(I headed for the bus stop.)
My next thought was the Salvation Army. To the best of my knowledge they didn’t supply shelter for men, not in this area anyway. So, to me, it was a last desperate shot and one for which I held no hope.
I went to the Hampton Salvation Army and was told, indeed, they had no shelter for single men, only single women and families. This hardly seemed fair in a sexually egalitarian era — women and children first, eh? But that was o.k. I am old-fashioned enough to sympathize, even if I was not, in the present situation, about to jump and shout with joy at the triumph of the Chivalric Ideal.
As I was turning to go, the woman said, “Have you tried the A.R.C?”
“The A.R.C. is the Adult Rehabilitation Center for men, run by the Salvation Army in Virginia Beach.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Let me give them a call. Follow me.”
I followed her into a back office and sat across a desk from her. Here was a person who was sincere, polite, respectful, and sympathetic. Here was a person who genuinely cared about my plight and willing to go the extra mile to help me find relief. It was enough to pop a crack in an old and hardened cynic’s heart. I was told that there were no immediate openings — it was a day by day, first come first served proposition. I was told that if I was there when they first opened that I had a fair shot of getting in. I was told that occupancy could last up to a year and depended on adherence to the rules evidence of individual growth. Finally, I was told that in exchange for my room and board I would be required to work full time, without pay and be required to attend church weekly, in addition to following all the other rules of the center.
It sounded like a winner to me. My first thought was, “where do I sign?” Before I could sign anything, I had to find my way to Virginia Beach.
Virginia Beach, Virginia is the largest city of a 7 city metropolis known as Hampton Roads in southeast Virginia. The last I heard the population of the region exceeds 2 million. It is bisected by the very large James River at the mouth where it empties into the Chesapeake Bay and thence into the Atlantic Ocean. The region has coastlines on the ocean, the bay, the York River, the James River and the Elizabeth River. That’s a whole lot of water folks!
It is home to the Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, Langley Air Force Base, a couple of small Marine bases, at least three Army forts, a Coast Guard Station and one of the country’s largest military shipyards. During the Cold War, who do you think we figured would be on the top 10 list of nuclear targets.
I was born and raised there and didn’t particularly want to be there. I strongly dislike it there. I tried to escape to Colorado, but destiny or sheer dumb luck dragged me back.
The city of Hampton, where I was is also part of Hampton Roads. It is located with Newport News on a large geographic feature called the Virginia Peninsula. The York River is to the north. The James River is to the south and the Chesapeake Bay flows by the tip.
Hampton and Newport News are separated in this widespread metropolis by the mouth of the James, Hampton is 40 miles from Virginia Beach and to get there you must go through Norfolk.
I had never been to Virginia Beach except for decades ago as a youth. It was only a few trips and it was always to hit the oceanfront bars and come straight (albeit weavingly) back. Fortunately, public transportation (HRT) finally decided to connect the two geographically separated parts of the metropolis with a bus line and was able to give me a direct route to the ARC. The bus stopped across the street.
I was not familiar with city bus travel outside of Hampton and went to the local transit station. By this time of day the bus (always a slow proposition anyway) would not drop me off at the ARC until nearly dark and I had already been told that there was no opening that day anyway.
I decided to stay in Hampton for the rest of the day and night. I would cross the Rubicon the first thing in the morning. I also wanted to hit mom up one last time for a little “pin money.”
The next morning found me at the start of the business day waiting at the door of the Salvation Army ARC, duffel bag in hand. “No room at the Inn,” said the attendant. “Try again tomorrow. Some guys are leaving today so there will be openings, but it’s first come first serve.”
There was a cheap motel two door down from the Center. I had enough money mom had given me the day before to get a room — and a twelve pack of beer. 10 beers and 22 hours later it was time to try again. I had a beer for breakfast and it tasted so cool and wet that I had another, then I packed my puny bag and walked over to the ARC.
There were openings. I sat at a counter next to another man who looked as though he had been run over by a shit wagon. I imagined that I was not much, if any, prettier. Side-by-side we filled out paperwork. This man would turn out to be my best friend and eventually my worst enemy at the Center.
I went through an orientation. I had to get a short haircut and beards were not allowed. No problem. I was here for room and food and to rebuild my strength. at that point I would have done just about anything.
When I came in I had no idea that it would be for anything like an extended stay. This was just a Pit Stop on my racetrack to alcoholic death.
I ended up staying 13 months. When I left I was one of the most respected men at the Center, and I had turned my Mental, Physical and (most importantly) Spiritual Life 180 degrees around. Instead of Hell Bent, I became Heaven Bound.
(to be continued)
click link to continue part ix