14 October 2014

Oakland? WTF was I doing in Oakland?

Stability is supposed to be the key word now, doing what I do and building a sense of stability into my life since the past two years have honestly been chaotic. That's a misconception I think people have, that being homeless means that you sit around all day and do nothing. It's exactly the opposite. You're like a squirrel that started collecting acorns too close to winter, in an open field where hawks circle above you all day long.

My first monthly rent check got to my landlord late.

He called while I was out of town (way out of town, I was lost in Oakland CA on foot trying to figure out how to get back to Cal-Berkeley for Cal Hacks after wandering San Francisco all day). Then he called again, told me that he was scheduling showings of my apartment, and so I should clean up and pack up my shit so I could be out by this past Sunday. He also left a note on my door, and then I got a 5-day pay up or GTFO notice. Shit.  I finally got in touch with him by phone, explained that I was using my bank's billpay service, and that there would be money at the office (last) Friday.

Landlord called today. Twice. I was asleep, having been awake most of the weekend. It's not so hard to fall asleep, it's hard to convince my brain and body to slow the fuck down and get ready for bed. Most of the time I'd rather be up all night than be asleep and deal with dreams. Today I woke up around 1000, ate a bowl of cereal, and then the world started spinning so I flopped back into bed for a while longer.

I didn't call him back today. I will tomorrow, around lunchtime when he's usually around to answer his phone. Either the check didn't get there, or it was the wrong amount, or something. I think I added the late fee. Maybe I added the wrong amount. I don't know. Next month the check will autosend on the last payday of the month so I won't have to worry about it, but I still need to deal with this month.

In order to evict me, he has to file a court case and then we go to mediation. I hope things don't go that far, but I don't know how to explain how difficult something simple like setting up a bill pay for the rent can really be. Not in a way that will make sense, and without making me seem like a totally dysfunctional human being. I can't even think about sending a rent check without remembering everything that's happened over the past couple of years, and once that happens it takes me a while to process it and come back to the present. Paying the rent isn't an emotional experience for most people, I get that. It is for me.

Maybe it's too optimistic to think that everything will be stable in just over a month, but I'd at least like to have housing be stable. I won't give up the fight no matter what, but it gets fucking cold in Wisconsin pretty soon. Although I'm technically eligible, I won't go back to transitional housing and go through that insanity again. So it's either make this apartment work or be really cold for the next six months.

I haven't talked to anyone at the VA Hospital or the Vet Center for a couple of weeks now, too. I probably should need to talk to someone about all of this just to make sure I don't get too far off track. Maybe they'll be able to write me a letter that says "Look, this guy has a disability that makes simple shit like paying the rent extremely difficult and we'd appreciate you giving him a little slack while he gets a system worked out."

In a lot of cases, that's all I need. Some time without the world crashing around me to figure out a system and get things straight.


A week ago at this time I was finally home from Cal Hacks. I say "finally" because I missed the first bus in Berkeley that would get me to BART to get me to SFO on time, so I missed my flight to Chicago. I was able to get on the next flight, but that got me to Chicago too late to get the last bus from ORD back to Madison. The Bus & Transit Center at O'Hare isn't the most exciting place to spend the night, but it's not the worst place either. The birds are entertaining when they hop up on your table looking for food (there are birds that either live inside or they've mastered automatic doors). There is, mercifully, one Starbucks kiosk that's open all night at O'Hare.

You don't want to know how much a sandwich and a cup of coffee costs at an airport Starbucks at 0300. Ouch.

Anyway: Cal Hacks. I flew out a week ago Friday early so I'd have a chance to look around San Francisco for a while. (I've taken a strong liking to California. Very possible that I'm heading that way when I graduate.) I ended up in Golden Gate park sitting in the grass, drinking lemonade, and listening to Buckwheat Zydeco at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass sort of without realizing it. I'd hopped on BART, then hopped on then hopped off a Muni cable car in search of food, noticed a herd of people headed that way, and figured I'd follow to see what was going on. Next thing I know I'm talking to a couple of Hell's Angels about Desert Storm while waiting in line for lemonade (they'd noticed my Desert Storm Veteran hat).

I did fine finding my way back to a Muni stop (uphill, of course) with a Starbucks stop for water. It was like, 95 degrees and sunny, and I'd stopped sweating. Still-- got back on, made it back to a BART station, got pointed to Berkeley once I figured out which track pointed which way and how to read the red LED signs, and even got on the right train. I even got off at the right station.

A couple of hours after that it was getting dark, my feet were tired, my backpack was starting to feel heavy, and I was in fucking Oakland buying a can of soda at a pizza place next to a liquor store. Google Maps wasn't helping, or at least I wasn't reading the map right, and I was in Oakland. The few buses I saw running had "Garage" as their destination, so that option was out.

Oakland is actually pretty nice, from what I saw. When I started seeing bars on windows and tags marking turf, that's when I figured action needed to be taken (I'm from Milwaukee, WI. I love my hometown, but growing up there means I spot certain things). The guy at the liquor store called me a cab, and fifteen minutes later I was in a really nice cab quickly the 3.5 miles I was away from Cal Memorial Stadium.


I got lost, probably, because I was tired and hungry and needed a break. San Francisco earlier in the day was great, but I'd also come across some of the homeless people that, er, call the city home. Some of these people are kinda scary. I don't mean that to put anyone down, it's just that I knew they were dealing with voices that I couldn't hear, and images I couldn't see, and they were struggling with it. It's hard to see people experience that kind of thing anyway, but I think it's worse when you have some idea what it's like. It took an emotional toll on me, because I wish I had an answer. I'm not that equipped to help, and I have my own issues to manage (see rent, above). I'm normally good with maps and getting from one place to another, but I was probably numb enough that I kept walking without experiencing that WTF moment where things don't look right.

I'm a little proud of myself though, because even though I was definitely feeling the PTSD, I managed to get someplace that at least looked safe. I managed to admit that yes, I was lost in a faraway place that I'd never been, and I asked someone for help getting a cab. I made it to Cal Hacks, got signed in, found some food, talked to some sponsors, and found an open spot to hack. And, I had a really good time. It's kind of amazing to sit outside with a laptop and see the entire Bay Area laid out in front of you at night.

I toyed around with a couple of ideas for a hack, but getting there a little late I was without a team. I was also kinda drained, so it took a while for me to get going. I dug back into some of the things I'd learned in therapy to cope with things and that's where the idea for a hack came from.

From my project description:
Lost in... An app that determines how dangerous it is where you are standing, and gives you options for either managing the situation for getting out of the situation. Inspired in part by me getting lost (and not a little freaked out) in Oakland CA when I was supposed to be in Berkeley.
It's not finished, and I don't have a demo up yet, but I'm going to keep working on it. The source code is at github if you're interested.

Give me a little time, sometimes, to figure out which way is up and catch my breath, and good things will result.

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