I decided to be homeless for a while, about five years ago, while I was in college. I realized that I couldn’t do it where I was living, because I would see people I knew, so I decided to hitch-hike to New Orleans. It took me a week to get to New Orleans. My last ride getting into New Orleans was with this truck-driver and he asked me where I wanted to get dropped off. I said ‘anywhere.’ He said ‘you can’t do that.’ I had no idea at the time that New Orleans had one of the highest crime rates. He encouraged me to go to a shelter, which I did. Over the next few weeks I became good friends with these vagabonds. They really shifted my perception as far as homeless culture in general. People who are homeless are not necessarily hobo’s or bums but people who choose to live that way because they don’t want to be part of this rat race. Weeks went by and I began to forget that I wasn’t homeless, that I was doing this just for the experience of it. That whole Maslo’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ and taking that last one out (security), began to affect me. I never knew where I would sleep from one night to the next and sometimes I’d find myself in a shelter with a couple hundred other people. I met so many interesting people and had so many unlikely conversations. It was an amazing experience. It really did shape my perspective on the world, more than anything else at the time. What it lead to was, one night I was sleeping outside, which isn’t as romantic as it sounds. I was in New Orleans and lots of things down there are bigger than normal, including the bugs, and sleeping outside that night was like ‘Chinese water torture.’ Every ten minutes I was getting bitten by something else. I couldn’t sleep, so I started wandering the streets and ended up in the French Quarter. There was an open courtyard that seemed to beckon me. In the moment I thought I was walking into a movie. It was so surreal. There was a guy who had his arms woven through the bars of a gate to hold himself up because he was so drunk; he was drooling and it looked like this strange, crucifixion scene. There was this odd-looking lady in a gypsy cart, petting this large cat, laughing at another guy. Everywhere I looked was another, little, strange scene. All these little vignettes were offset by this one, black, Moses-lookin’ man, with a beard down to his knees, underneath a street-lamp, screaming through his harmonica. I never heard anything sound like that before and I was mesmerized. I drifted towards him like a bug to light. Once I got there, he just kept going and I sat there watching for a long time. Finally, he stopped with the harmonica. He started talking to me. I had never said a word to this guy, so he didn't know anything about me. He starts speaking to me in fluent prose. Everything is rhyming and weaving in and out beautifully. He starts telling me stories of Jesse James and telling me stories about himself and how he used to play the broomsticks with Bob Dylan and all these crazy things. I’m not really sure what to make of it. Then he starts telling me about myself. I’m from up north and my Dad’s a pastor, that my favorite book is “On The Road”, all of which are true. He kept going and he was very specific and up until this point I had never really believed anything like this could happen, that anyone that you never met could really tell you about yourself, until it happened to me. There is no way this was happening without this guy tapping into something beyond… He keeps going and I fall into this trance, almost, just listening to him, wishing I could be recording him. I got over that thought and realized that I just had to soak in as much as possible. Finally, he stops talking and it is daylight. It feels as though days have gone by but it was probably just a couple of hours. I’m still in shock because he has told me not just where I am coming from but where I am going to and all of these intimate, specific things about myself. Finally, at the end of it all, he says “The whole reason I was standing out here tonight was to tell you this message I’ve just told you. And the whole reason that you’re here, is to hear this message. Now your mission in New Orleans is done.” I had had no previous intentions of ending my homeless experience or of leaving New Orleans. But once that guy told me that my mission was over, I thought “O.K.” so I left. I had been panhandling for a couple of weeks and had about $80, enough to get a bus ticket back to Muncie, Indiana, where I was going to college. So I bought a ticket, got on the bus, fell asleep for two days and woke up back in Muncie. I got back to the house where I had been living with my room-mates. They were talking about all their normal stuff but now everything they said sounded so frivolous compared to the experience I had over the last several weeks, living on the street. I escaped to the roof and was just sitting there, thinking about everybody back there in New Orleans and all that I had learned. The next day I got up and went to the computer lab and I learned that Hurricane Katrina had hit New Orleans. It was all over the news. It really blew my mind. I thought of all my street friends in New Orleans and wondered how they might survive. My experience on the streets in New Orleans changed the way I look at the world. I’ll never again be the person I was before New Orleans. And I am glad.

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