Poor and Hungry, for Awhile at Least

In Arizona, the Summer of 1977

In Arizona, the Summer of 1977

In 1977, I went on an extended tour of the west side of the United States.  I had a ride to New Orleans.  For the rest of the time, I hitchhiked.  Through most of this I was alone, though I thumbed along with some friends from Louisiana to Arizona.

I did a loop through Texas, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and back to Michigan again.

I had four extended stops.  The first was in New Orleans.  The second was around Flagstaff and Sedona, Arizona.  The third was in Merced, California.  The fourth was in the bay area.  I hung out in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.

For the first three stops, I was with friends.  I had a place to stay and it was all very pleasant.  The fourth stop, I was on my own. I was around San Francisco for about a week.  The only time that I was properly sheltered was the night that I met with the Surrealists.

I had amazing and wonderful adventures that Summer.  Yet there was a whole side to the trip where I was uncomfortable.  I got to know what hunger is like.

When one is hungry, really hungry, you get desperate for food.  I behaved badly.  My stomach overruled  my mind.  I begged for spare change.  I did some cautious “dumpster diving.”  I remember finding day-old bread and fruit.  Overripe bananas taste great if you’re hungry enough.  I never robbed anybody, but I am ashamed that I stole food from a friend.  I was just too hungry.

When you’re really active and it’s really hot out, you need more food, not less.  I was carrying a pack, too.  I made sure to keep a canteen or two full of water.  Between the heat, the activity and the rarity of food, I got quite thin.

I shoplifted food a bit too.  I only did this a few times.  I think that if one steals because they’re extremely hungry, it’s a different matter.  Some are desperate to feed themselves and/or their hungry children.  Should they be caught, maybe they could be given a second chance.

I realize that I wasn’t truly homeless.  Eventually, I did call home and I was wired a little money.

Still, I lived a derelict’s life.  I was a drifter.  I slept in abandoned houses and in the woods.  I think that you can’t live through an experience like that and also be a radical conservative.  To do so would be a form of insanity, or other extremely delusional behavior.

To see things through the eyes of the poor changes your vision.  Even if you’ve walked in their shoes very briefly, it’s still very different from just reading about it or seeing a movie about it.

It informs a belief that those down on their luck should be helped.  There should be a safety net for them the way that there is for the elderly with social security.

Another account of this adventure:

http://www.jpallas.com/hh/greenia/onroad.html

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