Meet the Crusties

Spanging, squatting and looking for Hot Dog Jesus with Tempe's street kids

Marina looks down and starts scraping again. "I didn't say right now. Just sometime."

"Yeah," Pat says. "Maybe sometime."

It's high noon, and Zach just got up, but he can already tell today's going to suck. For one thing, he's dope sick. Hasn't had a shot of heroin in almost 24 hours. For another, Sundays are the worst for spanging. But his bones are aching, so spange he must. Zach shrugs off his pack and plops down on a bench facing the outdoor seating at Crocodile Cafe. "I like to watch the yuppies eat while I spange," he says. "It makes them nervous."

Zach hits up everyone who walks past:
"Spare any change today, folks?"
"Spare change for a crack addict?"
"Spare change for a lost soul this morning?"
"Spare change for drugs and pornos?"
The first six people or pairs of people Zach spanges ignore him.
"Thanks anyway," he calls after them.
Better to be polite than busted.

Along with the urban-camping ordinance, the Tempe City Council last August passed an aggressive panhandling ordinance to give cops a whip to crack on surly spangers.

"Whereas, the increase in aggressive solicitations threatens the community life and economic vitality of residents and businesses throughout the city, and contributes to an enhanced sense of fear," the ordinance begins, then proceeds to outlaw aggressive panhandling, defined as "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly" making physical contact with the spangee, or blocking their way, or asking them for money after they've already said no, or using "obscene, abusive, or threatening language or gestures."

The ordinance also makes all panhandling illegal within 15 feet of a bank, ATM or bus stop.

Zach follows the rules, and hooks a live one with his seventh cast.
"Spare any part of a hundred dollars?"
The young, Middle Eastern man smiles, stops, sets his cup of soda on a trash can, and hands Zach a dollar bill.

"Thanks, dude," Zach says, then walks to a nearby pizza parlor, blows the dollar on a Coke, and resumes his post.

Across the street, Marina's not faring much better, but, unlike Zach, she's feeling no pain. She and Pat got up early from their camp by the tracks, and found the heroin. "Someone had smashed that toilet and kicked everything around, but it was pretty much right where I thought it was."

Unlike Zach, Marina spanges with the same line, over and over.
"Can you help out with some change today?"
People mostly pretend she doesn't exist. Marina doesn't seem to mind. Her eyelids are half-masted, and every few minutes, she gives her ribs or shoulders a lazy scratch.

"I was a good student in high school," she says. "Honor classes, summer-school college classes, everything. Then I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and it seemed like you had to take all these boring prerequisites before you could get into anything interesting.

"My first year of college, I dropped a lot of classes, and my parents got angry. They wanted me to stay on the traditional track. Then I told them I liked girls, and they flipped the fuck out over that. Then a friend of mine's mom found a letter from me in her room where I talked about how I'd started smoking pot, and they flipped the fuck out over that. Then they basically disowned me."

Marina gets up and walks half a block up Mill to Juice Works, a smoothie shop. She waits outside the door, watches until a customer exits with a freshly made smoothie, then goes inside and asks the girl behind the counter if she can have the few ounces of fresh fruit, juice and spirulina left in the blender. The girl behind the counter says no. Marina asks if she can have a glass of water. The girl behind the counter gives her a Dixie cup. Marina says thanks, leaves, and sits back down on the sidewalk.

Marina says she came with Pat to Tempe because one day a few months ago she got on the Internet at a public library in Seattle and read about the book arts program at Arizona State University. "I want to try and audit some classes this semester, you know, just sit in and learn, because I want to make books, really artful books, you know?" Marina draws the shape of a book in the air with her hands.

"I want to make the paper myself, and work with other people and their art. Also, I want to have a baby, and learn more about plants and salves and natural healing, but I can't really do any of that when I'm traveling. I don't want to be some 35-year-old woman pushing a shopping cart, you know?"

Zach crosses the street. He says he spanged for 45 minutes, made five bucks, and called it a day. He complains about a tear in his pants, and Marina gives him a needle and dental floss to sew it up. Marina asks Zach where he's going to sleep tonight, and Zach says he has no idea, maybe the caves near Papago Park. Marina says she and Pat may catch a bus into Phoenix. Today they heard about an abandoned Carnation milk factory on Central a bunch of kids are squatting. They also heard the Renaissance Festival is hiring extras. Word has it the gig pays $100 a weekend, plus free camping.

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