Sin City

One of the questions I ask all the interviewees is, “How’d you end up in Vegas?” A simple question that usually elicits an interesting response:

“I got into a high-speed chase in California. I was living in Riverside and had a pound of weed on me. I was using and selling it. I was speeding so the cops came to pull me over. I was on my motorcycle, a Honda v65, which was really fast.

“I ran because of the weed. It was in my backpack. I took the backpack off and put it between my legs and was flying down the 91, crumbling weed in my hand and dropping it to the ground. When I got rid of all the evidence I pulled over. The cops said, ‘What the hell, man?’ and I said, ‘I just thought I’d take it for a ride, see what it could do, open it up.’ They said, ‘It looked like you were trying to get rid of something.’ ‘I wasn’t trying to get rid of anything, man. You must be imagining things.’

“I was put in the county jail for the high-speed chase. I did a year and after I got out I was on probation for another year. The day I got off probation I split. I said I’m done with this place and I came to Las Vegas. It was something different, a party place. I had heard you could drink here 24/7, and that sounded good to me.”—Tommy, in the drains from 2003 to 2008 #ShineALight #TwoCopsAndACricket

Book update

A quick update on the tunnel-survivors book: I have 75,000 words of the first draft (it should top out around 100,000) and a new working title: Two Cops and a Cricket: Surviving the Las Vegas Storm Drains. (The title was borrowed from a line from Paul Vautrinot’s interview.) Also, Steve Fanell is shooting some photos for the book.

I’m as excited as ever about the project and hope to finish the first draft in the next few months. More-detailed updates to follow.

SAL update

A quick update on Shine a Light:

We’ve established a partnership with the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, which graciously shares food and clothing donations with us. This gives us a stream of men and women’s clothing, along with blankets, socks, and sleeping bags. The Rescue Mission has also given us canned goods, water and snacks.

Paul Vautrinot, a former tunnel resident and Shine a Light’s point person in Vegas, recently spoke at Bishop Gorman High School. This led to a relationship with the prep school, which has been donating batteries, gloves, knit caps and freshly made sandwiches.

The first housed client in the SAL/Freedom House partnership has made remarkable strides. He completed 30 days in our inpatient program, was placed in transitional housing, and is now working full time. Honorably discharged from house arrest, he hopes to one day work as a sushi chef.

As always, thanks for your support! Any success we have is shared with the local community and our friends and followers online.

Good times

“In Phil’s spot he had a table and we would sit there and talk sports. He’s a Boston fan. I root for Seattle. He usually had good weed, too. If we weren’t doing anything better we would sit at that table with the light coming through the grate and look at linesheets and smoke weed. Eric was usually there or Old Man Paul. We would pool what little money we had and place five- and ten-dollar bets.

“I got along with Phil, which seems kinda weird. I don’t think we would’ve hung out under any other circumstances.”—Sweeny, in the drains from 2008 to 2010 #ShineALight #TwoCopsAndACricket

Winter break

For our winter break, I’ve pieced together a Las Vegas (Dec. 19-22), Atlanta (Dec. 22-28) and Mexico City (Dec. 28-Jan. 2) trip. Let’s hike, shop, urban explore, shoot some ball, practice our español, give gifts to the homeless, or get boba tea or discuss Pride and Prejudice (the break reading for my AP Lit class)!

Currently, my plans for Mexico City entail wading out into the sea of humanity—wallet in my front pocket—and seeing what develops. Please let me know if you have contacts in the area or suggestions on neighborhoods, hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, parks, museums, etc.

Gracias! Felices Fiestas!

Lessons learned

“Being homeless is not an adventure. If you do find yourself out there get yourself out of it as quickly as you can. It isn’t fun. I’ve said this to homeless kids out here, in the tunnels, 17 or 18 years old. It’s almost already too late for them because they’re enjoying the lifestyle. When you’re that young you don’t care. You’ll sleep in a stairwell with a few sheets of newspaper over you. But as you get older it gets harder and harder to live like that.”—Pretty Boy Steve, in the drains from 2004 to 2016

The first of many?

I’m proud to report that Shine a Light has housed its first client in its fledgling partnership with Freedom House. We can’t reveal too much about him, because of confidentiality concerns, but he’s originally from California and had been living in the tunnels off and on for about three years. He emerged from a double-barrel drain we know well near the south Strip. Eight to 10 other people—all of whom we have made contact with and many of whom I consider friends—currently reside in the drain. The client now has access to several services, including drug counseling, case management, job training and a GED program.

A hearty congrats to the Shine a Light staff and to the client! May he be the first of many!

Lessons learned

“I tell these guys all the time as long as a man draws breath there’s hope for recovery. It’s never too late; there’s no bottom too low; there’s no hole you can’t climb out of. When I see a man in a hole I jump in with him. He says, ‘Dude, now we’re both stuck here.’ And I tell him, ‘It’s OK, brother. I know the way out.’”

—Rick, in the drains from 2010 to 2013

Reflections

“Some of the years of my life are blank. God has not revealed them to me yet.

“I wish I could remember certain things better, but I didn’t walk away from that experience thinking I would remember it. I’ll never forget that Wendy’s, though, and its parking lot and how many hours I spent sitting in it wishing for better things. Watching people pull into the drive-through, thinking, Why am I here? What am I doing? Why am I not in that car living a normal life like that person?”

—One Shoe Sue, in the drains from 2005 to 2008

Strange solace

My 12th grade AP Lit class is currently covering metaphysical poetry. These cats (John Donne, Andrew Marvell et al.) were next level, and Donne’s intricate poem/puzzle “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” provided me some strange solace following a long, confusing week. (You’re in my thoughts, Las Vegas!) I hope it provides you some, too.

“As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No: …”

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44131/a-valediction-forbidding-mourning