Once upon a time – for two short, but oh so sweet weeks I was homeless. Truly homeless – as in, without a home.

Paul Simon & Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Homeless

In my head it was so much more dramatic –  I was a vagrant. A wanderer. A land-squatter armed with only a wish, a prayer and an extreme hatred for all things east of California, though I had never been west of Iowa. I also hate to admit this, but I happen to be delusional enough to have believed, in the moment, I must have been the first person to ever motor this road . “I am an explorer of the Wild West,” I thought, “NO ONE has EVER done this – ha, HA!! I’m a true trial-blazer!” As a rule, if you can make yourself feel ridiculously important and esteemed by your peers – it lightens the load of not knowing what the f*#@! you are doing.

Taking a drive break for a picture

After being the first 25-year-old to ever experience a mid-life crisis, I quit my job, decided I “needed a change,”  packed my little RAV4 with every useless decorative item I could fit into it, and plotted out a AAA TripTik to California (these were pre-GPS days and it literally ended in the middle of the state because I had no idea where I was going). I made up a believable  lie I could tell my parents about having a place to stay somewhere once I reached my destination, and I was OFF.

Snowstorm to Desert

The drive was amazing. I had 48 pages of Mapquest directions. I have always attributed naivite to my survival in these situations. Being blind and easily distracted, it only seems like a certainty that I should have met my maker in that early Colorado snowstorm on I-80. Or navigating through the crowds of  Las Vegas at 2am. But I guess sheer luck, a general lack of “knowing better,” and the desire to “see it for myself,”  kept me  alert enough to make it to the Pacific.

Having nothing but a very thin envelope of about 2 $20 bills and a zip-lock bag of loose change left by the time I hit California, I set up camp on a side-street close enough to Mission Beach to feel safe, but not get arrested and towed. I’m all for doing risky things, but I decided to avoid what I was sure was to end in rape and car thievery, and slept almost completely upright locked safely in my seat the first night. Over the next few days I’d realize it was much easier to stay up and out during the night and sleep on the beach at a full decline during the day.

The lessons you learn when you’re homeless.

During the week that would follow my daily schedule looked something like this:

  • Wake up and lay on the beach – attempting to enjoy the sun and not worry about how I would get home after this utter failure of an experiment on my own.
  • Take a “shower” in the ocean (and though I felt really clean afterwards, 7 years later I still have sand in crevices unmentionable) .
  • Sort through the grimy, loose change in my glove-box to find enough quarters that I wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by using any combination of lesser denominations to pay for service and a black coffee at the internet cafe I had become a regular at d0wn the street.
  • Sell prized DVD’s out of the back of my trunk for spare change. The most painful sale came when someone requested my cherished “Cocktail” for $4.  $4! At the time my heart sank into my stomach and I almost threw up before selling it to buy my taco drive-thru dinner-of-the-night. I later re-purchased it on Amazon for 98 cents – best  lesson in economics EVER – uh – word to the wise – never invest in DVDs.
  • Look for apartments and answer ANY ad I ran across that would allow me to move in with a deposit less than $500…REALLY. ANY. AD. (*NOTE: the only way I EVER could have made a $500 deposit was due to the fact that I had extremely generous parents…)
  • Troll Mission Beach taco cafes late night… too afraid of being roofie’d to go to the clubs (8th grade health movies + 90210 had led me to believe all west-coast men ages 21-34  were rapists/date rapists).  Still, I was attempting to stay up late enough to not be awoken at 3am in my car by a homeless rapist (self-unawares that had I gone out and then gone home with a hot guy I may have qualified as the homeless rapist myself).

And yet, as time progressed it looked less like the mess I was expecting and more like the awesomeness (most of the time) that  went something like this:

  • Move into a house in the hills with semi-strangers and find a semi-useful job – success was mine.
  • Find out my rent-collecting roommate was a drug dealer when our electricity went off in the middle of the day (not awesome in the moment, but an AWESOME story later).
  • Realize my other  roommates were two of the coolest people I may ever (to. this. day.) meet in my life.
  • Find numerous other interesting people who actually wanted to be friends – AND – a new place to call home – BETWEEN the beach and the bay! Life couldn’t get better.
  • Get a promotion at work. OOPS – life DID get better.
  • Get a beach cruiser. OOPS – life DID get EVEN better.
  • Get a jeep. S^#! Life was f@#$ing great.
  • Get my friends from home to join me out west…literally a few miles down the road from where I worked…I was completely spoiled…
  • Settle into a new lifestyle like I had been living it for the past 20 years.

It seems unbelievable that this happened almost 7 years ago. You think about the times  your parents have said (wasn’t that just last week…?…) “wow that makes me feel old,” and it seems impossible that the “old” could be you to a new generation of trailblazing naive early-mid-life crisis-suffering “adults”. When I think back (and look to the future), maybe the adventure of it all is what I love the most – the unknown makes you feel young again…and then, sooner then you realize, makes you an old expert on a way of life. I like being lost upon that line between charlatan and old salt.

In a couple weeks I’ll be leaving for New York City – another place I’ve never been, haven’t learned enough about to get by successfully, haven’t familiarized myself with the city in the least really…and yet, my prevailing emotion is  excitement. Hello again naivite….I’ve missed you. But also, while waving goodbye to homey familiarity, deep down, I know that goodbye also means inviting “hello” back into my life. Hello food, hello people, hello pace, hello idea, hello again world seen anew. As I experienced my first time around…and coming back home…there’s a new appreciation for everything and everyone new…but also everything and everyone you’ve already known. Its like an endless spring. It seems silly now to have ever used the word homeless. I’ve never felt more at home than those times I’ve ventured out against the grain to claim a little stake of freedom for myself.

Talking Heads – This Must Be The Place

The first time I ever actually LISTENED to the song “This Must be the Place” was on a drive with my friend Carly to Temecula. She’ll remember why we were going. The drive solidified it as one of my favorite songs of all time – not just because I love it and I love her as one of my best friends…in life…ever…but because it reminded me, there I was on a drive in a place and with a person I hadn’t known a mere two years before…and I felt like I had known them my whole life. I remember feeling like I couldn’t have been happier in the moment – and I carry those songs, and those people, and that feeling with me wherever I go now – especially whenever I’m unsure.

Don’t let people, fear, or a sense-of-familiarity /unfamiliarity fool you. Home is where it feels uncomfortable for awhile…and THEN after some time passes, with each person you meet – it feels a little more like home than the last home. Only THEN can home truly be where the heart is. Amazingly THEN, after all is said and done…you’ve accepted a new reality – and, I say this honestly, you’ll never feel homeless again. So what are you waiting for? REALLY. Take a chance – go out and find the road less taken! Board with a drug-obsessed LA-madman who trades your bill money for uppers, downers and D-list prostitutes…or, okay,  maybe go with more of a plan and find a room somewhere safe and clean before you hit the road…but make sure that, at least for a couple minutes, you allow yourself the discomfort, disquiet and – let’s face it – irresponsible joy of feeling homeless (just for a couple minutes).

– by Matthew McConaughey

(just kidding – he didn’t write this).

2 Responses to “Homeless”
  1. Dad says:

    Amanda, you knew I’d have to open the email message late at night to avoid any distraction. You knew it would mean a lot to me to hear from you. You knew the time reading it would be a few moments of strong emotion for me. And, although you knew I would not be so foolish as to consider it wrtten to me, you knew I would find much of myself in what you wrote.. and that that would be selfishly satisfying to me. You made the decision to add my name to the list of people whose opinion and reactions mean a lot to you. That makes me smile – broadly – as I respond.

    This piece of writing is a gift – handmade, from the heart by way of the school of knocks (some harder than you wanted us to know at the time), a school you needed to drive across the country to attend – far away from parents and a life and a community that smothered you in security. We wouldn’t have had it any other way for you and Kate – the children we brought into the world, but I knew that, in so doing, we would face a time when you would have to leave us behind – far behind – for at least a while. I knew it would hurt a lot. And, it did. But, it was inevitable. Each of us, if we are to take the tiller of our own life with whatever little control we can have over circumstance, has to be able to let her or his parents hurt some while we set sail to face head-on (and alone) what is our course.

    This piece of writing also shows gifts – those of the writer you could only have become through persevering through what you have so simply and eloquently described. It is a piece that speaks with the voice of maturity, self-awareness, insight, confidence, humor and technical skill. It is a piece that nails with precision some of the universal challenges each of us secretly feels we alone meet and pass through on our journey. Other readers will sense you have found them out… or, at least, that there IS someone who really understands. I feel it as a personal gift that strengthens the bond of understanding between us.

    I am very proud of you tonight, Amanda. I am more comfortable standing on shore as you solo your next sail. I am grateful to finally know some of the secrets you had to keep from me. (You are fully forgiven for lying to me – I know your motives were admirable.)

    I have loved you from before you came into this world. I love you as you continue to make your way in it. I love how you are and how you are navigating.

  2. Dad says:

    check your mail… Dad

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