Monday, February 23, 2009

Ricky and Stephanie

Last night I met Ricky and Stephanie. Ricky looked to be in his mid-twenties, and Stephanie a bit younger. They were at that same ramp off of highway 101. They live a fascinating life that I didn't know still existed. This guy and girl ride trains, semis, and hitch-hike across country... just because they can. They eat what they can buy or what people give them and sleep under overpasses. I was surprised to learn that there are large communities of these people who do this all the time. They travel to a town, split up, meet a new group and start all over again finding people who will help them along the way. They aren't trying to get anywhere, they just want to travel around. Their worldview and attitude are very different from the "normal" homeless people in our area. They could very easily get jobs and a place to stay, but were on the streets simply for the experience. They had just gotten in from a long trek that started in St. Augustine, Florida.

The guy had tons of stories of "living outdoors" as he called it. "There was this one time me and my buddies were in the back of a truck outside of Shreveport and were stuck in the rain for three hours. That was weird."

"There was this one time that me and a group a' guys were ridin' the trains around. Right when it stopped we decided to get off. It was a Sunday morning and there was a church nearby. We walked up to it and were like, 'How do you go in?' then we saw there was a sign on the door that said 'sanctuary'. I turned to my friend and said, 'That's weird.' so we walked in. It was like, a bunch of gray-headed old people. They kept turning around and looking at us; then they would smile, and wave, and come up to shake our dirty hands. I only had like 40 cents in my pocket so I put it in the basket they passed around. After the service the pastor gave me a Bible with 40 dollars stickin' out of it. Weird man, totally weird."

"There was this one time I was picked up by this guy just outside of Indianapolis. He was a real clean-cut guy in a nice suit driving a new minivan. There were no seats in the back, just a couple of boards and a lawn chair. I had a dog with me at the time, and he started going nuts when he sniffed one of the boards. 'Oh, don't worry about the dog.' the man told me, 'He probably just smells the dead bodies.' I thought to myself, 'Oh %$*&! I am about to get chopped to pieces by some crazy guy in a minivan. I don't want to die in Indianapolis. I don't want to die.' I didn't know what to do. If we weren't going down the highway I could have kicked him in the face and run away or something. I've never been so scared in my life. I thought I would just keep talking to the guy and maybe he would have second thoughts about throwing me into his freezer. While we were talking I came to find out that he's a mortician. Thank God."

I asked them if they ever missed the "normal life" of living indoors with beds and kitchens and stuff. Ricky resolutely shook his head and talked about sleeping under the stars and having the passing traffic lull him to sleep like waves on the seashore. Stephanie, though, looked very homesick, and even said as much. It was obvious that she was only going along with this lifestyle so she could be near him.

I told them that they reminded me a little bit of Jesus, that he was homeless and traveled around all the time too. They seemed to appreciate that. I shared the gospel with them, told them about our hot-meals at church, and took them up to Hollywood (they wanted to try to see some stars leaving the academy awards). I gave them a couple of gospels of John with tracts in the front, and told them the best thing they could ever do with their lives would be to give them to God, and they seemed genuinely grateful for our time together.

If you see them (the curlicue tattoo on Ricky's right cheek gives him away) tell them hi for me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Maybe you have met him. He is a tallish white guy with his face tattooed to make him look like a clown. He lives in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. Every once in a while you can see him Northbound 101 off ramp at Vermont Avenue holding a sign that says, "Help this poor clown buy marijuana." Solomon has seen quite a bit in his 23 years. He gestures with a half-eaten Subway breakfast wrap as he tells me that he was kicked out of the army because he is "A little, you know... loco." Apparently Subway breakfasts always taste better in pita wraps rather than bread, he told me that it had something to do with how they warmed them up with the eggs; I didn't quite understand what he meant.

He told me about the time he was kicked out of "that one mission" downtown. He had gotten angry at a security guard who was pounding on the bathroom door while he was trying to shave. He yelled at the guard and called him "gay." "I didn't really mean all that stuff I said. I was just angry. I've got a few anger problems." he recalled pensively. It is hard not to notice that Solomon has a big build and big hands, I wouldn't want to be around when he was angry.

He still gets a stipend from the military for his service: $900 a month. Aside from occasional meals, he sinks the money he gets into marijuana and trying to get an old astro van running again. He proceeded to tell me all of the things that he thinks are wrong with it and all the tools that he bought from the nearby Autozone to fix it. A couple of minutes later he told me that he fixed it all using "bare hands", but I'm sure he just meant that he did all the grunt-work himself.

He told me about how he refuses to do any drugs harder than marijuana because his mom did and he saw what hell that put her through. He told me that some of his relatives died in 9-11. He never referred to his mother in the present tense, or mention his dad.

When I told him that I was a pastor at a nearby church he said, "Really? Are you incognito or something?" I said, "No. Why do you ask?" He replied, "Because you aren't wearing black with that box on your collar." I told him that not all pastors wear liturgical collars, and that he was welcome to come and check out the church on Sundays. "Really?" he said again, "I've been to that church for food hand-outs during the week, but I didn't know they were open on Sundays."

Solomon and I are the exact same age.