When Joe asks her what she used to do for a career, all she ever says is she used to love to go hiking and skydiving.

This woman, 75 years old, now uses her sense of adventure to survive living on the streets of Tallahassee. Caught in the dilemma of medication or housing, but never both, she sleeps on the concrete front porch you see pictured above. Bike boxes make for good insulation from the cold chill seeping up through the concrete. Lake Ella is fairly safe, more prone to deviant rendevous in the parking lot than outright violence. Most importantly, she chose Joe. Lots of people choose Joe. For as long as I have known him and his tiny bike shop on the lake, Joe has taken care of the outcasts, the loners, the misfits. Some ride bikes, but not all of them. Some don’t seem to notice it is even a bike shop. They come to chat with Joe, just like I do.

This woman is different. She has chosen to live at Joe’s. She comes around at closing time, always asks permission to stay. What do you do? Joe said yesterday if he had a bigger place he would bring her home, and I don’t doubt it.

I’m so pissed about this I can barely type.

Joe, and Huck, and Scotty B. (Not his real name) have made some upgrades. They moved the bench she used to sleep on, and Joe bought her a foam pool float (one of those real thick, non-inflatable ones). They got her a lamp. I mean, what can you do? She’s not mentally ill, although her body is racked with cancer apparently. She’s done with chemo. No more of that she says. If it comes back, she won’t seek that kind of help. She’s got no family left. She’s on her own.

Yesterday Joe showed me a note she asked him to write for her stating that she wanted her body to be used for the advancement of medical science if it is at all useful to anyone. Joe dutifully wrote the note, she signed it, inscribed a social security number, and he put it in the drawer. What else can you do?

She’s not mentally ill. She keeps herself clean and put together somehow. She can express herself just fine, and she is angry to still be alive. She says she has done everything she wanted to do. She says she’s too scared, or not the type, to just eat a bunch of pills and go to sleep forever. She doesn’t ask for money, and when Joe offers it she refuses. She definitely doesn’t want to go to the homeless shelter.

I am making the social service calls, exploring the options, but who knows what she is willing to do? She has her pride to consider. Chances are that someone will find her dead on Joe’s porch before the state comes up with a place for her.

What is my point? I don’t know.

That I’m disgusted?
That I want to help her?
That you will NEVER be as proud of your bike shop as I am of mine?


5 Responses to Shelter

  1. I haven’t ridden a bike seriously in years and yet I find my family in Joe’s weekly if not more. We wander among the bikes and socks and shiney things in the case. We consider the advances of clipless pedals-I like the egg beater one. We avoid the icky cig-water cup on the stoop and mostly, we chat with Joe.
    I never considered why; it was just natural. It’s because Joe is good people.
    This town jokingly has a “vortex” that traps folks here and keeps them from moving on to the perceived better areas of the world or draws them back if they attempt escape. Why live here when you could live in Colorado, Tuscany, or Bristol? The truth is that this town has a community of people that is unmistakebly solid. I’m sure other towns have similar situations as they’ll all say, but…
    Anyway, it’s this true community that causes the vortex, and at the core of that vortex in a quiet whirl of oily bike chains is Joe’s. I let it pull me in often(right past that cig-water).

  2. Here, here. I’ve always considered Tallytown a big hospital…people come back here to get well by the people that stayed there. The town has always had healing powers for me, and i find myself coming back time and time again simply for that feeling.

    Our porch lady, Juancho, seems to be in the right place with the right people. Maybe just let her ride it out like she’s doing, and have Joe as a good loyal friend for as long as they both can.

    so magnum, juancho, bushygalore…its not just joe, its all of you. here’s a sarajevska pivo to you all from your favourite POW and lifetime tallytown fan.

  3. There is beauty in Tallahassee like nowhere else I’ve ever been. The beauty, though, goes much deeper than the live oaks dripping with Spanish moss and the persistence of lush greenery. Thanks, Juancho, for illustrating that beauty yet again. And greetings to Joe from a non-bike-rider who always appreciated his warmth and kindness.

  4. you hard cores are getting pretty soft for a bunch of yanks….careful juancho, you’ll turn this big ring circus into a rainbow gathering