The story of Jimmy: my friend who sleeps in his car

This morning Jimmy is is on my mind. He’s a cute forty three year old guy who seems ten years younger than that. He has a smile which lifts his whole face into the kind of shine you can only get when a few things have gone right. He talks with my favorite California accent, a little surfer mixed with an urban San Francisco vibe which puts me right back on Van Ness hustling for a parking space. When I see him around town I feel a little happier. He reminds me of jokes where I know the punch line after the second word. When we talk we are insiders.

Jimmy wants to make it Mexico by the first of November. His dad was born there and he’s thinking of applying for citizenship. It’s too cold and too hard in the US anymore. A horticulturalist he’s at home in a greenhouse or anywhere where he can speak to and care for the plants. But since he was struck by two cars on I-80 on a plant run he can’t do the heavy kind of work he used to. Now he sleeps in his car and says the cold is starting to freeze his battered bones.

He can’t get disability and doesn’t really want the grind of the government making him feel like even less than he already does. He’s given up on all that. He’s thinking if he can get warm and have some time on the beach in Mexico maybe he’ll feel well enough to be who he once was. He doesn’t know but he’s going to try.

“When do you think I need to head out?” He asks me as we stand outside the box office of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival watching a woman with a sign trying to sling two tickets to the eight O’clock show. “I don’t think you can go a day past Halloween. It’ll be cold by then even.”

I used to try to help. I used to give advice or start trying to find some sort of services for people I met without a place. I mostly don’t do it anymore. In Zen there is a belief about accepting reality as it is with grace rather than trying to make it to what you want it to be. I want to make Jimmy into the friend with the awesome studio who is teaching me how to grow tomatoes in winter but if I really listen to him underneath the complaining of back pain and cold I will find out that’s not what he wants.  Jimmy doesn’t want a job or a steady address. He’d like to crash on my floor or have me bring him warm food, sometimes I do that, but he’s not about working or accessing services. Jimmy is about going to Mexico and finding a spot to lounge on the beach.

This morning as the cold took hold over night I looked out the window and saw my car looking back at me. I was so grateful that I could have a warm home to sleep in and a car too. There were times in the past year where I was not at all sure that would happen. But due to the currency of friends and family I never had a single night in my car. Now I have the great fortune of an income, I’m starting over so it’s about the same amount I made when I started the first time, but it is a start. For me it’s everything. For Jimmy it’s nothing he wants, really.

I don’t get to want for Jimmy. But I do anyway. I want him to keep that smile and his accent and his way of seeming like the coolest friend you had in college. I want him to make it to Mexico and find his warmth and health and plant nursery to spend his days gently toiling. I don’t know if it will happen. But I can hope that and if I see him I can still enjoy the warmth of his company as pleasant as an afternoon in Santa Cruz counting waves.

As I write this I am thinking of Jimmy waking in the cold and seeking out a cup of coffee. If I find him I’ll buy him one and maybe we’ll talk of Mexico and warmth and anything he wants.



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