An abandoned factory rests just outside of the city. It is eight stories tall and offers a segmented view of the city along the banks of a concrete viaduct, on the parallel shore a railyard. On the Eastern side, a North-South Interstate Highway. We’re in an odd little corridor of misbegotten industry and commerce. We stand tall only amidst this cut and as we face the North – until the following derelict structure. As gargoyles posted on this high-ground, but a shadow is cast over us by the spire-like hills to the East and West. On the Southern horizon, lay the skyscrapers and structures through the humidity and smog. Four Afghanistan and Iraq homeless veterans guided me from their subterranean hideaway in this building and up the ravaged and rusted floors to show me the layout of the city.  Here, one of them, a man named Martins said,

Fuck them, man, fuck all it – I don’t’ give a shit about any of them or this. We owe none of these fucks nothing. We got nothing for anyone. We have no obligation to stay alive or die . . . Who’s got the dabs?

Leftover Crack

Jake shook me awake as the city shelter still slumbered. I mumbled, awaken and asked, “What time is it?” It felt like I just fell asleep and I had. Jake responded, “It’s like two, but I have to go. Are you staying, or do you want to roll with me?” I didn’t respond, but I collected my things, and we checked out.

The old streets smelled of garbage and rainwater mixed with sewage. Around us laid a dense fog which the lights a few blocks away shone like distant beacons, only partially offset by the few shelter lights. Between them and us was veiled darkness mixed with random beats from the shadows. Yet this was Jake’s world, and he was on a mission. He walked a bee-line and was nearly jogging as he was digging through his pockets on the go, and cursing to himself. At the corner he stopped and dropped his pack, frantically searching its contents, and said, “Where the fuck is it?” The question was rhetorical, but I had to ask, “What?” Jake ignored me, packed up, and was on the move again. I then tossed him a pack of cigarettes hoping to buy some sanity.

He paused to tear into the pack and light one and then said, “Fucking leftover crack man. Leftover crack.” It didn’t register immediately, as I replied, “Yeah, they’re kind of a rad band – Oh, you mean crack, as in crack.” He nodded his head and said, “They are pretty good, though, let’s go.”

Underpass Prison

We moved a few blocks up and headed towards the nearby interstate, and approached the overpass to slip down the side and underneath it. There we kicked through piles of garbage and entered an encampment, hidden beneath walls of blankets, cardboard, debris, and plastic with a fire in the middle. A twenty by twenty, sloping palace to addiction, Jake introduced me around the fire to them. These were not other veterans, but they were the Railway Kids he knew from before. From them, Jake negotiated for some new crack, and as a few of them passed an improvised glass and metal crack pipe around, I was offered to drink from a rotating five-liter plastic bag of wine with the others who rambled on about things of insignificance. There I thought to myself, in regards to Jake and who we had surrounded ourselves with that this is a very special kind of prison that they have built for themselves.

Around a small fire we sat and worked into a second bag of wine as Jake and the other crack-smokers embraced their high. In the background, vibrations from nearby highway traffic shook the ground of the makeshift structure, the sounds only slightly drowned out by the small Bluetooth speaker streaming music from one of the Railway Kid’s phones. Intermittently, I sat and listened to their complaints about their parents, the world, and their quest for their own freedom. It was intriguing, and perhaps if I were younger and more foolish, I would have been as so naive to believe it. Despite my alcoholic’s breakfast of champions, I still saw this whole situation as a prison sentence. The freedom they sought, it was something they kept locked away, as they ran further away from it. Perhaps for them, freedom meant no responsibility and no rules.

Street Bar

Jake and company returned to a semblance of sobriety around first light as the sounds of morning rush hour commute made its stop and go work-day flow just down the slope. Groggily he looked over at me and spunked up and said, “Oh shit, you got to meet the fucking boys. Yeah man, they’ll get you squared the fuck away man. They know the game, they got cash, booze, a place, girls whatever and they’re vets like us and not like these fucking pussies.” A background voice whispered, “Hey.” But, for the most part, people were and were not listening to one another in this disconnected reality. It was only when Jake and I started to leave that anyone else made a move. Jake said we’re off to meet Martins and the gang. Only then, did it become apparent that the Railway Kids all knew Martins and the gang, and some of them decided to join us.