I felt my life was at total despondence a few years ago when I got stranded in downtown Charleston at 3:30 in the morn. Oh, it was total hell! Ever have a day where you didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, two beers got you not drunk but really sleepy, and the next thing you know you are at some bar trying to start your vehicle? That was pretty much me.
It started off as a pretty OK night because it was a birthday thingy and we were having a good time singing, dancing, whatever else you do at a party in a bar. Two beers did me in since I had been up almost 24 hours that day. But when all the bars closed and I turned the key to my ignition, the lights flashed for a second and
then died away reeeeeeeeeeeeeal slow-like, slower than that knockdown scene in all the “Rocky” movies. “Oh, no!” I said. “What the hell, man?” I thought it was all over. Some random guy is gonna come up and stab me while I try to drunkenly repair my dead car.
It didn’t happen, of course. I’m still writing. But I thought it was gonna happen.
I hadn’t eaten much by that point, so I decided to get food before I called the base to find me a ride. That’s the kind of hunger I had, where all you have going on in your mind is some scattered, smothered, covered and chunked hash browns with a grilled cheese sandwich and a large sweet tea. Screw going home! Screw
gettin’ stabbed! As long as the mugger lets me eat first, I’ll be OK.
Up King street. Down King Street. Momma’s Blues Palace. is someone there? Damn, they’re gone. Up King Street again. It’s breezy. Down King Street, onto George, onto Meeting. Hello…any food out there? Mickey’s! I forgot about Mickey’s! Yes, there is FOOD at Mickey’s! Sweet Tea at Mickey’s! Weird vampire people waiting to see if I
stretch my neck out at Mickey’s!
Where the hell is Mickey’s? Down King Street again. There’s that breeze again. Maybe it’s around this corner…
Nope. Instead was a guy in dreadlocks.
“Excuse me, sir?”
Here it comes. The stabbing I was dreaming about.
“Do you have any money? Don’t worry man, I’m not gonna mug you. I just need 2 dollars and 83 cents for a meal.”
“How do I get to Mickey’s?”
He pointed in some random direction, named a few streets, a few lights, a couple of turns, I wasn’t paying attention. Yes, I was starving, but I wasn’t going to bleed to death from a knife in my gut.
I gave the guy 3 dollars and said “you better get food with this, OK?” Maybe that will do me some good later, I thought.
“Yeah, sure man. Thanks!” And poof! He was gone. So was I. I decided maybe I should call the base for a ride NOW before they read about me in the paper LATER. After all, the crazy dread-locked Wyclef lookin’ dude could be following me and trying to get more cash out of my pockets while I was still tired and dizzy thinking about hash browns. He could lead me into a dark alleyway to his other Rasta-bum friends and they could take my clothes and whatever else.
Then I would end up as his crack ho bitch for a few nights before being discovered at the bottom of some steps of some giant, spray-painted Catholic church as a tour-chariot horse relieves himself upon my battered face. Yep, it was definitely time to go home.
No such luck, though. I got through OK, but it was going to take at least an hour before they could find someone to come get me since it was real late and everyone was actually working on the flight line. I got a cab instead.
Did you know it costs $23 to go from King Street to North Charleston? That’s a lot of money. The cabbie told me he’d been in that situation before, and got lucky and got out of it. Yeah, thanks for a break on the cab fare too, buddy.
It’s a few hours later now, and my friends Tim and Corie graciously volunteer to help me get my car started. Corie let me use his purple “love truck” (It’s a deep shade of violet with no extended cab…what else are you gonna call it?) and Tim was gonna be a tool man and start me up.
Again, no such luck. We were stinkin’ jet engine mechanics, but we couldn’t get a spark to fly from anywhere on a piece of crap dented car that was illegally parked! Looks like it’s time to by another battery.
Then, from out of the dangerous, Rasta man crack ho shadows comes the dreadlocked bum. He walks right over and says “hey, man, what’s wrong?” I didn’t even get a chance to answer. He took a couple of tools from Tim’s box, twiddled around on my car and kept saying “OK, turn it on. Now, turn it off. Turn it on again…now turn it off.”
Slowly, we built an audience of what appeared to be street urchins and College of Charleston girls, standing across the road.
Bzzt! Bzzt! Vroommmm…..the car was started. Dreadlocked man threw the tools down, faced the audience and shouted “Yes! I am a genius!” He dropped to his knees in tribute of himself, while me and Tim quietly thought not to tell them what we did for a living.
They wouldn’t believe us, anyways. Mechanics, my ass!
OK, so maybe he wasn’t so dangerous after all. I shook his hand and slipped him a $10 bill. “Whoa! thanks, man! Hey, where you going?”
“Can you give me a ride in that direction?”
“Sure thing, man.”
“OK. Hey, Miranda! We got a ride.”
The College of Charleston-looking girl comes over to the car, smiling big and bright. “How the hell does someone that beautiful end up on the street?” I was thinking. She couldn’t have been more than 20, had these huge doe-eyes, but no home.
I took them up to somewhere near the Huddle House in my crowded car. My car still looked like the aftermath of a David Lynch road trip: a camera here, a jacket there, 3 bags of clothes, baby pictures sprinkled on the seats, chemical warfare readiness gear in the back, gas mask in the front, and 2 hitchhikers.
We got to talking because I was trying to figure out why two perfectly normal-acting people are out in the streets of rich, majestic, moral-drenched Charleston, hitching a ride.
“I got kicked out of the Navy” said Byron, the dreadlocked man.
“My family kind of disowned me, and the guy I was staying with kicked me out, so now I’m out here” said Miranda.
Tough luck, I guess. That’s the usual kind of story you hear. It almost never seems to be the person’s fault. “Well, I got hooked onto drugs, my mom kicked me out because I was acting spoiled and I deserve to be out here” isn’t something a “bum” would say. “I hate my parents because they want to control me and I would rather be poor than go to church like they wanted me to” probably won’t be heard, either.
I didn’t know the truth of the matter, but I didn’t care. I was just thankful some people downtown were willing to help me get on my way and back to where I belonged. Yeah, there was a bit of shame in my eyes because I didn’t trust them at first and they seemed to be honest people.
I should have known better. My mom made us work at the Salvation Army many times over the holidays and it was OK back then, but I never thought much about homeless people existing outside of Christmas and Thanksgiving. Byron reassured me that the mistrust OK because a lot of the street guys can do you wrong.
“Yeah,” added Miranda with her big smile and laugh,” it sucks when you try to do someone right and they hit you over the head later.” I hope to God that wasn’t from experience.