It was the mid 90’s and I was homeless in Santa Fe, NM. I had several places where I slept at night. There was under the bridge south of the Plaza, but I didn’t stay there often because it smelled like piss and the alcoholics often stayed there. It also wasn’t easy to sleep because Shad, a huge alcoholic, was fucking his girlfriend Shorty (nickname was apt) in the ass and she’s slurring “Not there! The other hole!” Yeah, not good sleeping arrangements.
Next was a tent I had in a nearby arroyo (wash). However, we had to keep moving the campsite because the cops liked to cut up any tents they found. They had endless enjoyment of harassing the homeless in downtown Santa Fe. Usually it was the rookie cops who thought they had something to prove. There were are few semi-cool cops, but they smoked the weed they confiscated from the hippies. Most notably were Cecil and J.J. I’ll get to them in a bit.
My favorite camp was 13 miles up the mountain at the Big Tesuque campground. There were fresh berries to pick and eat, and king bolete mushrooms which we would cut up and have with eggs. Yum! No, they were regular edibles, not hallucinogenic. We saved those for special occasions.
I would hitchhike down the road into town in the morning, which wasn’t really difficult. People were fairly hitcher-friendly, and most of the people coming and going were stoners who liked to ski up at the resort at the top of the mountain. They’d always pick us hippies up just in case we’d smoke them out.
Once into town, I’d go to the Burrito Company near the plaza and get a fat bean burrito with cheese and green chile. It cost under two bucks, and was filling. Plus, the mornings could be a bit chilly, so it would warm you up.
Then I’d go to the plaza and just hang out for a bit, and warm up my fingers on the guitar for later in the day when I’d play for change. I’d often see a few of my homeless friends and one or more of us would have some pot, so we walked a block away to the Cathedral where there was a more secluded small park with a picnic bench. More pot got smoked at that bench than anywhere else in Santa Fe. Anyone who wanted some knew that was the place to go.
We’d have to keep an eye out for the cops, however, there were two in particular that everyone knew. Remember Cecil and J.J.? Cecil was a bodybuilding Hispanic cop with the typical cop sunglasses who often rode a bike around the plaza. If he knew you and liked you, he’d either take the pot for himself and let you go, or he’d say “Take it under the bridge where the tourists can’t see.” If he didn’t like you, you were busted.
The really funny thing was that Cecil had a sort of trading card with his picture on it. He’s flexing his muscles and pointing at the camera and there’s a quote: “Do Drugs and DIE!” Fuckin’ hypocrite.
J.J. was a friendly black cop who had graying hair and laughed a lot. He was pretty mellow, usually because he and Cecil would get high together. He’d get serious if anyone was really messing up though.
After a few tokes at the Cathedral, I’d play guitar in the Plaza, but I had to be careful, because we weren’t allowed to play with a hat out or guitar case open because that was panhandling, which was frowned upon. I thought that was bullshit because I was rendering a service for the money, not just asking for it for nothing. But, oh well. So, if we saw a cop, we’d close the guitar case.
Busking tip: if you ever play an instrument on the street, throw some of your own money in right when you sit down. Money attracts money, and people are more likely to tip if they see that someone else already has. No one wants to be first.
After a while, I’d go get some lunch and perhaps a few more tokes, which was something that just happened every couple of hours. We knew to stagger our arrival by walking in ones and twos about 5 min apart, because if a group of us were seen walking towards the plaza, it was a big red light. Not just to the cops, but to all the moochers and freeloaders who didn’t have a “job” like playing an instrument, washing windshields, or something else.
Most of the day was spent laughing, reading, drawing, playing guitar, and eating. When the evening came, that was money-making time. There were fewer cops, and all the people came downtown for the restaurants and bars. If you set up about a block from the bars so that you and the bar music weren’t interfering with each other, all the drunk people coming out of the bars are already happy and into music, and they dropped big tips.
The downside was the fucking Peruvians and Mayans. I know, that’s not politically correct, but you’ll understand in a minute. See, the Peruvians liked to set up in the same area for the same reasons, but they brought amplifiers. They’d play along with the CD’s they’d made and drown out the rest of us who were staggered every few storefronts down the block.
We guitarists, flautists and singers usually did what we could to respect each other and not drown out each other. Of course, every night there was the semi-friendly rivalry for the best spots. My friend Ash and I had a particular storefront we liked to play in because the acoustics were really good. The Peruvians, however, didn’t give a shit who was where and would just set up anywhere and drown everyone out. Of course, you can’t yell at them because then you’re picking on the Indians and being racist. We didn’t give half a shit about their race; we just didn’t like being drowned out. It was rude as hell and they knew it and didn’t care.
Many nights, you could play for about 2 hours and make $20-$40. It was more than enough for a good meal and a six-pack of good microbrew. Which brings us to the topic of alcohol and homelessness.
There are several types of homeless. Not all of them are shiftless alcoholics. Some certainly are, no doubt about it. Some are lazy fucks who will do anything to get alcohol. One guy I knew resorted to drinking Listerine because the liquor stores stopped selling to him because he tended to get loud and obnoxious and yelled at the clerks. He wanted me to go buy him some Listerine with the change he’d made spanging that day (spange is the words spare change run together, so when you ask for spare change, you are “spanging”).
There was no way I was going to buy Listerine for this guy. That was just gross.
The alcoholics often don’t care where they get their alcohol. They are severely addicted and they figure the cheaper, the better. They don’t care what it tastes like, because if they don’t drink, they go through withdrawal, and there’s nothing more chilling than seeing a bedraggled, hollow-eyed wraith of a person shuddering from addiction.
Some homeless are homeless for political reasons and aren’t addicts. They hate the system and don’t want to be a part of it. There was a guy named Stan who was a genius. He used to be a lawyer. He was so disgusted by the whole system that he dropped out completely. One time he told me about when he was in college and he and a few friends ran a campaign without mentioning a single issue. They put posters of a handsome guy in a nice suit next to a Ferrari and did no campaigning other than that. The guy won for his district.
Another group were the gutter punks. They were dirty, didn’t like to shower, and would pierce themselves anywhere with anything. They looked very much like they had been rolling in the gutter and had a bunch of stuff stick to them. They tended to keep to themselves.
Then there was the occasional hard luck story. The guy who had just lost everything and become homeless and had no idea what to do. Some assholes would try to rip them off even more, but most of us tried to show him the ropes. We’d show him the Salvation Army and the churches that gave out food. Also, the bagel shop that always left a bag full of bagels next to the trash every night. We showed them where the recreation center was where you could shower for a dollar. We showed him the cheap Laundromat. We told him about the burrito that was not on the menu at the Burrito Company. We let him know which homeless to stay away from and which ones were cool. These guys could usually get back on their feet because they had a recent employment history. Most were not so fortunate.
That’s what most people don’t realize when they say “get a job”. In fact, our reply often was, “Who are you employing?” See, when you have no address to send checks to, no residence to verify, and a jagged employment history at best, no one will hire you. That’s how it is. Most of them end up getting stuck on the street and turn to addiction.
A few homeless were like me, hippies who often went to Rainbow Gatherings, Grateful Dead shows, and whatnot. After Jerry Garcia died, many hippies had no idea what to do or where to go, until Phish came along. In case you’re wondering what they did after Phish, now it’s String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic.
There were several cities that filled up with homeless hippies for a few months as they sorted out what to do and where to go. I already had my gig going in Santa Fe, so I wasn’t worried about it.
In fact, I remember the day Jerry died. My friends and I had just woken up and were heading to the Plaza, and Ducky, an old cantankerous liar, came up and started laughing and saying “What are you hippies gonna’ do now that your idol is dead, huh?”
“What?” we asked, “Who died?”
“Jerry’s dead, man! Jerry Garcia died! Whatcha gonna’ do now?”
“Oh bullshit, Ducky. You’re full of shit.”
“No man,” and he was serious “It was on the news on my radio!”
Then we realized he actually wasn’t bullshitting us.
The first words out of my friend Brian’s mouth was “I’m going to miss that fat heroin junkie!”
We all died laughing right there! We were rather irreverent about most other hippies, because we didn’t buy into most of it. We didn’t wear patchouli, or have dreads, or use people. We were kind of in a weird no-man’s-land between hippie and punk. We loved heavy music as well as the Dead. We had a twisted sense of humor and weren’t all fluffy hippie dippy types, so Brian’s remark was repeated throughout the day to many tearful and shocked hippies.
Seriously, when we got to the Plaza, the hippies had all congregated and were crying and playing Grateful Dead tunes and wondering what in the fuck they were gonna’ do now. They’d been following the Dead for 25 years and didn’t know anything else. Who’d buy their “kind burritos” now? How would they get gas money for the next show if there was no next show? Jerry’s death actually had a sizeable impact upon the homeless community, and those who had their hangouts invaded by weeping road hippies weren’t too happy. Thankfully, they gravitated to Phish shows fairly soon.
However, on the upside, there were a lot up upset hippie chicks that needed consolation. There was much, much consolation. Being able to play a few Dead songs didn’t hurt, either. In short, my friends and I got laid like motherfuckers!
Which brings me to the end of the daily schedule. After we made some money, we’d get some food and a couple of six-packs of good beer. We’d go back to the plaza and play for another half hour or so, which was enough to attract the hippie girls. The combination of guitars and a brown paper bag was a sign to the girls that said “Those guys are laid back and have beer.” So, we’d take them back to camp, play some more music, laugh, drink, and get laid. It was a wonderful life!
© 2015 William Suphan
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