, no cooking on the stove here. I force the stillness of my body and shiver in my sleeping bag as young professionals and students leave their apartments and head to the bars. The conversations seem forced, laughter too loud. This is people watching at its finest. I finally fall asleep after realizing that no cops patrol this neighborhood and the people feel safe from a “threat” like me.
I awake hungry to warm rays of sunshine heating my vehicle. Simple pleasures are a good start to the day. Driving to the library, I force down a bagel and some peanut butter. I sit outside the library, which hasn’t opened yet. Other homeless people gather around the entrance, soaking up the warm rays of the sun and sharing cigarettes. I park myself on a slightly damp park bench and crack open Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, a fitting book. The man across from me lights a cigarette, and cracks a smile as members of society try to open the locked library door. We share a laugh when he says robotically, “Access denied,” to one woman attempting to get in. A conversation somehow begins. “Whatcha reading?” I relay the title and plot. “Yeah I read it a few years ago–good book.” I break into the story of the cop on my window the other night as we discuss places to sleep. He sleeps outside. The weather over the past few days has been snow and rain–nonstop. Apparently a mountain lion has been roaming the Boulder outskirts and eating dogs; he now sleeps with a spear. “I got hired for a job yesterday.” “Oh. You’re not one of those guys are you?” One of what? “I need the money.” “Yeah I guess you’re right. Don’t we all. Are you new?” “Uh-huh,” I respond. “Do you know about the meals?” “No.” “Well I don’t know how bad off you are yet, but they give us lunch down at (some place–I’m not sure what he said) at noon, and on weekdays breakfast is at eight, lunch at eleven thirty. Is that right Mick?” A nod. “Yeah, well thanks man. What’s your name?” “Paul.” “I’m Dan. Good to meet you.” Everyone on the benches and leaning on the sun-warmed walls has an eye on the conversation. Some are talking to themselves, others read, the ones that couldn’t be older than fifteen play with their skateboards. I feel out of place. As I walk the library that day I get a few hey’s, waves, and watchful eyes. They all seem to be pretty content: reading, surfing public computers, laughing, talking, and listening to music. If it weren’t for the clothing and backpacks they would be hard to distinguish from the other library goers. Yet the invisible wall of societal constructs obviously divides them from the well-dressed library goers. I feel no desire to be a part of either group.
That evening I head to the Y and get in a workout. After the workout I hit the showers and the sauna. In the sauna, we crank the heat and pour water on the kiuas. We exchange small talk about booze, women, and work. Here in this steaming room of ugly, naked men I feel strangely at home until the talk switches to business, marketing, and schooling. They are old and I can tell their minds have gone slightly stale with the routines of daily life. Over the past few days, I’ve spent time in several different cultures all within the bubble of a single American city. No matter the situation they all seem to be struggling to be in their place. “Are you homeless?” The question lingers on in my mind–unsure of an answer, unsure of the future. And as I leave the gym and head out on the road I can’t help but feel the pull of adventure, the hope that total freedom brings. Freedom, adventure, uncertainty–here my heart lies, here I am truly in love. My car isn’t the most comfortable home, but I fall asleep knowing full well that sunset brings the hope of a new day.