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


“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: …”

With sympathy from San Salvador

Thanks to everyone who reached out to me following the tragic events in Las Vegas. I’m fine physically; as many of you know, I’m teaching in Central America and have not been in Vegas since late July. However, I’m shaken mentally.

My thoughts are with everyone directly affected by this unspeakable tragedy and with my friends who live in an underground flood channel in the area. They often use the sidewalk between Mandalay Bay and the outdoor concert hall, pausing to enjoy a song or two from the far side of the fence. From second-hand sources, I heard they were cleared out of the drain as a precautionary measure. But I haven’t heard if they are all OK.

If you know any of these fine folks and you’ve heard from them, please let me know. I’ll do the same for you.

With love and sympathy from San Salvador …

Road to redemption

“Since moving back to New Hampshire, I met the love of my life, who’s also a musician. Her name is Gwen. She’s amazing.

“The drummer in my current band plays open-mic nights all the time. I’d just released a CD, so I went to this open mic with him and I was selling it there. She was sitting at the bar waiting for her turn to play. I was like, ‘Yo! Buy my CD!’ She was like, ‘I would like to, but I don’t have any money,’ so I gave her one for free. As the drummer and I were leaving to go to another open mic down the street, I turned to her and said, ‘Come to J’s or you’re a fucking nerd.’ She showed up and we’ve been inseparable ever since.”

—Szmauz, in the drains from June 2014 to August ’14

Discovering the drains

“I didn’t know he was homeless because he took me to this apartment. Well, it was a motel room, but when you’re homeless that’s an apartment to you. Then one day he didn’t pay and he said, ‘I stay at this other place, too, and you can meet my friends.’ I’m thinking, Right on. I got a guy that’s got his own place. I can meet his friends and maybe get back on my feet—and he takes me to this ditch. I’m like, Whoa. I started getting scared because of my history of being raped. I started crying. We’re near the Rio and we walk down this embankment, and I started freaking out and I said, ‘You’re going to kill me, aren’t you?’ He said, ‘No. I forgot my rope and shovel.’ He’s drunk and laughing. I said, ‘It’s not funny, dude.’ He goes, ‘Let me get my key out,’ and he pulls out a flashlight. He said, ‘I know this looks weird, but you’ll meet some good people and it’s safe and it’s better than being on the streets.’”

—Melinda, in the drains from 2009 to 2011