Little did I know that my promise to God to help others included being homeless so I could understand the plight of the homeless and how they are treated by those that give them help. I laugh when I hear about rich people going on reality trip homeless vacations to “experience homelessness”. What a joke! It must be nice to know that they can go back to their normal plush lifestyle. The only way to really know what it is like to be homeless is to be forced into homelessness, forced to sell everything you own because you have to live in your car, with no income at all and nothing to go back to.
Part I : Trip to San Francisco
Rose was a couple weeks away from being due with the baby. We had been sleeping in our Jeep along the Monterrey coast for the last three months. What started out as a simple trip to the Salvation Army to scrounge for some food turned out to be an epic adventure north to San Francisco. There wasn’t anything to eat except bottom shelf peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and stale sourdough. That’s when I heard a strangely familiar female voice loudly emanating from another room. She came out limping and we recognized each other. She screamed and said that she was praying that she would see us. We had met a couple weeks earlier at a Santa Cruz church food shelf. She was homeless, living in her rental car. I had helped her with the cold she had. She was amazed at the healing power of acupressure. I can work on people anywhere because the only equipment I need are my hands. The last thing I said to her at the time was that she better return the rental car or risk getting thrown in jail. Too bad I was right. The police had arrested her and she had just spent a week in a local jail.
Now, one has to have a picture of her to better understand her predicament. I nicknamed her Susie Q because of her affinity for sweets, snacks and treats. She had a professional background with a good, loud speaking voice and absolutely no street-smarts. Susie Q was an example of the many homeless in the Bay area that live in their cars, working during the day and sleeping wherever they can at night, such as rest stops or along the coast highway, wherever the cops won’t harass them. She had lost her job, probably panicked and rented a car to live in. Obviously the rental car companies consider this theft so it was just a matter of time before she was arrested.
She was in desperate need of a ride to the pickup spot for the local homeless shelter bus because she twisted her ankle in jail. Since it was close by we agreed. Not sure of the exact location, we drove around for a short while until we found the stop by a duck pond, helped by the fact that there were other homeless people waiting. As we waited in our Jeep Cherokee, Susie Q. told us that the rental car company was holding all her possessions in San Jose. What she really could use, she confessed, was a ride up there to get her things and then a ride further up to San Francisco to a recently opened shelter on Pier 80. I was in empathy as I felt for her loss of control of the situation and especially enduring a week in jail. Plus I was worried if I was putting too much stress on Rose being pregnant but she agreed as well. As I chewed on making the hour and a half trip, I told her to make sure the place was open and to arrange to pick these things up. Suspense was growing as the bus showed up just as she finally got through on the phone to the rental car manager. The guy agreed to have her things ready and, with the bus waiting, we made the decision on the spot to drive her to San Jose.
It was 4:30pm and we had until the place closed at 6 to get there. As we drove up Hwy 101, she told us of her harrowing time in jail while sharing her Keebler cookies. She was a bit scared for her first time behind bars. While she was in, the rental car company dropped the charges after she paid them a large fee of a few thousand. Unfortunately she was held for several more days for reasons unknown. We laughed a lot as she made light of the whole situation but I could tell it was traumatic for her because of the repeated thanking us for the ride and how much a godsend we were.
With clear traffic and not getting lost, we barely made it in time. After getting hold of the manager, a person drove up with her stuff. Oh my God did she have a lot. I’m glad the Jeep had a rack on top or we wouldn’t have been able to take it all. I mean she had a couple suit cases, a few duffle bags and the rest they had stuffed into plastic garbage bags. She had car stuff like antifreeze and oil and some cans of food from the food shelf which we graciously turned down. The hapless woman’s life was on display as she rummaged through her overflowing bags filled with her possessions such as clothes, lotions, notebooks, women’s magazines, and flip flops while looking for her lost pound of pot and all the while complaining that the police had confiscated it and hoped they were enjoying it. My jaw dropped when she said that this wasn’t the half of it because she had two storage lockers, one in San Francisco and one in New York. One of the hardest things about being homeless is having to part with your possessions, but you have to do it or end up overloaded and burdened as she was.
You have to realize that when you decide to help someone, you have to go all the way because you never know how much it will take and how much worse it might get. It takes patience in order to help people in need.
We had to make an extra pit stop for her at a coffee shop and she also bought us some food at the grocery store for which we were thankful. It was getting dark as we headed out for the second leg of our journey to the homeless shelter on Pier 80 in San Francisco. The company Oracle had abandoned a hangar there and the people recently turned it into a shelter. I was a little worried because the place was not listed on the internet and had no phone number, and she was slightly overconfident about it being there, just like she was adamant that she wasn’t going to be arrested by the cops for the unreturned rental car. But I wanted to help because I knew she was in a state of panic after being homeless and spending a week of hell in jail.
Following the map, we found our way in the dark to where Pier 80 supposedly was. I took a wrong turn and ended up driving through a pot-hole trucker parking lot. Going back, we saw a large fenced area with some people milling about with a guard shack and large hangar. Pier 80 at last! Susie Q jumped out and had to scream through the fence to get the guards’ attention. To our serious dismay, they responded by saying that she had to check in at the main office downtown in order to be let in. She begged, pleaded and told them what she had been through and that we had driven all the way from Monterey, all to no avail. These people were strangely overzealous in following the rules.
Frustrated and upset, we set off following the vague and dubious driving instructions the guards had given, which might have been fine for a local, but not for us and especially not at night. Note that most of the streets in downtown San Fran are one-way and if you get messed up, you have to drive around several blocks to get back to where you wanted to be in the first place. It’s even worse with a back seat driver who isn’t sure where she’s going. It was 9:30 pm by the time we found the shelter, on a dark street and surrounded by homeless loafers. Susie Q disappeared inside the ominous looking building. The only place to park was in a nearby pitch-dark alley which turned to be a hideout for potheads of the homeless world. Not scary at all! Thirty minutes passed, and I began wondering what we were going to do with her stuff if she didn’t return.
She returned at last with an AOK that she could go to the shelter. We drove around in circles trying to find the freeway entrance back to Pier 80. It wasn’t fun anymore because we were all tired and irritated. Upon our return, we were surprised to see an older Chinese man guarding the gate. Without even knowing us he said, “Yeah, you come in!” with a big inviting smile and we all laughed. It’s too bad the guy wasn’t there the first time we showed up.
As we pulled up to the huge hangar, a couple of people came out to meet us with several huge bags, into which they began piling her stuff. That was a great relief because I was afraid we might have to keep her things for her. I had forgotten how heavy all her belongings were when I loaded them onto the Jeep the first time, but I had a burst of energy to get it down again so as to get back to our motel a couple hours away. We wished her well and was glad she had a safe place to stay. Interestingly, we passed a rest stop along the freeway jam packed with cars with steamed up windows from people sleeping in their cars. Wow, we got back after midnite!
We never heard from Susie Q after that night. She probably lost our business card again. The important thing is that we had answered the call to help someone in need, realizing that we had met her for a reason. If God puts you with someone who needs help, then you are the one meant to help them. We still have the little vial of amber lilac perfume that she gave us as a thank-you gift. And we have a great story that we’ll always remember!
We made a perfume reminiscent of that perfume.