Sunday, September 20, 2009

The First Nights

The photos above were taken at our campsites on nights one and two.

9/17/09 -- I awakened this morning at 4am, highly anxious, feeling disconnected from the world, alienated, as if all ties to mankind had been cut -- yet I was still in my own bed. It was a surreal feeling, like I was already an outsider, someone who could observe from a distance but not participate in society. Imagine being incapable of caring about politics, the Rockies, Broncos, going mountain biking, or doing whatever you love.

I resolved that my bike would have to be one of my worldly possessions, that I needed the flexibility it would provide in order for this to work. I have a meeting on the 18th, for instance, that I have to attend.

As he had a class until late, I didn’t meet Dave until 10pm on the night of the 17th at a longtime Denver drinking establishment. He had a few beers but I had already had two so I figured I’d reached my limit for my first night of urban camping. It was sort of a celebration that the beginning had finally come. He had done some research on potential campsites and, as I was exhausted, I was eager to be the beneficiary.

Around midnight, he led me down a non-path at the first potential site and through some bushes and said, “Here it is,” yet all I saw was a thicket of bushes. He was proposing we sleep in and on the bushes. While I agreed no one would ever be able to see us in there, I also felt I would never get any sleep, and that seemed to merit consideration. But I didn’t say anything, as affable Dave was leading a tour that had just begun.

Site 2 was much better, at least in my mind. It was grassy, flat and there was some protection from a building and a few trees. Dave didn’t like it because it didn’t provide enough cover. “Not enough cover” became his refrain for the evening. He didn’t even want helicopters to be able to see us. We joked later that this was the first disagreement we’d ever had.

Site 3 was the Highline canal. The choices were either to sleep in the dirt in the canal or proceed up the embankment to very high grass, with lots of large, hidden holes and very uneven ground. It was about this time that I wondered – not for the last time that night -- who thought up this idiotic idea.

We decided on Site 2, and finally bedded down at 2am, with what little cover there was under a low-hanging pine tree. At 5:30am, the sprinklers came on, woke and soaked us. Royal pain. My headlamp had been on my backpack, and in the rush to get our stuff to a dry area, it fell off. As this was my only light, we had to stick around for an hour waiting for it to get light enough so we could spot it.

9/18/09 -- After we got some breakfast, I biked to work. I was tired but still managed to get a few things done. I had a meeting with Senator Bennet about another matter but he was intrigued by the homeless protest, and said he’d make a few phone calls.

Steve and Naomi kindly had me over for dinner and drinks, and then Steve and I headed out with our bikes and packs around 11pm to find a campsite. I had done some scouting before so we found a place fairly quickly. There was plenty of cover and it was relatively flat but not so flat that I didn’t slide down my pad and off the tarp causing cold feet. This was a very humid location (or night), but everything else about the site was great.

9/19/09 – We slept until 7:30am somehow, headed back to his house for coffee, then went on a bike ride with his son to scout out better campsites. We found two that are arguably better, and dryer.

That night, I met up with Steve again and also Garrett and then went to one of the sites we’d scouted out. It was relatively dry, a good spot, the only problem being there was a fairly bright light illuminating it, though it was a ways away. Being under a street light is not ideal. It is the opposite of “cover” though I think we all slept fairly well.

9/20/09 – I stopped at a coffee shop on my way back to Senior Support where I ran into someone I know who is involved in homelessness, and has been supportive of our organization. She looked at my backpack and thought I had just come back from the mountains or something. I explained what I was doing and she was glad to hear social activism is still alive but the fact that she didn’t know about it is an indication we need to do a better job getting the word out, at the very least to our own supporters.

I was so tired I had to take a nap on the floor. There’s something exhausting about lugging your junk around with you wherever you go, and always wondering where you’ll be that night. As each day wears on, I find myself getting nervous about this very thing. That and fatigue prevent me from being able to concentrate and get things done.

Juan, one of our employees who is on parole, was very moved by our homeless protest and volunteered to be a full participant. Unfortunately, his parole officer said no, so I don’t have a companion for tonight and will be alone for the first time. It’s getting colder and the forecast is for rain. There’s a reluctance to set up tents as they draw attention but I think I’ll set up mine tonight -- for the first time since this protest began -- so I’ll be out of the rain and warmer.

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