Border or Bust, Part 6: Spanger Danger in Redding California

in life •  3 years ago 

I'll be honest when I say the next part of the story is a bit of a blur.  I don't remember all the places or even how many we stopped in Northern California before we reached Redding.  I know I spanged the town of Weed, only making a dollar or so total in pocket change over a few hours.  It was one of the many pitstops that we were assured would be what's called good spange, or a good place to get money by asking for it.  What we didn't know when we asked all those hippies for help was that the climate for that sort of thing had drastically changed without their knowledge. 

Spanging and begging my way was an interesting experience, one I'll never forget.  I was raised in a family that very much liked to keep their problems private from pretty much anyone.  I remember getting yelled at by my aunt in high school because she didn't pay the electric bill and I went to a friends to shower that night.  She was embarrassed because my friend and her parents now knew my aunt couldn't even afford to keep her lights on.  So raised like that, going up to strangers and asking for their extra dollars was really hard. 

So how did I do it?  I didn't have a choice.  It was give up or try and make shit happen.  Things were very discouraging because I wasn't making hardly anything, but I'm glad I kept at it.  Asking for handouts is never easy and it was an extremely humbling experience, one I'm not interested in having again, honestly. I prefer to provide value, not just ask for things. 

I had a lot of different people explain their spanging techniques to get an idea of how to best approach things.  I followed their tips and did what I could but what was interesting was that people wanted to help me most of the time.  Only a few were startled by me which quickly dissolved when I started talking.  No one was rude, which was surprising.  I have a very intimidating (or I did then, many consider my current appearance a bit intense).   Many looked in their wallets expecting to see cash to find an empty wallet.  Many had their money on a card and lacked the time to get cash for me.  

The riskiest way, but honestly the easiest is to fly a sign, that is hold a sign up to give people an idea of what you want.  This is great for anyone that doesn't have legal issues, as they generally just run your name and tell you to leave if they bother you.  We were in the van of a hippy in Grants Pass who had a sign that said "Just need gas" on his van.  He had noticed me walking around asking and eventually decided to ask if we wanted to smoke.  We piled into his van and within minutes cops were there.  They ignored us and the bong in his hand (Oregon is nice in that regard) and told him he was breaking the law.  They ran his name, which came back fine and just told him to take the sign down and leave.  

It's risky business holding a sign when you've got a warrant.  I've had many close calls where I almost got caught.  I was taught that a small foldable sign is best and they were right.  I very narrowly missed police intervention. So crack spanging it was, although it was nearly torture in California.  Anyone that's been there knows that things are generally really spread out.  It's a car culture, not a walking culture.  So being the guy that has to walk a 4 mile square radius all day asking for money isn't fun.  I had to run to catch up to people in parking lots, it was seriously hard work for pretty much no pay.

I realistically played every situation different.  If there was a lot of traffic and no police to be seen, I'd pull out my "Out of gas, full of faith" sign and hold it for a few minutes.  It was always less than ten minutes and I did make little bursts of money from it that made it worth it.  One close call I remember is stopping at a gas station in California to hold a sign.  Right as I gave up a woman in a pickup handed me twenty dollars.  I got in the truck and we started to pull away just as California police pulled in, looking for me. It was extremely risky, but sadly it was necessary.  

We eventually arrived in Redding, which is where we spent the next few days.  Redding was described as the holy land of spanging.  Anyone flying a sign would make would they needed and crack spangers always did well, or that's what everyone told me anyway.  The reality was a I spent the day roaming a huge shopping area, spanning several miles attempting to ask for money.  I didn't make much despite walking all day long.  There were points where I even flew a sign, with no luck. 

I encountered a hippy couple with dogs and asked for help.  They told me that the laws had changed making it so it was really illegal to give to people money.  This had all changed within a few months to a year at most, we later found.  I returned to the truck to find John on the new phone with a disappointed look on his face.  There was a huge anti-spanging campaign in that town so the people that wanted to give were too afraid of it.  The holy land was a bust, thanks to government regulation and propaganda. 

We left the city and went off in search of a free campground John had located in the mountains outside Redding.  It wasn't terribly hard to find, which was nice, and it was deserted for the most part.  We ended up on a river bed under a train bridge that first night. After some dabs, we decided to call our friend on a whim.  We had last seen him in Detroit, when he came to visit us while on the run.  He had found an article concerning our arrest and contacted us, to find out our vague plans.  We hadn't heard from him since we saw him in Detroit, so we decided to give him a try.  He travels a lot, so there was a chance he might be somewhere nearby, too. 

So we called and he answered.  Turned out he literally just moved to San Diego.  We told him we were heading south and he understood.  We made plans to meet up while we were in San Diego, a few days in the future. 

I made a facebook just as we left Oregon to communicate with the people already here in Acapulco.  I didn't have much for friends, but I was added to the groups on Facebook so I could contact people.  John got the idea to put up a post, explaining vaguely that we needed help but needed to keep why private for our safety.  We asked for donations in the form of bitcoin and someone actually sent us some.  He commented saying "I'll throw some btc at this, always interested in a surprise" or something along those lines. He realistically sent me more than I had made in the last several days begging, so it really meant a lot.  We could buy gas gift cards with the bitcoin, which would help us get to and over the border.  

Finally, able to breathe a little, we got ready for bed.  This was a nightly process of moving our stuff around and layering clothes, pillows and blankets to make a soft surface to sleep on in the back of the truck.  The cap for the truck was too short, as it was for our older truck that had a fairly short bed.  We had to compensate with the use of a tarp, which was quarky at best.  Our living situation was not ideal but it worked at the end of the day to get us where we needed to go.  It would be weeks before we slept in a bed, which would be my first night here in Acapulco.

I'll leave off here for now, as it's a good stopping point. Most of the point of the post was to show people what we were doing in our journey south and what life was like literally being homeless, on the run in a truck we just bought.  Its crazy to think of living like that now but then we didn't really think twice about it, we just did what we had to survive.  And despite all odds, we did and made it with our freedom.  That's probably one of the most remarkable parts of our story, the fact that we faced huge hurdles every step of the way.  Nothing good ever came easy, and this journey was no exception. 

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