Between the ages of 5 and 10 I lived in a 1991 Mazda van with my mother and sister and our two pugs. We traveled the country, stole food, met gypsies, ran from child services, egged a church, befriended bank robbers, and slept under the stars.
To sum up the reasons why I consider it the best thing to happen to me, I’ve made of list of ten reasons why growing up homeless was awesome:
We would wake up every morning and the day was a new adventure. We stuck mostly to the Los Angeles area, living by the beaches, but one day we woke up and decided, “Let’s go New Mexico and live in the mountains.” And we did. A few months later we drove to Florida and lived on a beach. A few months after that, we moved to the Midwest and lived off of the farmlands. We had nothing but freedom. That feeling of being able to run away, live on the road, not worrying about school, bills, and social acceptance was a true punk way of life.
Being on the other side of the white picket fence, we had to be creative when it came to survival. I was the thief of the family, stealing food from grocery stores all across the states. Even to this day, I can pocket all the sandwich makings with the simple trick of hand movements and an oversized denim jacket. I don’t need to steal anymore, but if the time came and I needed to steal in order to eat, I have the skill set. Dumpster diving was another alternative, and sometimes we would get a free meal just for being conversational and explaining our journeys at restaurants and people we met a long the way. Kindness feeds the heart, soul, and stomach.
3. The Weird and Wonderful People
When we were bumming around Las Vegas, we met a married couple who were bank robbers. We shared knowledge and advice and food until the FBI raided their apartment one day and threw them in prison. We also befriended a Vietnam vet who had a metal plate in his head. He drove to Mexico and back to get my mom her medication since the price for pills there are pennies. He was care free and compassionate to others who lived out of their cars. Can’t say that about a lot of people these days.
4. The Real World
In the most crucial time of growth in my childhood, I was exposed to elements of life that most don’t endure until their 30s, sometimes never at all. I saw how society was crumbling, since we were at the bottom, and how to avoid the flaws as we crawled our way back to the middle class. Possessions get you no where, money is nothing more than an object of survival, and to be educated with what is really happening in the world is priceless.
5. Thrift Store Pro
I was born in a thrift store. Before it became a hipster haven, thrift stores were where we got everything we needed. That did include some fashionable clothing that made us pass for the middle, even upper class, when trying to cover up that we lived out of our car and boiled water using our car battery. When consignment stores came along, we would dish out some coins (thrift stores were really cheap back in the day) and buy all the “label brands” of clothing, take them to the consignment store and sell them for triple the price. Our gas tank was never empty, bellies never grumbling, and we always looked chic.
Every family endures the undulating events of life, but with my family and our situation, it brought us closer instead of tearing us apart. We didn’t have possessions to separate us. We talked to one another all day, my mother taught my sister and I using her knowledge, and we bonded like war buddies as each daily battle was overcome and then celebrated with the idea that we had one another. That was a true blessing. Thick as thieves.
TV and videogames were not a part of my childhood. The library was our version of going to the candy store. We spent entire days inside of the libraries we stumbled upon across the states, reading and absorbing as much as we could before sundown. They are a true place of wonderment for sponge-brained children, and came with perks of shelter from the heat or cold. Librarians gave us books and, if they caught onto our situation, food or gift cards to use. Books are magical, and so are the people who love and live for them. I can’t tell you how many levels I got to in Mario Bros, but I can recite Moby Dick without hesitation.
My mother is the ultimate influence in my life. She ditched my dad and decided to raise us as tigers, not daughters (King Lear reference, anyone?) There was no princess nonsense, no baby dolls, no pink, and no dominant male influence. We were taught to be independent, open-minded female creatures that could survive on our own and didn’t care what society thought of us. Plus, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, The Breeders, and Bikini Kill are great driving music.
In our travels, we experienced different cultures, which left us open-minded and understanding how America is divided by religion, race, and class. We didn’t acquire this knowledge through some dusty, out of date history book in middle school. We saw it unfolding right in front of our eyes. One day we were at an art gallery in Laguna Beach talking to elegant painters, the next day we were eating garbage-salvaged food with gypsies from the northwest. We didn’t judge people by their skin color, gender, or social class; so we were exposed to all side of the spectrum. Essentially, poor people are nicer.
10. Non-Biased Views
Admit it, before you read this list your idea of homeless people were those crazy bums, shaking their cups for quarters, cussing to themselves and smelling worse than a rat in a sewer. I don’t blame you, those people exist, and they are the majority of what you see. But most of the homeless population are women and children who have to stay under the radar in order to protect themselves and keep their families intact. Whenever I hear someone use the term homeless as a way to characterize something as being abnormal, deviant, smelly, gross, weird, psychotic, and stupid, I shake my head in pity for them and their clichéd views of society.
In the end, I’ll always be a homeless kid at heart, and even though I went to college and have a great job in LA, I can never paint over my past. So why not embrace it?