For instance, just to get to work, I have to take the West Market Street bus downtown, transfer to the West Wendover bus, travel to another transfer point out West Wendover, and get off the bus near the store.
More extensive travel makes it worse. To get to Jamestown, a small town between Greensboro and High Point where I had business last week, I had to take West Market downtown, transfer to the High Point Road bus that travels to the southwestern sector of town, transfer to the High Point Road Connector, which transports people out to the Jamestown campus of Guilford Technical Community College, and then transfer to a Hi-Tran bus run by the City of High Point that meets the GTA bus at GTCC.
Of course, all these transfers and whatnot take time. Lots of it. Getting to work consumes an hour and a half. Getting to Jamestown was the better part of two hours.
And that’s if I hit all my transfers on time. Buses break down, get stuck in traffic, and have their share of fools and crazies that delay the bus. Even a few minutes’ delay can spell the difference between waiting a few minutes for a connecting bus and waiting a full hour.
I’ve heard people who used to live up North who now live in the area express bafflement that the buses down here take an hour between trips and then don’t go everywhere they should. They’re used to having buses run every 15-20 minutes and getting off within no more than a couple blocks of their stop.
By contrast, the bus from the apartment runs only once an hour, and the nearest stop is a half-mile away. On weekdays. On weeknights and on Sundays, the nearest stop is a mile and a half away. Needless to say, we don’t get out much on weeknights and Sundays.
Another problem is that, although Greensboro, feeling its economic oats, has undertaken a frenzy of building, the best jobs and shopping are seldom built within easy reach of the bus routes. In fact, it could be said that developers seem to go out of their way to place businesses nowhere near the bus routes. No doubt due to a biases perception against poor people.
A case in point: some years ago, the library system had a branch in the Northwest part of town directly on a bus line, and in the Southwestern part of town, only about a block from a bus line. A new library was built out on New Garden road, miles from any buses whatsoever, and another was built farther out in southwest, again nowhere near a bus line. The two on the bus routes were of course promptly closed. That effectively cut off research and reading opportunities for poor people living in two sections of town.
Well, since the buses are woefully inefficient, what alternatives are there for getting around in Greensboro without a car? There is bicycling, of course, but since Greensboro was designed solely with cars in mind, bike trails and road space is in short supply. And drivers around here tend to regard bicyclists as little more than speed bumps. Everyone here who rides a bike has at least one horror story involving a driver.
Walking is a good option: it’s great exercise and gives you time to notice and appreciate your surroundings, but besides being slow, the aforementioned problem with insane drivers also applies, as sidewalks are in short supply, forcing you to walk close enough to the road to be clipped by large vehicles, or on the roadbed itself. And we won’t even mention the occasional heckler who decides to enhance his enjoyment of the day by hurling invective -- or worse -- at you. And during the summer months, North Carolina temperatures can make extensive walking life-threatening.
In the city’s defense, however, changes are coming. GTA just approved a new initiative to make the buses run every 30 minutes, but of course, that involves a fare increase. And the city has begun an effort to put in more sidewalks along areas with heavy foot traffic.
Still can’t wait to get my Trusty Steed back under me, though. That ought to cut transit time considerably.
*Mostly condos, but there are a few high-profile shopping venues under construction. And a giant skyscraper in the middle of downtown, after lying dormant for many years, is finally going to be rebuilt soon. Naturally, few of these places are near the bus lines.
Since we were approved for public housing, we've been taking care of the inevitable meetings and paperwork reviews/signings that must come with such a bounty and moving various and sundry items out of our storage unit and GIHN's Day Center. That's not quite as pleasant as it sounds; the first day I was able to secure a moving van, about a week after we'd signed the lease on the apartment, I only had enough money to rent the thing for a half-day. So, I had to go to an agency that had agreed to give us some furniture*, pick it up, drop by the Day Center, grab what I could out of there, drive to the Hinterlands to the apartment and offload everything. Oh, and did I mention that all of this had to be done in four hours? Because the half-day started at 9 am and it took me until after 11 am (traveling by bus, remember) to go to the first office, find that they had not trucks available, travel to a second office that had one available, but wait for the manager to get back from whatever she was up to.
I did it, but it wasn't easy. I don't know how I avoided throwing out my back. Must've been a sight for the neighbors, though to watch this fat guy, 43-going-on-80, grabbing stuff -- some of it very large -- out of a 16' moving van and trooping across the yard without letup, dumping it unceremoniously into the lviing room, and going back for more. As though he were still in his 20s! What the heck...?
Did I mention I got it done in thirty minutes? No, don't ask; I have no earthly idea how I did it. All I know is the truck had to be back by 3:00 and I didn't pull up to the apartment until 2:25.
Other than that Herculean feat, we've been keeping very busy. I'm still looking for substantial work while holding down my job at the store (sigh!) Mama's looking for work, but the pressure's off her now, so we're talking about sending her to GTCC to take advantage of their training programs. Mike and Ness** are still wrestling with grades, and looking forward to summer break in a couple weeks.
I've also got a project going on the side that I can't talk about yet, but it's due the end of June, so I've been hustling on it best I can.
The News & Record asked me to write an article for their editorial section a few weeks ago; it ran this past Sunday. It looked good, and took up way more space than I thought it would (or I thought I deserved). Quite a few people around town have recognized me from the photo that ran with it, which is amazing becuase since then I've gotten a haircut and gained several pounds, but so far everyone's been very complimentary. I wish I could link to it, but I can't find it on their site. I chose as the theme of the essay "What Have I Learned?" And the editors ran several blog excerpts to go with it.
I've also been answering e-mails as best I can, although there have been significant lag times. However, I want to thank everyone who's sent along well wishes and kudos. They've been a great boost.
And the Beast? He hasn't been bothering me much lately. A sting here, a twinge there, but now I've got something to swat him across the nose with. I did court disaster one day a couple weeks ago, however. I was in rare high spirits; the sky was blue, the birds were singing, traffic was light, I had a place to live. I was feeling pretty cocky. I actually started needling the Beast. Pointing out that he wasn't so tough and where was his pointy, pointy mental barbs now, and things seemed to be finally turning the corner for me.
He simply responded with one word: "Traci."
Oh. Okay. He can defend himself, very much so. I shut the hell up. Fast.
Other than that brief encounter, though, he's left me pretty much alone, even at work. Kinds scares me, though, because I know he's still in that dark little corner of my brain, awaiting an opportunity. He won't get it today, though. And maybe not tomorrow, either.
My only regret about leaving GIHN is that I've had to go back to cooking for myself now. I readily admit I'm not the world's greatest cook. I have recurring nightmares of the Iron Chefs, Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray all ganging up on me and beating me to death with various kitchen implements for daring to try and...cook?! The volunteers at the various churches always handled the cooking and they were a lot better at it than I am.
*A lot of our larger pieces of furniture became landfill fodder when we hurriedly moved out of our old home, including our dressers, our mattresses and our fridge. It's not so bad; the furniture was all salvaged and the fridge was on the fritz anyway, so it sorta worked out.
**I noticed recently that I've been calling her "Ness" more than "Nessie", so I'll just stick to that convention here.
At the Foot of Olympus
Still here. Still whole (well, mostly...) And still trying to fight the economic winds. Unfortunately for my Gentle Readers, I'll no longer be talking specifically about my homelessness, because, well, we're not homeless anymore. But there are still things that should be talked about from the standpoint of poor people. In many ways, we down here in the mud are still trying to break through and make a way for ourselves and our children while up on the summit of Mount Olympus,, the CEOs, the High-Powered Financiers, the Politicians, the Movers and Shakers, and the Grand Poohbahs are clinking their champagne glasses together and making funny hats out of the stock pages and patting themselves on the backs about how many people they've hired (at minimum wage), how many jobs they've created (low-wage, dead-end service industry jobs), and how they've generally Benefited The Community (wow, we really did need those spanking-new condos with the view of the golf course, didn't we?)
I propose we scale the slopes of Olympus, you and I, and grab Zeus and company by the collar, give their consciences a good shake and shout in their ears "Hey! We're still here! We're still slaving away for peanuts and getting laid off and outsourced and assimilated by illegals and evicted! Oh, and by the way, the lottery and a hike in the minimum wage aren't the End Of Civilization As We Know It!"
Sound like a plan? Okay, let's get climbing...
The Sudden Glare of Daylight
We'll soon be no longer homeless.
We've been approved for public housing! (Yeah, I know, but it's still better than being totally homeless...) We'll probably be moving in as early as next week. Finally, a place of our own! Well, considering...
We got the call from the Greensboro Housing Authority last week. It came clear out of the blue, and on the day after I was told that out time in GIHN was almost up and that I had to start looking for alternatives. It seems surreal now, but I remember later that same day, one of the staffers told me that just when things seemed their darkest, that's when something comes through. I didn't believe it at the time, but she was right. The day after the call, Mama and I went down to file the paperwork and set up an appointment to look the apartment over. It's in kind of a remote section of town, meaning that the nearest bus stop is a half-mile away, but at least it's something to call our own until we can get fully back on our feet. We didn't need much discussion to decide to take the place. Besides, if we hadn't, we would have had to go back on the waiting list for housing.
No, best to strike while the iron's hot.
So that light I saw approaching wasn't an oncoming train for a change; it was actually the end of the tunnel. No more dodging the Shinkansen. At least not in this situation. No more giving up our privacy. No more pressure to takeajobanyjob. No more shuttling from church to church each week. No more having our schedules dictated by someone else's agenda.
Our. Own. Space.
I know, I know: big deal, people get places to live every day. But getting one after you've been rendered homeless and unable to establish a base is big. I guess I'm just not adequately describing the feeling right now. Put it like this: the Beast isn't feeling real well right now.
So what's next for us, now that we're almost out of this hellish situation?
Well, first off, you guys in the blogosphere won't be getting rid of me so easily. I plan to continue the blog; for awhile, anyway. It'll just be changing focus, is all. There's still a lot to tell about the Triad, some bad, some good, and not all of it's being told from the viewpoint of the poor. And there are still others struggling through homelessness down here in the mud while others are up on Mount Olympus making decisions for them. If nothing else, I've got a big mouth, so I'll still be around to give everybody the View From the Sidewalk.
I still have to get a better job, of course, but living in subsidized housing affords me time. Without the pressure to takeajobanyjob, I have time to go back to Guilford JobLink and sign up for job training. Or maybe go for full-blown educatioon at Guilford Tech or go back to UNCG and finish the degree I started in the '80s. With all of that, I can get a better job, then maybe -- just maybe -- parley the higher income into my own house. One I can't get kicked out of. One where I can stand on my front porch and moon all the landlords in the city for keeping me firmly wedged under their gold-grubbing thumbs while denying them the income they so slaveringly crave.
Sorry, regressed to childhood for a moment. Get a grip. Pull it in. Continue.
Mike and Nessie will be able to concentrate on school now without any other considerations (although I think Nessie enjoyed making new friends while in the network). And Mama can stretch her yoga mat out wherever she wants and go at it while waiting for her herbal tea to steep. I'll be able to go to work not worrying about what tactic the Beast will use to jump my mind. This removes one of his worst weapons. He's got plenty others, of course, but they're a lot less effective due to familiarity.
I'm going to take a few days off to get everything ready, but trust me -- as Arnold Schwarzenegger said in The Terminator, "I'll be back!"
But for right now, we did it. We won. And we've got a lot to do.
We're going home.
The Greene Street Continuum
Being there is already an adventure. On our first night, our hosts warned us that it is very easy to get lost in First Presby, so we'd have to learn our way around quickly. I have a pretty good sense of direction, so I learned my way around ina short time. Mama, however, got lost the very next morning. When she didn't show up for breakfast, I started a search for her. Unfortunately, she hadn't yet turned on her cell phone, so the task wasn't helped by technology. After about 20 anxious minutes, I was forced to admit defeat and go back and get Mike and Nessie off to school. We found out that Mama had made her way out of the building altogether (by what route I don't yet know). Still for a few minutes, I was imagining all sorts of things; a few even involved rogue tears in the space-time continuum*.
Had a phone interview this morning with a local manufacturer that's looking for a junior designer. I don't think it went well because I generally don't do well on phone interviews, but also I think the interviewer was concerned that I was after a junior position with senior experience. Still, we'll see. As I said in my last post, I don't consider graphic design to be my priority job search goal anymore. So I ain't gonna sweat it.
I saw a young woman out near Wendover yesterday, surprisginly with a "Homeless. Hungry. Please Help" sign. What was surprising was her age (she couldn't possibly have made a serious dent in her thirties yet) and her apparent health. This was very distressing to me on several levels. There was, of course, her feeding of the perception of the homeless (which I've spoken of before, so I'll spare the Gentle Readers the reiteration), but also she was out begging when it would be all too easy, due to her age and health, to get a job somewhere. And in a more sinister vein, there are plenty of sexual assaulters, kidnappers and other assorted crazies around here that are all too well versed at making girls like her into statistics.
*I know, I know, I've been reading too much science fiction lately...