Vic stood on University Avenue every night. He was a slightly heavy, but well built man with long grey hair and wireframe rectangular glasses. He wasn’t the typical homeless person that you see with cardboard signs. Vic dressed well, though his clothes were timeworn, his style was slightly hippy. He was Palo Alto’s mayor for the homeless. He knew everyone and everything that was going on at those levels.
Any time I walked passed him, if I had any change in my pocket I’d just hand it to him. If I wasn’t in a hurry and he wasn’t otherwise engaged, I’d stop and talk with him. It was through him that I heard of the website being run under a bridge by another homeless person. Someone had snagged electricity and ethernet from a nearby building and was actually running a web server under a bridge on a laptop. Awesome, right? I thought so.
Why would I always hand Vic change? Because that’s what I do. At least, if I’m alone. If I give out change when I’m with anyone, I have to take flack about how I shouldn’t have done that and get into a debate about a philosophy of caring for others.
Whether or not you believe in the existence of a God or of the Christ figure, the philosophies are solid. Care for the sick and injured, help those less fortunate than you, love everyone, etc. I try to live up to those ideals when I can. We lift ourselves by lifting others.
And I’m sure you’ve head the phrase “what goes around comes around,” right?
So let’s set the stage. I had given away almost everything I owned and flown to California to live with Teresa and her husband. She and I were meeting with lawyers, venture capitalists, and possible partners. We didn’t even have an office yet. Oh and just one more thing, she was having an affair with me. Awkward, right? You bet.
I felt trapped. I had nothing. I had no car, no income, a little bit of savings, and a couple of bags of clothes along with my computer. That was it. I was entirely dependent upon her for my very survival.
I’m not sure now how long that situation lasted, but during that phase I did what I could to keep her happy, thus ensuring my survival. You have to remember, while I was a well known entity online, I was scared to death of trying to look for a job. This had to work or I was going to be one of the homeless of Silicon Valley and I wouldn’t be able to satisfy my autistic obsession with the web.
I wasn’t doing as much on the web yet, other than thinking about what our website was going to be and web surfing as much as possible. Does anyone use that phrase today? In those days you were surfing the web. I expect that’s now an archaic phrase. It’s amazing how language changes over time. Cool, however, always sticks around. At least so far.
After a series of humorous misguided accusations and a near physical attack, I was moved to a hotel, and a b&b, and another b&b, etc. You get the picture. At least until office space was found. And then, I lived in the office and went to the YMCA to shower.
I had a place to sleep, so I wasn’t technically homeless, but I didn’t always know if I would be eating that evening.
What goes around comes around. When Vic figured out that I was living in the office, well, he would hand me an occasional grocery bag of food. I kept handing him all the change I ever got.
You’ve heard, I’m sure, about there being all kinds of success stories in Silicon Valley. All of the millionaires who came out of Silicon Valley in the 90’s. There are stories, though, at every level of a society. I wish I could share more of Vic’s with you.
He stood on University Avenue with all of the wannabe success stories walking past, and kept his part of Palo Alto going, not with greed, but with care. They probably never really noticed him, but have you ever just stood on a street full of entrepreneurs with dollar signs in their eyes and just listened?
The stories he could have told.