It’s morning. Still alive somewhere near the Ann Arbor Farmers Market the din of vendors and early morning shoppers’ conversations pulls me from a groggy-headed sleep. They have already had their morning coffee, maybe breakfast, probably crawled from a warm bed. Only a slight hangover. Need a drink, that will fix it. Gathered up my belongings, my backpack, dusting grass and leaves from my person. Thinking to myself, “this really is a great sleeping place” thanking David in my mind and heart. He had just shown it to me a few days prior and knowing he was out of town for the next few days, it would be available.
I make my way from under this tree, nice long branches, “great covering if it’s raining” he had told me. Breaking from the tree’s cover, I chuckle to myself imagining someone seeing me suddenly ‘appear.’ I’ve startled a few people, unintentionally crawling from some sleeping place to abruptly materialize from a place no person would think you could possibly be. I glance around as I stretch my sore muscles. Nope, a clean arrival to the world — far enough from the market and good ten feet to the sidewalk.
Again, thanking David for this place, knowing it was a huge trust he had put in me. You don’t reveal your ‘spots’ to just anyone. Either from fear of them using it when you need it or possibly jeopardizing it for future use. I laugh inside at myself; this is someone’s backyard; this is my life now. I was very leery of using this spot because it was on private property. I was sure to go there well after the town was asleep and adhered to David’s rules: “Be quiet, respectful, don’t bring any booze with you and definitely DO NOT bring anyone back here with you.” adding in a smile that is both devious and playful, “unless…you know. And if you do, don’t be making noise and drinking, unless…you know.”
He had confided all this to me because I was fairly new at being homeless in Ann Arbor. I knew Ann Arbor having attended the University of Michigan some 20 plus years ago, but at that time I was not homeless. You see it in a very different light. I’m sure the fifth I had purchased when we met, the sharing of that and stories and the great conversation led him to watch out for me. He was a professional and this was his town. I believe this sense of ownership comes to anyone homeless in a place with the passage of time. You walk the streets at all hours of the day, watch the shops before they open and long after they close. You know the store’s owners, the local police, you see them daily around town. You get to recognize anyone else who happens to be homeless, having to share similar resources and places of congregation. Yep, this was his town. Soon to be mine I guessed; I had no plans.
I found myself unconsciously walking on the edges of the farmer’s market, knowing he would be back sometime this evening. I had met my goal for the day: find a place to sleep, but first, get a drink. I love a farmer’s market. Who doesn’t? Inside, holding a slight contempt for it simply because I had no money to buy anything, and even if I did, where would I put said items? I walked on the edge, observing, loving and admiring the human interaction — my heart lightening a bit.
Among the haggling, chatty conversations, crying and yelling of children, I hear a voice that filters through. Unable to yet make out the words, it speaks with conviction and purpose. I float toward this consistent buzzing and there stands a man who I was soon to learn was Kevin Spangler. His stature is unmistakable – tall, lengthy and long-haired. I’m standing far enough away so I can eavesdrop without notice. He has a bundle of papers under one arm and the other gestures periodically to magnify his points. He speaks with someone and I catch a few random words and phrases: “antioxidants,” “the food we ingest not only our bodies but our minds,” “spirituality of it all,” “the need to be closer to nature.” I had just spent the last 8-plus years in California. I’ve heard it all. He spoke with such conviction, I edged closer.
Having my own thoughts about such topics, he was speaking in terms I understood and some I even agreed with. My preconception of another long-haired hippie who’s not really a hippy began to diminish as I continued to listen. He is a talker. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of him. Some people have that magnetic effect about them — Kevin does. I’m guessing I looked homeless, or just woke up, with my backpack, morning eyes, disheveled hair. He looked at me, took a paper from the pile under his arm, held it in front of me and said, “Groundcover, $1 an issue. Supports the homeless in Ann Arbor.”
I think I looked at him, looked at myself and may have laughed. I replied, “If I had a dollar, I’d give it,” as we simultaneously noticed a piece of trash between us and both moved forward to pick it up. He reached it first and took the few steps to deposit it in a trash can. Did I know then this was a sealing moment in our relationship? I said, “How difficult is it to simply throw it away? I cannot comprehend just throwing trash on the ground.” Realizing these were the first words between us I continued, “And don’t use that excuse it gives someone a job,” thinking to myself, “What a first impression! I’m in it, might as well keep going on my soapbox.”
“I try to pick up at least three a day,” I said. He paused before replying, “I try to do at least five.” Now that we established a mutual enemy (trash), a comfortableness between us settled. He told me his story: recently out of jail, discovering he had a son on the way, his priorities changed. Everything changed. He was working multiple jobs and any gig that came his way. All to save money for a pedicab business he envisioned.
He asked me what I was doing, having learned I was homeless as he was just weeks before. I wasn’t interested in giving up details — as I was still fresh in this state of reality. Sensing this he began to share the resources in Ann Arbor that helped him. While I took mental notes, he asked when I was going to make a change. Shit! Change? Did we discuss drugs and addiction? Oh yeah, our tales of using, and I had mentioned I was looking for my next drink. I told him that change wasn’t in my cards that day and we both knew it. He gave me two dollars. Another common belief between us is if you give with good intentions, it will come back to you. It’s what my father believed. I watched him every Sunday putting money in that envelope during tithing.
Walking away having had a good conversation, and two dollars richer, the morning was off to a good start. I made more mental notes about him. The man is giving me a dollar for booze, knowing full well where it is going. A previous addict himself, who’s trying to save money for his business idea and provide for his new son. And he still gives me a dollar? One of the few times I thought, “I may not be crazy after all.. or he’s simply more nuts than me.”
Some time has passed. I’m now a regular homeless person in Ann Arbor having braved two winters here. Standing on the deck of the Delonis Center — a great resource with two meals a day, connection to medical, resources on housing, a BEAUTIFUL saving place. I have no idea what I would have done if it did not exist. Had Delonis and the day shelters throughout Ann Arbor not existed during the winter months, the odds favor me going further down, maybe turning to crime to survive.
On the deck of Delonis having just finished the lunch meal, I looked up and saw Kevin driving by in one of his pedicabs. I chased after him, not knowing his new garage is right next to Delonis. We have spoken a few times in the past two years, always the same questions from him,
“Do you have your hundred reasons why to stop using?”
“Do you want a job?”
“What are you doing?”
“Ready to stop?”
And answers from me, “No,” “Yes,” “Nothing,” “No.”
I give him much credit for continuing to ask these questions. The conversation should end on his side. I’ve seen him end it. And I’ve seen him continue, not only with me but other possible Boober drivers, or homeless people or general hustlers. How much time do you give someone to change? And if they are still willing to help you do this, and if you are not ready, and they are still open for further conversation? This moment was similar to the many we have had since I first met him at the farmer’s market two years prior. Before I can answer as I have always done, he adds, “Come by tonight at 9 pm. If you’re drinking, it’s a no-go. If you’re sober, I’ll train you how to drive a cab. It’s up to you.”
I came by that night. He trained me. Driving the pedicab does take a certain amount of skill and concentration. More so than one would think. He then told me the codes to the garage as he was unsure of his schedule on when he would return. I noted to myself, “Here he goes, trusting me with access to his new business.” Why would anyone do this? Any business person knows that sort of faith in humanity is foolish.
I went out and worked. It was great. I was sociable. I told customers of his story, my story, of starting over. I made some money. Some healing was happening. I returned the cab to the garage. I hadn’t yet figured out where I was to sleep. I was having such a good time working that my homeless reality had been stricken from my mind.
I knew the liquor store was still open. I knew then I could get something before it closed. Where to sleep tonight? My cycle continued.
More time passed. I had been through rehab, the courts, meetings, groups, etc. There are so many factors in a person’s life that finding hope in a person — a program, a book, a gesture, anything to help move one forward instead of spinning — are all miracles. Having been exhausted for years I decided to try something new. I followed Boober cabs which eventually led me to the new garage. It was huge compared to the old one. There must have been ten-plus cabs in different states of working order. I stood looking over the shop.
He did it, he really did. Just like he said he would. I noticed Kevin working on the innards of a cab. This time I approached him with something. His first question which I knew was coming I would not let him ask, stating, “I have 67 so far,” explaining how I wanted all of the 100 to be different reasons and many were too similar for my own tastes. This was one of the few times I caught him without something to say. Then we talked. Honest, everything was laid out.
The next few months were awesome. No matter what brings someone to homelessness, trust in human beings is difficult to reach again — on both ends — especially for an employer to a new employee. I would watch and listen to him present the same questions to others whose shoes I was in not so long ago. Some became employees. Some didn’t.
On Saturday mornings, we go get a coffee at Roos Roast with Kevin peddling and me as a passenger! Then we head to the farmers market. He’d buy greens to bring back to the shop to juice and make power drinks for his drivers! We shopped at Kiwanis’ when it was downtown. He’d buy things for the business — mostly costumes — and probably a shirt or a hat for me. If you have not been in a Boober cab, it’s worth the money, and it’s free! The donation, or fee, is up to you.
I was familiar with Buddhism — some beautiful practices. I began to chant daily with him and some of the other drivers. I was changing old habits for new ones. Then I got a job managing a coffee shop! Kevin provided a stepping stone for the next stage of my life.
What hurt the most for me was witnessing people whom he gave that trust to — as he did me —turn around and steal from the shop or him. He understands that it is part of the addiction, and he always stays positive. But it still sucks. Even in his employment, I screwed up once or twice, but thankfully he gave me another chance.
When I learned the Boober app was launching, I had to write this. To write about him and what he gave to me, the community, people in recovery, to Groundcover. It was Kevin accomplishing another goal he set out in front of him. After years of nonsense, not contributing to the world, overcoming his addictions, realizing what is important to him, his son, the community, he was accomplishing another goal. Now that I was in a better place it was time for me to contribute. Time for me to accomplish some of those goals I had set in front of myself, even if only to show him I was worth the time he invested in me. This is one of my goals — accomplished. Thanks, Kevin! Thanks, Boober Tours!
Author’s note: I asked Kevin to read this and give me his opinion. His reply, “David it’s good. You still have to write it for you.” So I wrote a different ending.
https://www.facebook.com/Go-Boober-rideshare-app-101982588260481/ 21 cabs 3 trailers and a Go Boober app.