Dealing with the rain (and being dealt with)


When you’re homeless in the winter, the rain is a constant pain in the ass.  It is a constant battle.  And one wrong play can fuck you up for days and weeks to come.  Right now we’re in the middle of a two-week storm that’s already dropped 4 inches of rain, with more to come.

Generally, I camp in the hills when its dry.  And camp in a doorway when its wet.  I have a perfectly-scoped out doorway that I’ve been using for years during the rainy season.  The doorway is in the basement in the back of this building on the campus, and its a fire exit so it’s always locked —  so there’s never any people using it.    And the path to the doorway leads to a cul-de-sac  — so there are never any pedestrians or (more importantly) cops on bicycles going by.  Perfect.

Tonight I can’t decide which route to take.  Hills or doorway.  I greatly prefer the hills.  And I don’t like to over-use the doorway (for fear of getting rousted and losing the spot).  On the other hand, I don’t like getting caught way up in the hills in the middle of a sudden and torrential downpour, either.  So I’m agonizing over the decision.  The weather report has been predicting a half-an-inch of rain coming in, but its mostly just been occasional drizzles off and on.  So I’m starting to wonder if the projected storm is just a paper tiger.  I relentlessly monitor all the weather reports all day long.  Trying to stay one step ahead of the weather.  But no matter how hard you try to stay on top of it,  once you’re in the middle of major storm it’s like being in a little boat in the midst of a raging ocean storm.  You get buffeted back and forth and the best you can usually do is hold on for dear life.   Lately I’ve been averaging about 4 hours of sleep a night.  That’s the first thing that starts wearing down your mental and physical sharpness.  Sleep deprivation.

9:00 PM:  I hang out with Hate Man and the boys at People’s Park for an hour, shooting the shit, smoking cigarettes, polishing off my 40 of OE and generally enjoying the creamy buzz that comes from 100 ounces of malt liquor circulating through my metabolism.  Mostly I’m just killing time trying to get a feel for which way the weather is going to turn.

10:00 PM:  It’s starting to sprinkle, so I head to Dwinelle Hall on the UC Berkeley campus to get out of the rain.  There’s an outlet in the hallway in this out-of-the-way spot in the basement.  So it’s a good spot to plug in my cellphone, charge my batteries and scroll away on the internet for an hour or two.

12:30 AM:  “Excuse me, sir, wake up.”  I look up and there’s a cop standing over me.  “I know you’re just trying to get out of the rain, but you’re not allowed to sleep in campus buildings.”

“Oh man, I’m sorry,” I said.  “I was just trying to charge my cellphone.”

The cop takes my ID and reads my name over the wire.  “Have you been drinking?” asked the cop.

“Yeah,” I said.  Generally this is an admission that I don’t like to make to the cops.  But I immediately realize it is the right move to make in this instance.  Because, 1.)  It lets the cop know I’m being sort of honest with him and not trying to bullshit him. And 2.) the cop is now spinning it as guy-drinks-a-little-too-much-on-a-Friday-night-and-accidentally-falls-asleep, as opposed to the more aggregious homeless-bum-sneaks-into-a-campus-building-after-midnight-and-tries-to-camp-overnight.  It’s interesting because, as drunk and groggy as I am, I am acutely gauging the nuances of every word I utter. My mind is working  like a computer in these instances.  Because — as anyone who’s been reading the papers these days is well aware of —  any interactions with cops can instantly go from minor irritation to major ramifications with one small  misplay.

“How long you been in Berkeley?” said the cop.

“About 40 years,”  I said.  “I bet that’s longer than when you were born.   Yuk yuk.”  (I’m doing my “I’m-just-a-good-American-just-like-you-officer” routine)

“Yep, that’s true,” said the cop.

The cop hands me back my ID and I walk out the door.  “I apologize.  This is embarrassing,” I said, all humble and shit.  But as I walked off into the night I was more pissed than embarrassed.  Generally, the cops will give you one warning before they give you a ticket for camping.  And now I’ve blown my one warning when I wasn’t even trying to camp.

1:00 AM:  The sky seems like it’s starting to clear, and even the moon is coming out.  So I decide to take a chance at camping in the hills.  Of course my two feral cats — Moo Cat and Blondie — are waiting for me, meowing wildly.  My blankets are stashed in a garbage bag behind a tree.  They’re a little soggy from yesterday’s storm, but serviceable.  I feed the cats two big cans of food and instantly fall asleep.


3:30 AM:  I’ve got a couple of hours to kill, so I go to one of my favorite hang-out spots on the Berkeley campus; the Chavez Study Center.  There’s an awning to protect me from the rain.  And there’s even an outdoor outlet to plug in my cellphone.  But, much to my chagrin, the lights are on inside the building and there are a bunch of Asian college students studying away on their laptops.  So that kills that idea.  I feel a strong urge to shout at them:  “FOR GOD’S SAKE!!  I KNOW YOU NEED TO MAINTAIN YOUR 3.9 GRADE AVERAGES BUT ITS 3 IN THE MORNING ON A FRIDAY NIGHT WHY DON’T YOU GO OUT SOMEWHERE AND HAVE A LIFE!!”  But, fortunately, I’m no longer very drunk by this point.  So I wisely keep my mouth shut.  For once.  Instead, I walk around the corner to this private cul-de-sac, and curl up and sleep right on the floor.  The concrete is cold and hard.  But I’m so tired, I sleep as comfortably as a baby.

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5:45 AM:  The McDonald’s on Shattuck and University opens up at 5  so I decide to go down there for coffee and to get inside a warm, dry building for awhile.  As I trudge down Center Street I spot a young homeless woman huddled in a doorway.  And I feel this ache of sadness for the tragedy of it all.  But then I remember that I’m homeless, too, and wonder who  should be feeling sorry for whom.  But my situation is a little different.  I’m one of the few people who is out on the streets by choice.  I have plenty of options at this point, but after 10 years of sleeping outside, the streets are kind of my natural mileau and I’m more at home on them than I am when I have an actual home.  Oddly

7:00 AM:  As I head up University Avenue to drop some stuff off at one of my stash spots,  I spot 20 boxes of pizza that have been carefully set out in front of the Dominos Pizza place.  No doubt leftover pizza they’re free-boxing from last night.  Sausage, pepperoni and ham pizza.  I grab two boxes.  The early bird gets the pizza!  My cats are going to go nuts for this.  They’re meat and cheese freaks.

Peter Labriola's photo.

One thought on “Dealing with the rain (and being dealt with)

  1. I hope you don’t get rained on a lot. I am in Oregon and there is a lot of rain and a lot of homeless people. I am surprised they do not try to go south like I used to do many many winters. I would go to desert areas like Palm Springs, or death Valley, or salvation mountain near Nylund. In California. Warm and dry. Also, southern Arizona. The temperature drops a lot at night. But usually I had a vehicle and plenty of blankets. no rain. Some free Hot Springs.I found Los Angeles to be a lot of fun but crazy and dangerous. The museums are unbelievably good. Most of the time it helps a lot to have a van or a pick up truck. You can stay inside it, you can hide out.

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