Hartley Brody

Adventures in Boston, Day 2

As I’m sitting here in this comfy hotel chair waiting for my Papa John’s pizza to arrive, it’s hard for me to believe how helpless and alone I was feeling a few hours ago. The day started out fine enough. I slept until noon at Julian’s place and then showered and went through some emails to try and figure out which apartments I’d be looking at today.

Julian dropped me off at the first place in Medford on the way to meet with one of his clients. The woman I met with was nice enough. She was older and more of the free-spirit type, but seemed reasonable and pretty sane, at least compared to the people I met yesterday. The room was in a nice area that was accessible and had a number of shops and restaurants within a 5 minute walk, although it was a bit far from work.

I grabbed the bus and headed into Somerville to try and meet up with the second landlord I had been emailing. I called him several times and left a message, but got no response. The craigslist post had only specified an intersection, not an exact address. I wandered around for a little while, staying in the area hoping he’d call. The sun was out but it was still very cold and windy, so eventually I plopped down in a laundromat to try and get warm.

I was able to get a weak wifi signal from the hospital across the street, and I checked my email and rechecked craigslist to see if any new places had popped up since the morning. After about an hour on the frustratingly slow connection, I decided to pack up and head to the Somerville public library, figuring I’d get a better connection. Along the way, my dad called and asked how I was doing. With no real plan, no place to sleep and no promising apartment leads, I told him I wasn’t doing well.

By the time I got to the library, it was 4pm. The sun was setting and the library was closing in an hour since it was a Sunday… great. I went back on craigslist to look for any new leads and follow up with some old ones, but I couldn’t find many, so I didn’t make much progress.

At 5, I packed up and headed out. It was dark and very cold and I suddenly realized that I had no idea where I was heading. I decided to walk towards the city, hoping I’d find a hotel. I realized I probably should have made plans for that evening when I was in the library and had access to the internet, but it was too late now. Along the way I texted a few friends to see if I could crash with anyone they knew, as I had done the night before.

Several blocks later, the street I was following merged with several others and formed a massive highway. I wasn’t walking through neighborhoods anymore. Not wanting to keep trekking on if I wasn’t sure where I was going, I stopped into a gas station to get warm and call my dad. He told me there were two hotels in the area, but he couldn’t figure out exactly how to point me there with the confusing mess of streets he saw on the computer.

I asked the gas station attendant if he knew how to get to the hotel, but there was a language barrier. A patron in the gas station overheard our attempted conversation and pointed me in the right direction. “It’s a few blocks that way” he said. “I’m not sure how long it will take walking, maybe 10, 15 minutes? But you have to cross a highway…”

I thanked him for his help and headed off in that direction, along an 8-lane road that was lined with boarded-up shops and gratified walls. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

I got my dad on the phone and narrated my progress to him as I passed each one of the side streets. He told me I was heading in the right direction, but then I came to the highway. The road I had been following split into a T and there didn’t seem to be a way across since it was, well, a highway. In the distance, I could see a tall building with “La Quinta” lit up across the top floors, but I couldn’t get to it. [tweet]

Frustrated, I told my dad I’d try to find a taxi and hung up the phone. I backtracked and decided to turn off the wide road I had been following with the hope that it’d be easier to hail a cab in lighter traffic. I walked a few blocks and then stopped at an intersection, hoping to see a cab drive by. Several minutes went by and I realized I had journeyed into a Spanish-speaking neighborhood. All of the shop windows and conversations I overheard were in Spanish. My phone beeped to let me know that the battery was dying. [tweet]

Now I was really starting to get worried. Where was I? Where was a cab? Where could I go, even just to get warm and look up directions? How could I have gotten myself so stranded? I started to walk back towards the wide road I had been on earlier, figuring I’d at least get to a place where people spoke English so that I could ask for help.

Along the way, I saw a cab approaching. I stuck out my arm and danced around like a maniac hoping to attract attention. The driver looked at me and kept driving. As I gave him the middle finger, a red volvo slammed on its brakes and backed up towards me. I tried to hurry away but the driver of the volvo rolled down his window and shouted “Hey! you need a cab?” I stopped and looked at him. “I drive a cab during the day, hop in I’ll take you where you need to go,” he told me.

The man looked fairly clean cut and trust worthy. He didn’t strike me as someone who would drive a cab for a living. But if my spidey-senses had been tingling for the last two hours, they went into overdrive at the thought of getting into a stranger’s car.

“Where do you need to go?” He asked me. “Not too far, I’m trying to get to the La Quninta, right over there,” I pointed. “I just don’t know how to get across that highway.”

A voice behind me said, “oh, you’re trying to cross the highway?” I turned and saw a large Black man probably about my age in a dark jacket and sagging dark pants, eating a bag of hot cheetos. Next to him was a short Hispanic girl wearing a white puffy jacket with the fur-trimmed collar cinched tightly around her face to block out the wind. “Yah,” I responded. I was startled that I hadn’t noticed them there before since I had been on high alert in this neighborhood. “Do you guys know how to get across?”

“Yah, you just gotta go across this street and then cut though that little street right there…” he pointed. “Then you cut though the parking lot of Stop n Shop and then you go under this bridge–”

“Naw!” the man in the volvo interrupted, “that’s a bad neighborhood! Lemme drive you! Five bucks!”

“That ain’t no bad neighborhood!” the man behind me retorted. Hoping to avoid a fight, I quickly thanked all of them and scurried away in the direction he had pointed. Despite the cold wind, I took my hood off so that I’d have all of my sense about me. I walked down the middle of the street with my flashlight in hand, in case I needed it to investigate a rogue shadow at a moment’s notice. The howling wind was rattling fences. I felt like I was in a real life horror movie.

Eventually, I came to the Stop n Shop. It had a large parking lot and I could see the dreaded highway rising into the night way off in the distance. I went inside the store to sit down, charge my phone and grab something to eat. I realized I hadn’t eaten anything besides a Dunkin’s donut all day.

The grocery store was warm and inviting, but the deli section was closed and so there wasn’t much that I could have eaten on the spot. I bought a gatorade and sat near the door, charging my phone for a few minutes. I was tempted to just sit there and rest for awhile while my phone recharged. But then I realized that would mean that I’d be extending my journey later into the night, which didn’t seem like a very smart idea. [tweet]

I gave it a few minutes and then packed everything up to head out again. On my way out, I asked an employee if she knew how I could get across the highway. “Oh yah! I cross under it every day cause my bus stop is back there,” she told me. We walked out of the store and she pointed me towards a narrow gap in the fence at the edge of the parking lot. “Just go through there and cross a few streets and you should see a big sign for the hotel on your left.” Vague directions, but I had no other options besides obey.

I thanked her and then headed off as she had instructed. I made it past the fence and realized I was in one of those areas under highway over-passes where hobo villages tend to form. Two dim, orange lights showed me the debris field I would be crossing: cinder blocks, barbed wire, branches and shadows. I couldn’t believe I was going to make my way across that, but I literally could not have turned back – where else could I go?

Gripping my flashlight as tight as I ever have, I made may way to the other side of the underpass, cars whizzing by overhead. As I emerged, I saw a bright green sign and a large parking lot. I had made it to the hotel! [tweet]

As I crossed the parking lot, I wondered how far I had walked in the past few hours. Just then, I slipped on some black ice. I was able to regain balance and didn’t fall over, but I tweaked my left knee in the process. I hobbled the last few steps into the hotel and collapsed into a chair in the lobby.

Eventually, I made it to the front desk, only to be told that I needed to be 21 to rent a room. The woman at the desk was friendly and called several other hotels for me to see if they would take a 20 year old. Fortunately, they all declined – I didn’t want to have to trek off into the night again – and she was able to convince her manager to bend the rules for me.

I made it to my room and collapsed on the bed. I was tired and I was hungry, but a hotel bed was such an exciting thing to have, that I didn’t even care.

Because of my cell phone, my laptop and my connections, I was never truly homeless, but I definitely got a taste of what that must be like for the millions of people who feel as I felt every evening. Not knowing where you can go or if you’ll have a warm shelter for the night is a truly frightening experience.

These past few days, I’ve gotten a much stronger appreciation for the things that we take for granted in our every day lives that allow us to live so easily and carefree. Cars, food, warmth, internet connections, electricity, beds, and the people around us who lift our spirits and give us confidence. I will never take these things for granted again, and I will do my best to offer them to others when they are in need.

An adventure and a learning experience, indeed.