Velella's Drift

An account of Velella's voyage from Seattle to New York via Panama, 2009-2011

I Guess We Are, Technically

“Excuse me. Excuse me!”

The voice, at once frantic and accusatory, was coming from somewhere nearby. It took me a moment to react. I was tired, for it had been a long day of travel. Meghan and I were returning from our Thanksgiving vacation. In the morning we were in Lyle, WA, from where we drove into Hood River, OR to meet my mother, who drove us in to Portland, OR to catch our plane. After a two hour flight to Long Beach, CA we waited an hour for our first bus and were in the process of lugging our backpacks and satchels to catch our second bus. It was already dark and my eyes were red with exhaustion, which is probably why at first I didn’t see the women in the van.


I finally noticed where the noise came from. We were in a residential neighborhood, somewhere near the water. Parked next to the sidewalk was a van with its lights on and motor running. A thin, shrill-looking Asian woman sat in the driver’s seat. She stared at us with one eye, while the other pointed wall-eyed to the side. Realizing that it was her who was causing the commotion, we approached her.

“Yes?” I asked hesitantly.

“Where are you going?”

Her tone was laden with hostility, and I immediately bristled.

“Why do you ask?” I was still willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, as part of me thought that maybe she was aggressively flagging us down for directions.

“Do you live around here? Are you camping somewhere nearby?”

“We’re heading down to Second Street to catch the bus.”

I realized that we were still dressed like Northwesterners. I wore my fraying wool cap, a baggy sweatshirt, my unwashed bluejeans and hiking boats. Meg had on my matted fur-lined green coat and we both wore oversized backpacks and carried several additional bags. In the dark, it wouldn’t be a huge leap if she mistook us for homeless people.

“We live on a boat,” Meghan offered the woman.

“Ohhhhh.” The woman didn’t seem to know how to process this. While she mulled this information over, I noticed two kids squirming behind the tinted windows of her minivan.

“I was going to ask you to do me a favor,” she said, half to herself.

“Well,” she said finally. “Do you need a ride? I mean, how far away is your boat? ‘Cause I live right here and I have groceries in the back. But if it’s not too far, I could give you a ride.”

Meg and I were both caught off-guard, as we tried to assess her sudden change in disposition.

“No, that’s OK. Our bus stop is a block away. We’ll be fine.”

I thanked her and turned away.

“Hey,” she blurted back at us. “I don’t want this to come out weird, I mean I hope you don’t get the wrong idea, because I don’t think you guys are homeless or anything, but can I ask you something? Are there a lot of homeless people around where your boat is?”

“Hmmm… No, I don’t think so…”

“We’re from Seattle,” Meg said.

“There’s homeless people up there,” I added with sarcasm.

“Oh, Seattle,” she said, as if that explained everything. “I’ve got all this food in my car that I’m supposed to give to homeless people. It’s my calling. I’ve been driving around but I haven’t been able to find a single homeless person. I guess normally they feed them in a soup kitchen or something but I don’t know where any soup kitchens are. I was hoping maybe you could tell me.”

“Oh. No. Sorry. We don’t know where any homeless people are.”

Meghan and I turned to go. This time she let us. As soon as we were out of earshot, we ruminated over what just happened. Was her good-Samaritan story an attempt to backpedal from the fact that she had initially been so accusatory? Was she so new to charity she had to ask directions to the ghetto? Had she been punished by a judge, repaying her debt to society through this half-hearted attempt at community service?

The only thing we learned for certain was that, in the eyes of the average Los Angelite, Meghan and I look like a couple of hobos.



  Madeleine wrote @

This is hilarious. I hope someone asks me where the soup kitchen is in copenhagen. I will probably know.

  Lin wrote @

well, i’d guess anyone from seattle looks like a hobo in LA, don’t feel bad.

that description was outstanding…i felt like i was being beckoned by a wall-eyed woman in a van!

  Brook wrote @

I vote that she was new to this worthy avocation. Remind me to tell you the story of the Weilers similar attempt in The Dalles.

  Devon wrote @

haha, great story. my mom always tells me i look homeless, but i have yet to be presumed as such by a stranger.

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