From the Facebook actually surfaced something we care about department: It’s been a few years since we crowdfunded a Chevy Suburban for our homeless veteran friend to live in. Thanks for reminding me of something important (for once), Facebook.
I was pulling a night shift in the data center. About an hour after the last of the team had left for the night, Janitor John strolled through. He wasn’t his usual, upbeat self.
He told me the other homeless vet he’d been living with in an early 2000’s Mercedes C-class had announced he was moving to California for a job and wouldn’t be taking John with him. It was almost Christmas and John—already homeless—was looking at literally being out on the street.
We stepped outside for a cigarette and he explained the gravity of his situation. He made minimum wage. He got less than 30 hours a week, working as a night shift janitor for our facility. He was losing the small storage unit—and the absolute last of his possessions within—because he couldn’t afford the rent.
He’d chased down all the reasonable options you might expect for a homeless veteran. VA, charities, you name it. I spent a few weeks reaching out to additional charities, personally, on his behalf. Nobody could help. At least, not in time, anyway.
“Support the troops.”
Sad fact about 21st century America: For all our “Support the troops” talk and bumper sticker activism in this country, we really let our veterans down once they’re done fighting foreigners who don’t believe in Jesus.
I’m not going to beleaguer the point, here, but it took me less than five minutes googling to find that, since 2001, 57,600-ish US soldiers have been killed in the combined Afghanistan and Iraq wars—and almost TWICE that number have come home and taken their own lives. The general consensus, as provided by an extensive report conducted by the Veterans Administration suggests an average of 20 US veterans commit suicide every day. It’s been over 6,000 days since 9/11. You do the math.
We talk a big game about supporting the troops, but in reality we do jack shit about it.
John’s a good guy. Swore an oath to put his country before himself. Served proudly in the war on terror. Came home and served his communities in law enforcement roles before being downsized. Did everything he was supposed to do and more. Put his life on the line for his country and community.
And now he was making $800/mo before taxes emptying trash cans in a data center, trying to figure out how he would get to his shitty job if he had to move into a homeless shelter downtown with neither car nor bus fare.
We had to do something.
JP (who worked at the DC with me at the time and knew John) and I hatched a plan. Gearbox Magazine would stand up a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $1000 so he and I could find an old van or something for John to live in once his “buddy” bailed on him.
We quickly raised $1,000 and began asking friends at other media outlets to share the story.
No, we weren’t involved with any of the other homeless veteran stories you might remember, where five- and six-figures were raised. But we did raise just over $2500—enough to surprise John with a clean, reasonably well cared-for, 1998 Chevy Suburban.
Better still, since the seller had already passed emissions, we went ahead and covered a 1-year vehicle registration—complete with a special, veterans-only license plate so he might get some slack if law enforcement came upon him sleeping in a parking lot somewhere.
We handed John the keys—complete with a Hello Kitty keychain we told him he had to keep until he got a better job (because we always made newbies in the DC keep the same Hello Kitty keychain on their facility keys until they’d completed onboarding—it was kind of our way of including him in our office tradition)—in January 2015. I left the data center the following month.
I checked on John nine months later in November. He told me he’d had to do a brake job and it quickly escalated to include new rotors, as well as upper and lower ball joints. The windshield wiper motor conked out on him. He’d had to replace the battery, the starter, and a bunch of other small things. The AC stopped blowing cold. A rock hit the windshield and cracked it all to shit. And the Check Engine Light had been on since we gave him the keys. (Good thing it had passed emissions!)
Still, John told me. “It’s a great truck and I love it!”
But wait! It gets better!
John continued, “Not sure if you knew, but I’m not the janitor anymore. He ended up getting a job with the security company contracted by the data center. He worked one day a week there and another three at a fancy resort in Scottsdale.
In the same email, John told me the best news yet. “I am no longer living in my truck.” He’d answered a Craigslist ad looking for a roommate and finally had a roof over his head. It wasn’t the sweetest situation—she was kinda bitchy and the other roommate was a jerk-ass slob, but John said, “I guess it’s better than living in my car. (Although, I’ve thought a few times about moving back into my vehicle because my roommates suck and to save money… but I’m pretty sure I won’t do that.”
And since he got a new job, he said goodbye to Hello Kitty, giving the keychain to a friend at said fancy resort who thought it was fabulous. It certainly was fabulous.
And now, five years after the saga began, I was reminded to make my semi-annual check in email to John. I’m just gonna share that email convo because you can’t improve on perfection.
Yo yo yo. How’s the world treating you these days, man? Well, I hope.
Facebook’s been showing me all these old posts about the Suburban. Can you believe it’s been five years already? Damn. I’ve been changing diapers this whole time!
Anyway, I thought I’d check in and see how you were doing. Let me know?
Sorry it took awhile to reply… been busy.
I can’t believe it’s been five years!! Oh my Gosh!!
I’m now working as a Deputy Marshal for Maricopa County. I moved out to far East Mesa (almost Apache Junction) and have a Park Model mobile home now.
Changing diapers… yuk!
Never had kids… wish I did.
Holy shit! Deputy Marshal! GOOD FOR YOU, BROTHER!
So happy to hear this.
I’ll have to let you know next time I’m headed out that way. I have some friends with an off-road fab shop out by the hospital. Way out there, Rural, I think?
Still have the ‘Burban? How did it hold up all this time?
The ‘Burban… well…
It did for me what I needed. It helped me live for awhile in the comfort of its large back end and drove me to and from work.
I kept it up, too, when I got my new job (well, been here 1 1/2 years now) and was planning on
keeping it, but, both cats went out. (That was a bunch to fix since they were welded on.) And then
I started having major electrical problems with it. I also could never seem to get the A/C fixed.
I kept taking care of the problems that came up, but when finally the tranny went out… I traded it
in for what I could get and got a Nissan Altima.
I feel bad for getting rid of it, but just couldn’t afford a new tranny, etc..
How have the last five years treated YOU?
There’s an old saying about being kind to everyone you meet, because you don’t know what they’ve been through to get there. Something like that.
If we’re lucky, we can find ourselves in the right place and time to provide real help to someone in need.
This little magazine project has introduced me to exceptional gearheads around the world. I’ve stayed in buildings built before Columbus “discovered” America. I’ve toured the facilities where my WRC heros machines were built. And I’ve got a bucket list a mile long filled with adventures in the farthest corners of the planet.
This little magazine project is about to become the way I pay my bills. (Even those damned student loans.) But for all that, I’ve got to go on the record as saying this brief engagement five years ago—where 40 of us put our money where our mouths were—changed, dare I say it, saved someone’s life.
And now he’s back out where he belongs, protecting and serving.
Like he always wanted.
If that’s the only thing GBXM ever accomplishes, I’m cool with it.