- Posted March 8, 2013 by
A Night on Skid Row
She gave me the puppy dog look and added “but yo’ a pretty white boy, cours’ yo’ have money.”
I showed her my one dollar and explained who I am, a traveler, a hitchhiker, a dumpster diver if I need to be, and I stopped there. She looked me over. My hair was braided, speckled with colorful bands, and my clothes roughed up with wear and desert sands.
“So wacha yo’ gonna do tonight, sleep in one of these hotel rooms?” They be costin’ $60 a night, but you know what baby, if you give me $30 I can gech yo’ a room”
“Thanks, but I really don’t have any money,” I pulled the crumpled dollar out of my pocket “This is all I have. I’ll just find a spot on the street, somewhere away from the cold.”
“A white boy with a smile like yo’s don’t need to sleep on the street, jus’ go over to the gas station and pan handle a little. Yo gonna make big money”.
She was right about the money, normally when I hitchhike people don’t give me money, but in California people wouldn’t stop offering me money instead of a ride. I didn’t want the money I wanted to ride. Although I did accept the free fries and a $20 bill on the condition that I would “use it on food not drugs”.
“No need to get a room, when the sun comes up I can hitch hike out of here.”
“Nah, I goch it, jus’ give me yo’ dollar and come on”.
I gave her the dollar, after all why would I need it. Later she told me that she knew I wasn’t a cop because of how quickly I handed over the dollar “Like you didn’t care, like you didn’t need no receipt or nothin’, that’s how I knowed yo wasn’t no cop”.
I followed her to a small motel, the pathway was lit up and clean. On the way she told me her name was Smiley. Through the night she kept quizzing me on her name and the names of the others I met, she let out a jovial laugh and clapped her hands each time I remembered. We went inside a hotel room 16, where a younger black woman, a bit husky but more muscle than fat, in her 30s was sitting on the bed and smoking crack cocaine. Smiley introduced her. “This is my friend Heyra.”
Heyra had a hard face with heavy brows, stiff unsmiling lips and curly hair which framed her face. Her eyes were soft and relaxed but that could have been the effects of crack. She was well dressed, and wore her makeup well. She wasn’t pretty but she was doing the best with what she could.
Smiley nodded at the man beside Heyra. He was dressed for a white collar job, had neatly trimmed hair and a handlebar mustache. “And her brother, Jose.” Smiley added.
Jose was sitting on the other side of the bed and thick clouds of Heyra’s crack smoke obscured him from view. But no matter how much smoke was in the room, I was not about to believe they were siblings. Maybe I gave Smiley the “you must be kidding” look because she quickly changed her mind.
“Her brother in law.”
She emphasized “in” as if to add credibility. She paused and gave a nervous glance to Heyra.
“He’s her Mexican boyfriend.”
Heyra finished hitting on her crack pipe and handed it to Jose. The overwhelming smell of musty old motel room hid any trace of crack smell.
“Hey baby wach you doing here” Heyra asked, hey eyes searching the room over, as if to pinpoint where I was.
“He gonna sleep here tonight.” Smiley said as she watched Jose fumble with the pipe.
“He got money?”
“Yea he got money.”
Smiley beckoned me to come further inside, I took a step in.
“No, I don’t have any money; can I just crash on your floor?” The room was warmer than the night outside and the floor looked a lot more inviting than the street. Either way, I would be sharing my sleeping area with crack addicts.
Heyra looked me over as Jose lit up. He gave a quarter smile as his eyes dazzled, eyelids sagged, and body relaxed.
“I can’t give nothin’ without getting’somethin’ back. If yo’ want to sleep here yo’ gonna have to give me some money or some rock” She said, speaking faster and faster.
“He’s just a po white boy, don’t leave him cold on the street.” Smiley added as she beckoned me to take a step further. Heyra’s face morphed into an ogre-like monstrosity.
“He ain’t staying here if he aint got nuten’.”
This was the first time in all of my travels, which anyone asked for anything and really meant it. People always give me things without asking for anything. Often they give things I have never asked for. But Heyra was financially stressed; later Smiley explained that Heyra didn’t have enough money for a room the next day. Through the night smiley took me back to that room several times, sometimes to ask to see if I could sleep there, sometimes to ask a random question or two. Heyra always said I couldn’t stay without paying and Jose never said a word.
Story continues at yourworldyourhome.com/night-skid-row