Notorious to students living or parking near the University of New Mexico’s south campus, the bus stop on Yale Blvd near Central Avenue offers a daily ruckus of drunken riffraff for passersby to fear and avoid, stop and gawk at, or in rare cases, share a swig or splif with. Like many other bus stops, the corner itself is in part just one of few viable congregation points for homeless people who without a “reason” to be there (i.e. “waiting for the bus”) would be quickly and perhaps violently ushered along by the police for being in violation of loitering statutes. The other utility of the bus stop is, of course, public transportation, without which thousands of laborers, students, struggling parents, wayward teens, ex-convicts and vagabonds would be stranded in this poorly organized urban expanse called Albuquerque.
“Brother, you can ask any question you like, but let me just ask you something first!,” exclaimed Two-Crow, a 33-year Navajo man from Colorado with dusty auburn hair hanging past his shoulders.
“But of course. Shoot!”
“How in the world did you get such a beautiful woman at your side?!”
Anais, a 19-year old UNM student, had asked to come along on one of my bus stop ventures. As I expected, the dynamic of encounters was different than when I go alone, but I hadn’t foreseen the great advantage of being accompanied by a young, beautiful, and unassuming female. Contrary to my previous solo outings, not one person accused me of being an undercover narcotics agent while Anais was with me. Furthermore, everyone—no matter the degree of their intoxication—treated us with kindness and respect, a sort of street corner chivalry, if you will. And to top it off, Anais carried herself so naturally, with such sincerity and confidence while asking questions, that she thoroughly won the hearts of all around.
“You’re guess is as good as mine!” I responded.
Two Crow had come into Albuquerque only three days prior, and will be moving to other places to be homeless a few days from now. Yet he has made friends quickly, illustrated by the multiple hugs and handshakes that befell him in our presence. “When you are homeless, making friends and enemies happens really fast. You get on someone’s good side if you have something that they want.”
A swig of seven-buck vodka or a hit from a joint can break the fragile but dangerous barriers between strangers on the street. As in all social groups, reciprocity is the foundation of trust, and trust is one’s best guarantee of survival. Ironically, the vehicle of this reciprocity on the streets—alcohol and drugs—is that which imprisons one to this very fate. Two Crow is all too aware of this dynamic, and although he admits that systemic racism and oppression has in many ways helped to orient his path of depravation, he also takes full responsibility for the decisions he has made. “Everything you do in life is a decision, brother. Happiness is a decision. This,” he spreads his gangly arms wide, his gray overcoat sprawled like a mast, “is all a decision!”
Two Crow grew up in a small town in Colorado, and left his parents’ house for the streets at the age of twelve. He says he did it out of spite for his mom. In a fit of anger over his early teen drinking, she once pointed out to a drunken hobo lying in the gutter and screamed at her son, “Is that what you want to do with your life? Is that what you want to become?!”
“Yes, it is!” the little boy Two Crew had screamed back. Twenty years later, reflecting on it, he says, “I wanted to piss off my Mom. Turns out she didn’t really care what I became after all.” A sincere chuckle followed, as if no resentment remained, not even regret, rather only a lighthearted—if fatalistic—acceptance of a fate long decided and sealed.
He went on to explain that when you have lived on the streets for so long, you no longer feel comfortable anywhere else. Embracing two of his new friends, he expounded, “if you gave us money to sleep in a hotel room tonight, we would sit there awkwardly for while, and then be like, ‘let’s get out of here and go walk around,’ and then we’d be right back here.” The six others at the bus stop nodded in agreement as they took turns munching down a plate of Chinese food given to them by a worker at a nearby restaurant.
At various points in the conversation, Two Crow burst out in song, melodic poems of struggle, liberation, and redemption, or traditional tribal songs the meanings of which I could only intuit. His eloquence was sweet and soothing. His charisma embraced the entire world. When an angry passerby yelled out, “Don’t let him [me] exploit us brown brothers!” Two Crow cooled things down in an instant, hugging the stranger, telling him, “It’s okay, brother, he’s good, he’s with us.”
Now on the subject of race, which is inescapable when one opens his eyes—particularly when traversing the interstices of human social life—I asked Two Crow if he identified with being Native American. His answer was immediate, clear to the point, and profound:
“When I’m drinking, I’m an Indian. When I’m sober, I’m Native American.”
He was referring to the stereotypical “drunk indian” who betrays his noble past by surrendering to depravity and vice, and to the “stoic native” who remains in touch with the spirits of the universe, the masters of the earth and heavens. He is both things, he is yin and he is yang, and that is the life he has chosen.
The darkening sky beckoned our departure, and so we soon said our goodbyes. Hugs around the table. Two Crow embraced me like a bear, “Brother, in a few days I will be thinking about you. I hope you will remember me, too.” He then offered his cell phone number in case we wanted to get in touch again, even though he was leaving in a few days. Anais was confused, “you have a cell phone?”
“I’m homeless, of course I have a cell phone!”