Longform

Meet the Crusties

Page 5 of 19

"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.

Pat appears and tells Marina to get her stuff together and come drink beer with some dude who just came in from Austin. She does. Zach saunters across Sixth Street to the Centerpoint plaza outside Coffee Plantation, where he says hey to a kid named Taco, who's 18 and recently spent 70 hours in the Madison Street Jail "horseshoe" holding pen.

"That place bites," Taco says.
According to crumpled charging papers Taco pulls from his pocket, his legal name is Robert Marion Bates. Early in the morning of January 23, Bates--Taco--was arrested for violating a park curfew. Taco says he and his friend Wayne were sleeping on "A" Mountain and got busted by two bike cops. According to the court papers, Taco spent three days and nights in Madison, then appeared before a judge and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to time served and cut loose.

Taco says he's been on Mill four months. He says his mom abandoned him when he was 5, and he spent his childhood in foster homes and on the streets. "Mostly on the streets." He says he came to Arizona because his Uncle Glenn, who lives in Canada, told him his real mom lived in Quartzsite. He was in Seattle at the time, and hitchhiked with some friends to California, caught a freight train to Needles, then caught another to Tempe. He says the friends he came here with hitchhiked to Amsterdam last week.

They hitchhiked to Amsterdam?
Taco thinks for a minute.
"Maybe they said Albuquerque."

Taco says he caught a ride to Quartzsite and tracked down his mom about six weeks ago. "She said she was sorry for leaving me," he says. "She said she had a lot of problems, and I couldn't stay with her."

So he came back to Tempe for the primo spanging. "I made 15 bucks last night in less than an hour. Saturday night on Mill means hella people, and hella money."

Taco says he smokes pot but doesn't do hard drugs, and doesn't steal unless he's really, really hungry, and then only candy bars. "For a street kid who raised himself on the streets, I'm well-behaved," he says.

Street life is good, Taco says, but he started looking for a job today. He produces a folder and takes out half-completed job applications from Cold Stone Creamery, a Mill Avenue ice cream shop, and Coffee Plantation.

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse