Ryan and his two friends had already disappeared into the woods by the time I managed to lug the tripod out of my car’s trunk. When I caught up, Ryan apologized.
“Sorry, that guy was eyeballin us…wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.”
“Where was he?”
“Across the road, just staring at us from his front door.”
We had parked the two cars at the side of a moderately traveled road in New Paltz, the closest we could get to the 18th century wreckage that Ryan had told me about. Although the woods we had jogged into obviously weren’t being used for anything, the man had stared all the same, wondering what we were doing on land that we didn’t own.
The first structure we came upon was the most interesting. The actual 17th-century ruins were so ruined they only consisted of scattered rocks and a well…but the first structure was far more modern.
“Wow,” Ryan perpended, “someone did a lot of work on this place since I was last here.”
It was obviously the home of some enterprising homeless folk. Yes, that sentence was meant to be ironic.
I traveled extensively last year and spent a good deal of time in the San Francisco Bay area. It was beautiful. So beautiful that people still visit there by the millions despite the hordes of highly aggressive homeless people. There are many different strains of Bay Area homeless, some who are cool to chill with. However, due to the location of my sister’s apartment, I became most familiarized with the shittiest strain — the Mission District Crackheads. Being used to the NYC strain of urban homeless, who tend to lie about in a Schizophrenic haze, I was unprepared for the degree of communication Mission District Crackheads launched at you. Of course, the communication always ended with them asking for something — though ‘asking’ is a pretty inaccurate term for what they did, which was to hold your day hostage until you freed yourself by paying them. Walking away quickly didn’t do anything — this was a highly motivated strain of homeless person, what with the crack-lust and all, so they would just jog after you.
I sympathized with them, though. They were all severely mentally ill drug addicts. I usually ended up bumming them change.
Another place I went to in my year of travels was the significantly more exotic Nicaragua. Nicaragua is horribly destitute, second only to Haiti in the Western Hemisphere for lowest per capita income. I knew I was going to see some shit, but I was stunned when I actually witnessed the slums. The situation was worse here than anywhere in the US, and this was how the vast majority of people lived in Nicaragua.
One aspect of poverty that San Francisco had that Nicaragua did not? Homeless people.
There aren’t really any enforced laws in Nicaragua, or at least any that I could see, and this extended to building codes. If you were like the vast majority of Nicaraguans and couldn’t afford an architect, you simply erected an abode yourself. The abode wouldn’t be NICE or anything; it would just be a shack. But since property laws and building codes are non-existent in Nicaragua, no one would kick you off the land because you hadn’t purchased it. You would have a place to put your stuff, a degree of security and stability, and wouldn’t be out on the streets all day.
Poverty doesn’t create homeless people. Private property laws and building codes do. The fact that San Francisco’s per capita income is about 40 times that of Nicaragua and only one of these places really has homeless people should prove that.
When we exited the woods, the man across the street was still staring, wondering whose unused property we had strayed on.
I hope he didn’t find the shelter we had found. He would surely have a problem with that, too.