Street Life

A Night Walk Reveals the Action

By Riccardo Taylor

Streetvibes Vendor

For the average street person, the onset of the night is the crown of the day. It often brings about fear – or perhaps relief from the constant shuffling of the day. Making one’s way to that place of refuge, which we call our spot, one can end the day with a bit of sleep. However, for some of us, it’s just the beginning of a part of our routine.

The night person is a small percentage of the overall, but is still a feature of the life of the street. They wear a telltale sign of the lifestyle. Often known by their movements, they are a breed of a different species. Living off of their wits, they maintain by whatever means necessary. Most are honest by nature, but the life of the street can change that.

We are out on the block. OK, let’s see what’s happening. Let’s go over to the “Bat Cave” (usually an abandoned building). Batman doesn’t live here, and the only Robin you’ll see is the one trying to turn a “trick,” or trick you out of something. The Bat Cave is a squatters’ paradise, usually set with electricity from a nearby building. Without running water, buckets or canteens are used for the water supply. The Bat Cave is furnished with discarded furniture that the occupants have found. Keeping with its name, the Bat Cave is only alive with action during the late night. The fluttering of arms and legs in swift movement in and out of the cave gives the impression of those who frequent the place, back and forth without direction.

There he is,  the houseman, directing where to sit, who gets in and who leaves. His main job is to collect the entrance fee, usually a hit of dope or a few dollars. Everybody tending his own habit: 40-ounces being passed, a crack pipe being pushed or perhaps a joint being shared, each in their own world. Though it seems chaotic, there is order in the cave. The stays are generally short. When you have nothing left to share, it’s time for you to go; or when you have had your pleasure, you realize that it’s time for you to get back to the block to come up.

The residents of this humble abode are in and out all night, only being caught by the first light of day. Then it’s time to wind down, to sleep most of the day. Amazingly, you might give it some kin to the old Temptations song, “Psychedelic Shack.” For those who frequent this place, it is where it’s at.

Of course a visit to the Bat Cave is not the only action of the night life. There is always the waiting game: waiting for the right person to come along or the right situation to occur. Vying to get what seek, you have to spend time trudging back and forth, from block to block, seeking those who live like you do, doing the things that you do. Living on the edge, the street people are oblivious to danger in the normal sense. The only fear one has is of being stopped or detained by the police. The worst-case scenario is to end up in jail. The violence, competition, or other distractions of the street pale in comparison to having to spend a night in the holding tank. There is no getting back that time you lose sitting in the Justice Center. Time, the most important element of the street life, cannot be wasted sitting in the can. Every moment of every day has to be utilized for the betterment of one’s condition, the hustle for survival.

Somehow you become invisible in the night as you duck and dodge through the streets. Taking in every step, you don’t miss a beat. Knowing where the action is, you start that way. Anticipating the scene, your mind picks the route. On this walk we see a huddle on this or that corner or cars passing. An occasional shout, an alert to which way to go, a nod signals that it’s right here. Often the walk is where the action is. Much more movement than if we are stuck in the Cave of held up in some house. It’s the darting in and out that attracts you, so you walk the way that you know something is happening. Number-one rule: Avoid conflict or dispute. There is enough mistrust and potential violence waiting.

The later – or, if you will, the earlier – the hour, the slower things get. Feet starting to hurt from all the walking, eyes feeling heavy, you know it’s time to find that spot to sleep. A few hours is all you expect. Hate to miss any action, but I’m done!

In places where most people would be appalled, the street person is right at home. A lot of us are cast into the role we play. You learn to go with the flow, so to speak. Still, that reality that things are different and that we can have a part of that eludes our senses. Chase the action, using up all of your facilities to come to the same conclusion. This becomes the mindset of those who live this way, and life goes on. The walk continues.