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One Night Homeless

May 11 2002

The train I wanted to catch from San Luis Obispo back to Ventura left each morning at 6:35 am. I was low on cash, and somehow, paying $20 for a place to sleep for a few hours didn't seem worth it, especially since I would be able to sleep during the train ride. I decided to see if I could stay up for most of the night, catching some naps when I could, keeping myself occupied when I couldn't.

It was cold outside, certainly too cold to sleep, probably even too cold to sit, so I spent most of the night in Cal Poly buildings. First the student center, which was open until 1 am. It had couches, and between reading snatches of Emerson, I napped as best I could with some activities going on nearby. I used the Internet to email friends, look for work, and update my site. At 1, I left, my plan either to head to Denny's or the US post office, both of which are open all night.

But as I passed the engineering building, several of my all-night stints from college returned to mind, and it occured to me that if any building on campus was going to be left open all night to accomodate midnight-oil burners, it was the engineering building -- heaven knows I burnt entire quarts faster than an old Chevy while I was still an EE major. Sure enough, when I tried the doors, they were open. I wandered inside, looked for a discrete place to lay down, but none presented itself. I probably could have lay down on the floor in a hallway, but simply knowing I could legitimately be disturbed and questioned by anyone who actually belonged to the place was enough to keep me awake. I listened to students play loud music to keep themselves awake, looked at the displays and bulletin boards in the hallway, and once or twice, dozed. At some point, I left, and finally discovered an indoor stairwell in the business building with a bit of heat and a complete lack of traffic. I lay down and napped for perhaps an hour.

About 5 am I woke up, stiff and a bit cold, but otherwise fine. The train station opened at 5:45, and I could make my way there. After riding my bicycle through a quiet, peaceful, pre-dawn San Luis Obispo, listening to chirping birds and smelling bakeries, I bought an apple fritter, and then, at the train station, bought my ticket.

I now have a greater appreciation for what one is really looking for in a place to stay overnight. Warmth and saftey first, and then, perhaps, quiet and softness (some people like dark, too, but this is easily simulated by putting something over your face). Each of these was underscored by a mild lack that, though uncomfortable, was no great hardship. I wouldn't confuse myself with anyone who was truly homeless, or my discomforts with the discomforts of anyone who was. I chose to not have a place to stay that night, out of a desire to have $20 more than a warm, soft, quiet, and safe place to sleep. If I had wanted to, I could have ended the experiment at any time, heading towards a motel, taking cash or a credit card out of my pocket and receiving a warm bed. I'm glad I could make the choice, glad I did, and glad I know a little bit more now about something I often take for granted.

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