Yesterday I chronicled the time immediately following my leaving my first wife.
When I left her, I drove a big ol’ red Dodge van. It was ugly, it had some dents, I believe I replaced every single light fixture. I paid 525 cash to a youth ministry that was getting rid of it because their staff was constantly misusing it. I often say it was the first vehicle I bought but I guess that isn’t really true, I bought a Cadillac DeVille that cost more, was babied more by it’s previous owner and didn’t last half as long. The dodge though, my dad hated that thing. He even bought me another one at one point that was more of a camper setup with a fold down bed in the back and two swivel chairs with a table in the middle.
I took care of my van, I loved it. In fact I still have one of the seats in my kitchen. It was getting a little rough though. My father told me for years that it was going to die on me “any day now.” Most of the time I trust his mechanical opinion, but in this case I knew she wouldn’t quit on me yet. Though by the time my soon to be second wife, her daughter, and the four dogs and I were looking at homelessness, I had to admit that “yet,” was just about here, and it wouldn’t be a suitable van to be homeless in.
We had the luxury of planning our homelessness.
My father took me around to various car dealerships looking for a better van. We talked to the local Dodge dealership and they had a terrible Astrovan that was slightly less terrible than my rig, but we couldn’t come to a price agreement. We were willing to go as high as $1500, though honestly any number that included a dollar sign would have been over paying. The owner, his name was Manny, I assume it still is I guess, wouldn’t budge below $3000. Dad and I tried though we haggled like crazy.
We ended up getting a Windstar off the back lot of a smaller dealership the next town over. It was a better rig and only cost him $1300, I was broke as a joke. I guess he was too, but we didn’t know the extent of that at the time. The Windstar was in a little fender bender, literally the fender was bent. Mechanically it was sound though and that’s all I ever cared about. It was smallish but the family and our meager possessions that we took with us to be homeless fit.
I had been struggling to find work. That was ultimately part of the problem and was for most of my life a serious struggle for me. In haggling with Manny he mentioned that he wanted to hire someone to detail cars for him, I think he also mentioned needing a manager for his other shop in town. I figured I was clearly unqualified to run anything to do with a mechanic’s shop. I didn’t know much of anything about cars really. I was in the army though, I could clean like the dickens.
We got the Windstar home we took a day to prepare and plan, then the following day we would be officially homeless. During that day of prepping, I went back into town to talk to Manny again. I wanted that detailing job,, I was desperate, I didn’t care how mindless the work would be or even really how bad the pay would be. I talked to Manny a bit, he had me talk to the HR director, I interviewed. That’s another thing I had always struggled with. At the end of the day, I didn’t get the job detailing cars. I got a working interview to take over management of the import shop.
The next day, day zero of homelessness I went into town again, I worked the shop, I learned a bit, and I got the job. This would be in a lot of ways the most important job I would ever land, personally anyway, certainly other things I have done are far more meaningful.
So I went from being unemployed living in my parents attic, to being homeless but employed.
The first night was terrifying. We parked down by the river and I didn’t want to set up our tent, but the girls wouldn’t sleep in the van. The second night was easier. The third easier still. We felt like we were getting homelessness figured out.
I was training at the job and I was learning quickly like I always do. Nobody I worked with but the HR director and Manny knew I was homeless. The guy I as replacing made a number of disparaging comments about the homeless and felt like an ass hole when he learned that I was homeless.
A few days in I got called to talk to Manny. I was nervous because I had imposter syndrome like all get out. I had never done anything like this and I was in charge. I got to the main dealership and met Manny, he introduced me to a friend of his, well a friend of a friend really. That friend that he was a friend of though was a real estate developer. He owned a lot of property around town, and the FoF and I went and looked at a lot of it. He owned an Island in the river, it had a bridge to it and was gated off, nobody would ever disturb us there. He showed us a store front that was vacant, it didn’t have a bathroom and the door into the attached house which was not vacant was glass. He also owned a condemned hotel that he bought at foreclosure auction and planned on renovating before the project became overwhelmingly expensive. It had no plumbing, no power, in a lot of places the interior walls were missing, the basement was flooded about a foot deep and the place was absolutely infested with pigeons. The hotel was far and away the best of the three places we looked at, and I was given a key.
The FoF also took us to a storage facility just off the railroad, only just technically not on railroad property. This is where they put everything that old tenants had left behind but they didn’t just immediately throw away. We found a couple beds and some chairs as well as a few other useful odds and ends. He even helped me load the stuff up and take it up to a couple of the rooms in the Hotel. The family chose rooms on the top floor that were the most finished.
We figured out a system for disposing of waste, we got a camp stove, a cooler, and a couple kerosene lamps. We were still homeless on day four, but at this point we were homeless in relative comfort and safety.
No plumbing was the biggest problem. It had been four days and we were starting to stink.
They never did hire an in house detailer, but the shop did have a detail bay. From that day forward every Tuesday and Thursday became “Warm Hose Night” as we washed ourselves after hours in the detail bay. The girls would spray each other down, while I caught up on paperwork, there was always paperwork to do, then 2nd wife would hose me down.
Nights were spent playing hide and seek in the creepy abandoned hotel. The girls were fine as long as they had a dog with them. It was overall not terrible as homelessness goes.
I was making money but homelessness is kind of expensive. My mother would bring my Father into town to bring me my mail whenever I got any which was surprisingly often. Summer was starting to pass away though. Mornings were starting to get pretty brisk. While our situation was certainly manageable in the summer, the Montana winter would kill us if we didn’t find a real place to live with heat.
I don’t believe in borrowing money, I was stupid with credit as a kid with my first wife so fortunately I didn’t really get in to much trouble with it. I was stupid enough fast enough that my stupidity was pretty self-limiting. My checks wouldn’t get us into even a slummy place before winter, not unless we starved to death first. I was trying to figure this out. I had offered my new family a better life. I was responsible for them. They could always go back to their old lives if they became desperate enough I guess. The daughter could at the very least, her younger sister never came with us. She wouldn’t leave us though.
My father brought me the mail wile I was trying to figure this out and about ready to give up in despair, losing everything I had left. In the mail there was a deal with the devil. A check, not a real check but one of those fake you are pre-approved for our moronic loan that no sane person would even consider checks. It would be enough to rent a rickety trailer owned by a slum lord just across the river from my folks 14 miles outside of town.
People always say “I didn’t have a choice” to justify bad decisions. That’s a lie. There are always choices. I looked at my bad options and I chose debt. I don’t know that it was the wrong choice per se, it certainly wasn’t the right one. It was a mistake I would eventually put on repeat though.