On a recent weekday in Reno, Grackle, who got his name from the small black bird while tree sitting to protect redwoods from logging companies in California, was holding a jokes for money sign under the arches.
Dirty Jokes, Clean Jokes, Hippy Jokes
A man, dressed like a tourist just leaving a casino, approaches him and asks ‘do you really tell jokes?’, tossing him a quarter.
Grackle, 29, offers three, non of them printable, for the price of one, eliciting chuckles.
“I have lots of dirty jokes,” he explains after the tourist leaves, “but I also have clean jokes and hippy jokes. Here’s a clean, hippy joke …. ‘Do you know why the lifeguard couldn’t save the hippie? He’s too far out man.’”
Figuring out Reno's Police
Grackle, who says he is just passing through Reno, is starting to figure out the biggest little city, after earlier difficulties with police.
“I got harassed by the police here by the arches. I like to do things with a sense of humor. When I ask for money, I try to have signs which make people laugh, smile or spreads good vibes. I don’t want to be winey, or to illicit sympathy. I prefer humor and joy. So I was flying a sign which said “Smile if you Masturbate, Give me a Dollar if You Enjoy It.”
That didn’t go over too well.
“The cops came up and were like, that sign is inappropriate. But they also said, ‘technically it’s your First Amendment right and we can’t really say anything. But it offends us. And it probably offends a lot of these people’. They kept coming back and checking on me, so I’ve decided to use other signs.”
Don't Sit on a Sidewalk
Grackle has also figured out how to sit in Reno while displaying his signs without also drawing more police attention.
“The first time I was sitting on the sidewalk which I guess is illegal here. So I asked them a lot of questions about the local laws, every town has their own thing, where you can sit. Here, you can sit on something raised, like these raised circular mounds which look like gambling chips. But sitting on the sidewalk, I think first time it’s a warning and after that they either write you a ticket or take you to jail.”
On the Streets Since 15
Grackle says he’s been living on the streets since he was 15. He was a “headstone teenager”, going to a “prestigious inner city prep school” in Seattle, where he says he fit in better with the bums selling pot on school grounds than with students. One day, he pretended he was sick, packed up, and went to live with the weed-selling bums who were sleeping on loading docks.
He eventually went to college, and got “half a degree” in renewable energy, and still hopes to one day become a solar panel installer. For now though, he describes himself as a “traveling hippie gypsy”, a rough lifestyle full of twists and turns and never a dull day.
Most recently, he took part in the latest “Rainbow Gathering” in Vermont, a pro-peace and pro-nature congregation of different groups who gather in remote forests to eat, sleep and live together for one or several weeks at a time.
“One of the biggest things of Rainbow is everyone will shout on three from wherever in the forest, ‘We Love You’. There are lots of people from different walks of life. There are rainbow kids who are full-time travelers and train hoppers and what not, and there’s also people who work on a farm and come to a few gatherings every year. Alcohol is highly frowned upon in the woods. So all the drinking takes place at the front gate or in the parking lot which kind of acts as a filter. Once you get in the woods, it’s more hippy-dippy.”
There are national gatherings, and more localized ones, each with its distinct traits. One of Grackle’s favorites is the so-called Katuah gathering in North Carolina.
“They do a thing called the angel path. Basically, there’s two lines of people facing each other, usually a couple hundred people. And the people at the end of the line walk through with their eyes closed and then everybody kind of guides you along, and stops you to give you hugs and compliments. Most people end up crying by the end of it.”
A Rough Trip West
After his last Rainbow gathering in Vermont, he did cleanup with the “Fat Kids Kitchen crew”, one of the many collective groups who take part in the gatherings, picking up trash, “renaturalizing” areas, spreading new seeds. Driving back west with his new girlfriend though didn’t turn out so well. She was arrested on an old warrant in Illinois. Everything he owned was in her rental truck, which was impounded.
Friends who were alerted by a Facebook message picked him up on their way west in their RV and dropped him off in Reno. So now, he’s got even less stuff than usual. At first, he was staying in Reno with a friend in a weekly motel, but the landlord there said he would have to start paying extra money to stay there.
Sleeping Outside in Reno for the 1st Time
“I’ll just have to find a place to sleep outside tonight,” he explains. “Since I’ve been on the streets, I’ve never slept in a homeless shelter. There are too many rules there.”
He takes a swig from an alcohol flask hiding himself behind his sign.
“I like to drink a little. If you live outside, with open container laws in many places, like here in Reno, there’s no non-public place where you can stop and enjoy a drink.”
Next Stop, A Pot Farm near Garberville
Once Grackle has enough money to travel, his next destination will be a pot farm, near Garberville, in Humboldt County, California.
He will trim weed there, alongside other travelers, including some from other countries.
“I think it’s kind of a grey area legally,” he says. “But I really like my job. I just listen to music and I make about 200 dollars a day. I get to talk to people from all over the world. At night, we pitch our tents and sleep outside.”
200 Dollars Per Pound of Trimming
He usually trims marijuana plants up to 12 hours a day in an outbuilding with bright fluorescent lights, putting buds in plastic baskets and leaves into bags.
“We get paid by weight. 200 dollars a pound of buds. One friend from New Zealand once trimmed four pounds in a day. I usually average about one pound a day.”
He also has a rainbow gathering on his radar in his home state of Washington in September.
Tips for Young Runaways and Fellow Travelers
As we leave him, we ask him if he is any advice for young runaways or kids living out in the open.
“Avoid hard drugs, a lot of people get caught up in meth or heroin. It can really mess you up if you develop habits,” he says. “Also don’t use needles, that’s when it gets really bad. I’ve had a few friends hospitalized or even killed by hard drugs and needles. “
Any positive insights to finish the interview? “Yeah, if a kid is on the streets, and lonely, they should come to a rainbow gathering. They can get started at www.welcomehome.org.”
Photos and Interviews for Our Town Reno in downtown Reno, August, 2016