the poverty tour

Hi-all, my name’s Boogie Bob, and I’ll be your tour guide today on your visit to our beautiful city’s world-famous Skid Row district. On behalf of the Remain in Positivity Over Failure Foundation, I want to start by thanking you all for choosing to take a look at a side of the city that most visitors—and even a goodly number of our citizens—never see. These unique, up close and personal tours are sponsored by RIPOFF, which uses all the proceeds for entree-preenoorial programs that help down-an’-outers (or DAOs as we say), and former DAOs such as myself “get off the streets and back on our feets!” They are entirely operated and run by the Skid’s street community. So not only do you get the real insider’s view, but the money gives us guides a chance to make it out of poverty in this sweet land of the free. Yep, everything is free in our country except there’s no free lunch, haw-haw! That’s a saying we have here.

Now I see mosta you are from somewheres in Yurp, and even though you seem to speak pretty dang good English, you might not be able to follow all the street lingo that gets thrown at you on this tour, so we’ve provided a helpful info sheet for you to carry with you in case you get stuck on certain things you hear us saying as we go along. Here it is—just two pages and makes a nice souvenir. Try it on your friends when you get home: you’ll be speaking “street” like a native in no time!

We also know that you-all may have your own ideas about how to deal with poor people where you come from, so we’re happy you’re innerested in finding out how we do it here – which is to keep the government off our backs and let people starve if they darn well want to! Just kidding folks. See, in this country we believe in pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps—if they’d just stop stealin’ our boots! Sorry ‘nother little joke… ya gotta keep laughin’, am I right?

Well, let’s get started. We’re going to take you straight into the heart of the ‘hood, and here’s our first stop, at Broadway and Jones. And right here on the corner is Gonzo John to tell us about his war experiences and how he ended up living on the streets. Now first I just have to warn you that some of the folks you will meet on this tour will look (and maybe even smell) a little strange to you, but absolutely every one of them is anxious to share their story with you and means you no harm whatsoever, because they know me and the good work of RIPOFF, and so they know you’re here to help. So don’t be afraid to ask questions and take pictures or videos or Tweeter or whatever and help us help ourselves here in the Skids. (Yes, ma’am, that’s one of our main nicknames for the District—it’s on your info sheet, page 2).

Hey, Gonzo, how you doin’ today, man? Gonzo? Gonzo? Well I’m sorry folks, Gonzo is pretty heavily out of it at the moment—he’s what we call dozin’ right now, so I don’t think we ought to wake him—folks can get aggressive when you wake ‘em out of a doze before they’re good and ready. So I’ll give you a quick run-down of the Gonzo John story: he got hooked on smack (yep, check yer info-sheet, it’s cross-referenced with about ten other terms we use in varying circumstances) over in ‘Nam, came back, got kicked out of the VA hospital without kicking his addiction, couldn’t hold down a job, kicked one of his kids around so bad that his wife kicked him out of the house (that’s a lotta kicks, huh?) and had a restraining order put on him, and eventually he ended up here and never left. He’s one of our long-term residents now, going for his silver anniversary on our streets I believe. And he’s a total convert to non-violence now. When he’s not jonesin’ he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Gonzo always shares whatever he has with anybody who’s busted and he’s real helpful with the new arrivals, which we get about daily now, and so we kinda like to think of him as the Skid’s unofficial ambassador. Which is why it’s a shame he ain’t able to greet you all personally in his current state.

So let’s keep walking to our next stop at Broadway and Vine, and as we walk I’ll mention some of the points of interest on this block: for example here on your left is where the halfway house was for about 10 years, but they closed it a while back because of budget cuts and the landlord wanting to sell the building to a developer—they’re always trying to get a better class of resident in here and clean the place up, as they say! Well, look around – can ya blame ‘em? (Yes, ma’am that brown stuff on the street is just what you think it is, I’m sorry to say). But somehow it never happens, the clean-up, I mean; there’s just too many of us already here, I guess, and so we’ve got what this loco bike messenger I used to know called “critical mass…” That’s when there’s more’a you than there are of them, and so you just take over, is how I understand it.

But about the halfway house. The thing is, I knew quite a few guys that managed to get a new start for themselves at that place, and now it’s gone, so the guys and gals that woulda gone there are back on the street now, tweakin’ n’ freakin’ (see the info sheet) or just noddin’ out like Gonzo, and scaring all the yuppies away anyhow. In the Skids we got a real knack for what we call lose-lose situations like that. Do you have that kinda thing in your countries too? I figure it’s more or less a international phenomenon. But we got more of it over here, just like we’ve got more of everything else! That’s why we’re Number One! You betcha!

That long line of people over there against that wall is the folks lining up for lunch at St. Anthony’s; they feed about 5,000 people a day on average. This is the short tour; if you guys had signed up for the half-day, we’d take you there for lunch too, so you could really feel like a resident—except for the waiting of course, that’s what you’re paying the big bucks for, so as not to have to stand in that line for three hours to get a meal!

But what a scene: men, women, old folks and kiddies, and more canned ham, mac and cheese and decaf coffee than you’ve ever seen in one place in your life, I’ll bet! They run it like a military operation. You get out of line there (so to speak) and you lose a lot more than your lunch (so to speak)!

No, I’m just jokin’, again, friends! Where would we be without Christian charity?

A little farther up the street is the recycling center, where folks can get some cash by picking through your trash. Yep, cash for trash—that’s our famous ingee-nooity and know-how at work again. Why ladies, if you ever decide to toss your husbands out, just leave ‘em there and somebody’ll find a use for ‘em! (Jo-king! Don’t look so serious, folks, life’s too short! And after all, you don’t have to live here! That should improve your mood!)

Okay this corner is where we usually have a little chat with Crazy Mary, but I don’t see—oh, there she is. Hey C-girl! What’s up with you? Now, she’s kinda hard to understand because her teeth are gone from meth so I’ll try to translate…Wait a sec… Naw, sorry I can’t get any sense out of what she’s saying either. She’s too far gone today. Okay, gal, that’s okay. Catch you later, right? (Whoa, nellie, “Crazy” ain’t kiddin,’ huh?)

Sometimes, though, I hafta say she comes out with the most amazing sh—stuff… I wish you could hear some of her poetry; it’s beautiful. Some days a bunch of us goes out to the park and Mary will just have everybody whoopin’ and cheerin’ when she throws it down. We can all understand her just fine then.

I think one of you folks told me before we started you’d been on that Beatnik historical tour yesterday? So you may already know it was a great tradition in this town once, all them street corner poets we use’ta have in them Beatnik days. But seems like now Skid Row folks are about the only ones still keeping it alive. Because a real poet can’t afford to stay in this town, unless he lives on the street, and that’s the truth! And, if he can afford a place here, what’s he going to write about anyway—redecorating? Haw! That’s a good one! See people don’t always recognize the contributions we’re making here.

Here’s the check-cashing place—there’s always a crowd there, good place for stories too. And the donut shop, where you can still get a fix—a sugar fix, that is—for one dollar! And here’s the Valmont, that used to be what we call a SRO, a single room occupancy hotel, where you pay by the week. Damn it was nasty! I stayed there once for about a month and I was actually thrilled to get back on the street at the end of it! They had cockroaches the size of your head there! I used to have conversations with ‘em when there was nobody else around to talk to. Haw-haw! That’s no lie!

We used to have a lot of them SROs down here, now there’s only a few left. Bunch of ‘em caught fire some years ago, all about the same time, too, funny enough, and also funny enough afterwards they was never rebuilt. Or if so, they wasn’t going to rebuild ‘em for people who could only pay $160 a week! In fact I think some of you-all are staying at the Hopkins, right? How you like it there? Nice, huh? Well, believe it or not that used to be a SRO too. You woulda had quite a different experience there back in the day! SRO really means Skid Row Only, friends. We also used to call ‘em NHWs for No Hot Water, or TBAs for Toilet’s Blocked Again. I always figured they should just knock out the walls and let us share rooms, cuz anything anybody said next door you could hear like they was saying it in your ear anyway.

But most of ‘em are long gone. These days people just keep shiftin’ around. Movin’ here and there: under the freeway till they roust ya, a few days at the Y if you’re flush, over to cousin Fred’s place for awhile, and so on. Well, a change is as good as a rest, right? Change of scene, change of mind. Gotta stay positive, as we say at RIPOFF.

I’ll tell you folks a little secret, though: the bottom line is that some people are not really made to feel all that welcome in this town. I know that must be hard for you to understand, because we have a worldwide reputation for welcoming visitors to this city. But to tell the truth, the folks at City Hall work hard to discourage anybody who can’t really afford the rents from staying on here—for our own good, see? Because it isn’t good for your morals to be living on the streets, asking other people for help instead of helping yourself — so they try to discourage all that. They have rules to discourage most of the things you tend to see people doing out on the streets when they don’t have a job or a roof: no sleeping, no panhandling, no loitering, no sitting, no shouting, no drinking, no spitting, no swearing, and so on… At the end of the day, about the only thing they don’t try to discourage you from is bein’ poor! Haw-haw! But like I said, there’s never any less of us around for all that.

See, here’s another little secret: some folks with no money like this crazy town just as much as folks with money. Go figure. I know it seems strange, maybe even immoral, but it’s true. Some things money changes, and some things it don’t. What it is, is, most people like to be in the place they hail from when they’re on the outs. And most of us was either born around here or came here when we were kids.

So we put up with it—the cops rousting us and the shelters closing and the subsistence checks cut back and all that. You know: like people put up with traffic or noisy garbage trucks or high prices or whatever. Because it’s our crib (yep, that’s in the info sheet too). It’s home.

Well, folks we’re now arriving at the culminatin’ moment of our tour—this is our world-renowned You-nited Nations Plaza, where you might say all the street peoples of the world come together to peaceably assemble—unless the Mayor’s running for re-election, in which case it’s move along, brother! Haw-haw!

On these benches by the fountain, that’s where you’ll find most of our veterans are—a recent survey found veterans here in UN Plaza from just about every war and military engagement our country’s been in since World War II. Including secret wars, undeclared wars and even the psy-ops! How do you like that? We honor our veterans here, that’s why they always get the sunniest spot.

And over here we got a group of single Moms, see that little part behind the fence is where the nursery age kids play—yeah, of course you can take pictures! Cute as buttons, ain’t they? Any and everybody comes here eventually; it’s like the world in miniature we like to say.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our little Skid Row ramble. I’ll be happy to take your questions now… Yes, ma’am. What do I think is the role of our society as a whole in helping the poor? Well, I don’t mean to shock you, but what I would have to say is: none whatsoever! See, that kind of question is a sign of what we’d call different cultural expectations. Let me explain how it works here: in this country we believe in the sovereign indee-vid-yu-all. And so “the only solution is a personal solution” as they like to say at RIPOFF. I mean, let’s be honest, why should anyone spend their hard-earned money to help a bunch of people they don’t know? They’ve got better things to do with it—taking care of their own kids, and their house and car and so forth.

The government? Well, sir, whenever the government gets involved, you’ve got worse problems. The government can’t organize a two-car funeral in this town! Every time they manage to do something good, like payin’ for that halfway house I mentioned, some crook or other gets into office and gives all the money away to his friends or his brother-in-law, and then sure enough, there’s nothing left next year for your DAOs, or to fix the buses or whatever. So basically we feel that government is part of the problem, not the solution. Strange as that may seem to you folks from other lands…

Believe me, the en-tree-pree-noorial way is the best way. Maybe a lot of people still fall through the cracks, but it’s just survival of the fittest! That’s what we believe. After all it’s in the Bible, ain’t it?

Souvenirs? Thank you for mentioning that, sir. We just got in a new line of tee shirts, bearing the images of some of our best-loved residents (who will get proceeds from every sale) and ball caps embroidered by some nice Cambodian ladies with the RIPOFF logo. Beautiful work they do.

No more questions? Then that concludes our tour. Thank you for joining us and helping keep me and five other hardworking and deserving Skid Row tour guides off the streets. Our motto is “hope is the dope!” (You can look that one up too.) And we do hope you’ve been educated and entertained today. Gratuities gratefully accepted; sharing is caring.

Have a wonderful time in our city during the rest of your visit. And please go home and tell all your friends ta come and see us; we’re just waitin’ to welcome them here on Skid Row. We ain’t goin’ anywhere!