rcws – a system designed to keep you down when you’re down

‪#‎randomconversationswithstrangers‬

finished an event in the city quite late last night so went to a spot i’d used as a day spot nearby. but, as with previous visits there, it just didn’t feel quite right for an overnight (sometimes they just don’t and it’s not worth arguing against the gut), so i kept looking. found a place that’s a bit too close to residents for my general liking, but no dodgy feelings, so I stayed.

woke at 6.30 (as i’m strangely doing all the time these days, regardless of what time i crash) and knowing i wasn’t here for another night packed the bus to drive mode before making coffee. a ranger drives up at about 9am, stops right next to me but doesn’t get out – i’m not sleeping, the curtains aren’t down, i’m just parking and it’s a car park. move along please, nothing to see here. i smile through the window to let him know his presence is felt, and he leaves without comment.

a while later a bloke walks across the car park directly up to the bus. “hey would you mind if i charged my phone?”, “sure!” i say and hand him a cable that’s already plugged in to my solar rig. “want a cup of tea?”. we chat. he’s homeless, moved from Glasgow when he was 3 so doesn’t have the accent (except when he talks about his dad, when the gruff comes fluidly).

he admires the bus, asks if i have any grief parking, tells me a few spots to try where he’s seen other vehicles and makes me write down a few places i can get free food. these days that’s actually incredibly useful info, my typical routes of earning money haven’t been much on my radar of late. he berates me for being too proud when i tell him i won’t go on the dole, but agrees that the hoops they make you jump through aren’t worth it and suggests i get in touch with a company called ‘jiffy’ who always need drivers. good advice.

i ask where he’s sleeping, if he’s OK – it’s COLD at the moment. he tells me that all the men’s temporary shelters are full. there are a lot of people with nowhere to go. he’s lucky, he’s crashing with a friend at the moment but it’s a house full of stress and arguments so he does a lot of walking during the day. he says it all rolls off him, he’s happy enough, he’s got what he needs. “it’ll be easier in summer, and when work comes”.

I ask what he does “I used to be a truck driver but I got suspended. I had a fine, thought the payments were coming out of my wages but turns out they weren’t so it defaulted. i didn’t know. now it’ll cost me another $1000 just to get a new payment plan set up. until I can pay that the fine just keeps going up and I get further away from being able to pay any of it”.

a system designed to keep you down when you’re down.
what kind of a system is that?

“back in the day you used to be able to turn yourself in, do jail time for a few days to wipe the debt clean. you can’t even do that any more”.

i’ve heard this a few times recently, people berating the fact they can’t do jail time anymore. that doing time is a way out. from my perspective the very idea of jail time is scary, not just from being locked up but for what it would do to my career, my ability to travel, my freedom. my privilege.

as he leaves he tells me to make sure i buy a lotto ticket for the weekend. i tell him no, i’d rather save the few bucks i have for, well, something other than stupid tax. he tells me he’ll buy a ticket and bring it back for me to take care of “but you’d better phone me when you win…”

[originally published on facebook, August 12th 2015]

Selected comments:
Reply by me to someone: thanks both, they’re lovely moments to have and give me an incredible perspective on diversity. i spent 18months couchsurfing before i even got the bus and that was also a fascinating insight into how other people lived. life is rich n strange! … i always meant to write them up. even while i was living them i figured they’d probably make good fodder for a book (as indeed does buslife of course), but i always seem to be too busy living it and not writing it up afterward. hence these little snapshots. i have so many more stories/encounters but it’s lovely to share some of them too.

Life, what stories it provides! Thanks Fee. [Aubrey, Perth]

These snapshots of life are jsut beautiful, honey xo [Sayraphim, Melbourne]

Fee! I spent a year actively exploring the intention to have more conversations with neighbors, strangers & artists. Many interesting discoveries that I’d love to share with you! [Julia, UK]