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Homework While Homeless

Life on the streets is even harder after the fires

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It's 11pm, and I'm hanging out in the parking lot next to a Burger King. That sounds weird, I know.

I'm taking two classes online, creative writing and Spanish, but I can't focus very well in the library or Starbucks, and I don't have my own room because I'm homeless. My writing teacher said, "Be specific," so that's what I'm doing.

I park in the same parking lot every Friday night for three or four hours. The wifi is free, and since I'm practically living in my car these days, it's the best I can do.

I'm still looking for a room to rent, but after last month's fires, more people are homeless than ever. Some landlords are jacking up their rents to take advantage of the situation. Just in time for the holidays.

The parking lot does have its perks. There are no gawkers at night. Why would they stare? Oh, I don't know, maybe it's the somewhat overwhelmed look of my older model station wagon, piles of clothes neatly color-coded (well, maybe not so neatly—let's be real here) in the back seat and beyond. More piles of books, bags of whatever, my one-eyed Raggedy Andy doll from 1964. The piles give me a sense of order. I really appreciate the fact that here, under the bright parking-lot lights, sequestered within the relative calm and quiet of a near-empty lot, I can focus on my studies.

Now all I have to worry about is the stares of weird guys that start appearing at about 10pm. By "weird" I mean strange, as in frantically pacing back and forth with a blank stares, like they don't even seem to notice that it's weird to be pacing in front of my vehicle at 10 o'clock.

That's when I wonder: What am I doing here, alone in my car, being circled by bad men in the late evening hours? I decide that as soon as I get my Spanish class test over with, I'm heading back to "ground zero" (that's what I've named the 8-by-6-foot trailer I sleep in). But the test always takes a little longer than I think, so I feel vulnerable, sitting there alone in my car.

I know what you're thinking: "What the heck are you doing alone in that parking lot at 11pm, woman?"

I ask myself the same thing each night.

Linda Darnall is a substitute teacher who lives on an apple farm in Sebastopol.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the 'Bohemian.' We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

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