• Harleys: One she road, the other kept her going

    by Erika Fiske

    She was running an errand with her car in Los Angeles when she passed the little black dog, dead in a puddle of blood, hit by a car. But as Joanne returned home a while later, passing the dog again, he struggled to raise his head. He was still alive.

    “A security guard across the street said he’d been there all night,” she noted. And that was enough for Joanne. With the help of a vet, the Patterdale Terrier’s fractured jaw and broken bones were healed, and Joanne—who loved Harley-Davidson motorcycles – named the animal Harley.

    For the past several months, she and the dog have been homeless and living in a car, although they don’t look the part. Harley’s healthy coat shines, while 51-year-old Joanne is neatly dressed with jeans and a blouse, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail. The pair looks fine, but sometimes Harley is the only thing that keeps Joanne going. As she told her story, a rumbling sound came from the distance. Suddenly, a group of motorcycles passed on Del Monte Boulevard. “When they sound like thunder, you know they’re Harleys,” she said, smiling ear to ear.

    It was Sunday morning at Window on the Bay, where Joanne came for the weekly prayer service and breakfast for the homeless. After hearing a few people comment on the food, Joanne tried to eat some and left it on the hood of her car instead – where a seagull feasted.

    Joanne admits she can hardly wait until she’s able to ride her Harley once again, with Harley the dog riding along in her backpack. She bought the bike in 2007 for $6,000 and rode it from Canada to Mexico. “I always wanted a Harley,” she said. “Not being able to ride hurts my soul.”

    With her wrist injury and current circumstances, it may be some time before Joanne mounts the Harley once more. Recently she lost her workman’s comp of $150 a week when she missed a doctor’s appointment. To keep afloat, she’s pawned a lot of things, including four guitars, an accordion, an amplifier, a diamond ring and briefly, her Harley. Finding a job while living in her car has proven next to impossible, and she won’t give up the dog to get into a shelter. Now there’s a chance Joanne may even lose her car, because of unexpected expenses.

    “I can’t get organized in a car,” she said. “I need a job and a house, and I want to go back to work. I feel like a feral cat living out of this car.”

    Joanne was born in New Rochelle, NY, and grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, with her parents divorcing when she was five. She got her first minibike in elementary school and soon fell in love with motorcycles. Later in life, she studied radio and television broadcasting at Brown Institute in Florida, worked in radio and as a DJ in nightclubs, ran a casting company in Hollywood and studied the music video business. Her background in entertainment also gave Joanne a lot of restaurant experience—as waiting tables helped pay the bills.

    For a while, she and her son traveled the country, visiting 40 states and living in a van “like hippies,” she said. They were flown to New York about 15 years ago to appear on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show and talk about their lives on the road.

    When her son entered high school, Joanne moved with him to Seattle, WA, where she operated a mobile DJ karaoke business. Then her son met a girl on the internet and moved to California to be with her and attend college. Today he manages an Olive Garden.

    With her son gone, Joanne decided to become a Harley mechanic. Before she could realize her dream, she suffered the Triangular Fibrocartilage Complex injury to her wrist several months ago, while working at Applebee’s. As she found herself alone and homeless, Joanne lost hope. But Harley kept her going.

    ”I didn’t know what to do anymore,” she said. “Then God sent me this dog, and he became my responsibility.”

    Joanne doesn’t think about being a Harley mechanic these days. But she does think back to a time when she had an apartment and took in all kinds of people who needed a place to stay. She wonders where that help is today—for her.

    “I was always helping others. I used to do everything for everybody,” she said. “I don’t like asking for help, but now I need someone to help me,” she said, her voice cracking. Joanne was done with her story. She walked back to her old car, with Harley trotting beside her. It would be another cold night by the Bay.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on November 30, 2012

    Topics: Homeless Chronicles

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