U2 saved me. Not long before I went homeless, I saw them in concert. It was the first time I'd ever seen them live. All That You Can't Leave Behind had just been released, and I thought it was fantastic. Instead of saving for food or rent, I splurged and went to see them. I don't regret it; never have since.
It was like going to church. It was a revelation. Their energy. Their music. Their lyrics. I left the venue a changed man; and the memory of that all-too-short two and a half hours kept me going during some pretty damn cold nights.
I saw them again in San Diego in late 2004, just after they released How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, which went on to win tons of awards and critical acclaim. That was another life-changing experience. I went by myself, as I did the first time I saw them. I didn't have friends to ask. No one gave a shit if I was alive or dead.
I caught the southbound Red Line for home, not aware that it was the last trolley to run for the day. Not too familiar at that point with San Diego's public transit system, I got off a stop too far. It was well past midnight, and the entire station was empty.
I wasn't exactly in the best part of town. In fact, I was in a downright dangerous slum, overrun with gangs and just a couple of miles from the US - Mexico border. I didn't have money for a cab; in fact I had no money whatsoever. It looked like I was going to have to walk all the way home--a jaunt of some seven miles or more. In the dark.
There was another who was stranded--a younger man, Hispanic, large build. We started talking. "Fuck it," he said, gazing out at the parking lot as a low-rider sedan pulled in. "Let's see if we can bum a ride!"
We walked to the sedan. The tinted driver's-side window rolled down. A young Hispanic man, blue bandanna around his head, gazed stonily up at us.
"Can we catch a ride?" my partner asked.
The car was full of similarly bandanned guys and girls. They looked ready for a major battle. Most had tattoos up their arms and necks. They appeared to be in no mood to fuck around.
The driver looked at me. I'm about as white as they come, and was now legitimately scared for my life. I thought I'd turn away and start my long walk, but didn't. I returned the driver's stare with one of my own and didn't look away.
He gave a nod. "Get in."
My partner and I got into the back. There was one big scary dude to my right; to my partner's left, a girl who looked like she enjoyed slaughtering kittens. They didn't smile.
The driver put the car in gear, and it rumbled out of the parking lot.
My partner had cash; he gave something like fifteen dollars to the dude riding shotgun.
"I don't have anything; sorry," I offered. "Thanks for the ride anyway. Seriously." I tried not to sound too scared as I said it.
The driver pulled the car into the Palm Avenue trolley station ten minutes later. It was the stop that was closest to home for me, as it turned out (as I would learn later). He slowed to a stop and gazed into the rearview mirror. "This is you," he said.
I didn't need to be told twice; and I sure as hell wasn't about to protest.
"Thanks," I said as the door opened. The dude next to me got out so I could. I hurriedly got out.
They left me at that station and drove away.
I had only an inkling of how to get home from there. The road--Palm Avenue--I was familiar with; and I knew I lived well west of where they dropped me off; so I began walking along it towards the Pacific Ocean.
The street was abandoned, or close to it. It isn't a minor street, Palm Avenue: it is, in fact, a highway, with two or three or sometimes even four lanes going both ways, respectively. But this late, this night, it was very quiet.
I walked. No one was out here. It was so quiet, so peaceful.
I was utterly broke. I was eating Ramen four times a week, and pretty much nothing else. The landlord was posting 3-day notices on my door a week, sometimes two, sometimes three weeks after the first of each month and I still hadn't paid her rent. I had just started Melody. I was maybe five or so chapters in by that point.
I didn't care. I left the sidewalk and began walking up the middle of the highway, and there I began singing "Rejoice." San Diego glittered orange and silver in the hazy, low distance beyond the bay; the orange lights lining Palm Avenue casting my diffuse shadow against the blacktop. No cars. Businesses all closed. Just me.
I kept walking. In another mile or so I saw the cross-street: 13th Street. The street that would lead me back to my apartment.
Another hour after that, I walked inside. It was coming up on 3 A.M.
It was a night I will never forget.
I was a changed man.