I was dumpster diving in Santa Barbara, easy pickings. Stopped by a deli and found dozens of tamales, chicken fajitas, sandwiches neatly wrapped, priced, expired not one day and tossed out with the trash. I packed em' in my black backpack and headed off down the street.
"Food N ot Bombs! Dinner deliveries, are you hungry tonight?" Lots of the folks on the street were happy to see me, took some food. In a parking lot down by the only SRO hotel in SB I stopped and handed food to a man and woman, Alice and Michael. They were happy, but Michael looked worried.
"Brother, let me ask your advice," he started. "I'm detoxing but I need to get up to Cottage Hospital. I don't have a way to get there. The walk is too far." Michael holds his hands up. They're shaking violently. He's undergoing alcohol withdrawal. It's the only cold turkey that can actually kill someone. When a hard core alcoholic goes off the bottle she or he experiences such a fantastic stimulation of the nervous system used to the powerful depressant effect of booze that it's possible to die, die horribly.
Michael explained that the paramedics, when he called, told him that they couldn't pick him up unless something was wrong with him. "I'm shaking and feel sick. Something's very wrong." Apparently the medics disagreed and would not transport him to the hospital miles away. He called his detox program and they told him to come in with a police escort. Michael thinks he has warrants out. He also drank two beers earlier in the evening. It was Alice's idea, and a good one at that. Small amounts of beer will keep the withdrawal from killing him. But Michael tells me for the last ten years he's been used to a fifth of vodka per day followed by countless beers. Two drinks lasted a couple hours but the shakes and pain is coming on strong now.
What to do? I ride off on my bike after telling them to wait for me. When I return I've got a plan and a little cash. It's simple. I'll slip a cabbie twenty bucks and he'll drive Michael to the hospital. No medics, no cops, no bullshit. But when I get back Michael is gone. Alice says the cops rolled up and he took off, afraid that they would lock him up. "In jail they'll just throw him in a cell on the floor. No attention. He'll be in there for time. He'll die in jail."
Alice tells me where Michael might have gone. I ride off looking for him to no avail. While coasting up and down State Street I hand out a few more meals to street folks sitting on benches or walking through the crowds of Friday night party animals. The street is crowded wtih the drunk men and women who frequent the meat market clubs and shitty bars. When I get back to the spot I left Alice she and I talk for a while. She's really concerned about Michael. "Where'd he go?, I hope he didn't just lay down somewhere."
She wonders, "maybe he'll call me? I've got to go in and get my room straight though. I'm afraid the manager will come up and kick me out. I wanted to sneak Michael into my room, look after him, but they charge us $20 a night for guests. I don't have that kind of money. They saw me trying to sneak him in tonight, knew he was in there last night I think. I should go up and clean, prepare in case they try to punish me." She goes up but before she's gone she turns and says, "you know, for all thier good intentions, all these cops and programs and shelters, they really set the odds against you, make it so you gotta break the rules to do right."
"Yeah, yes," I reply.
I ride off and take one last stab at finding Michael. I spot him walking, sort of stumbling up the street not too far. He sees me and smiles, "I left when the cops came. I might have warrants."
"I know." Here, let's get you in a cab. It takes several tries but we finally flag a cab over. The driver eyes Michael suspiciously. Michael is holding a blanket and large bag. He's clearly homeless. The cabbie is being a fucking prejudiced dick. I tell mike to get in the cab and hand the driver $20, way more than the ride should cost. Probably double the price. Take him to Cottage Hospital, I direct the driver. "Goodnight brother," Michael thanks me.
"Good night brother." Tonight you're good. No drinks, no cops, no death in jail, no shaking and suffering in the street. You've got scirrosis of the liver. You're an alcoholic. You've lived hard. How many more nights ahead?