Lessons from Joe

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Joe Tinker, a onetime SN&R contributor who died about five years ago. He’s been on my mind because we’ve been preparing a cover story about local homeless people who live in the netherworld between a permanent residence and the streets.

When I first met Joe, he lived in his car.

Here’s how his tenure here got started. One day, a big homeless fellow in a dirty T-shirt approached SN&R’s R.V. Scheide in the newspaper’s parking lot and handed him an essay. The man was Joe Tinker. When Scheide took a look at the essay, he was amazed. It was not what he’d expected. In fact, it was terrific: smart, well-written and funny. It explored a depth of truth.

SN&R printed the essay. Then another.

We learned that Joe lived in an old-model sedan, which he parked in various secret places around town (though, during the day, he could often be found moving from spot to spot in front of the SN&R building on 20th Street).

Joe had a load of health problems that surely were made worse by his living circumstance. And there’s no hiding that he had a boisterous man’s ability to cause strife almost everywhere he went. But Joe was also brilliant. He was a classically trained musician with an Andy Rooney-style sense of humor. He knew secrets about Sacramento. And he was a fine writer.

After some serious lobbying (and matching funds from a local nonprofit whose goal was to get homeless people employed), SN&R hired Joe part time as a writer. The arrangement did eventually come to an end, but it lasted longer than you might expect. Joe was able to move out of his car and get a room in Midtown Sacramento, where he lived until he died on September 5, 2000.

Well, Joe is the reason why it came as no surprise to read that many of the dozen or so people Chrisanne Beckner interviewed for this week’s “Living in cars” seemed to be surprising and industrious in addition to being down on their luck. Like Joe, for whatever reason, they’d all been left behind by society. And, like Joe, all they really seemed to need was a break.