My iPhone said it was 30 degrees out. What was once snow falling from the sky had turn into sleet. And Union Station seemed a bit slow for a Sunday afternoon. A man outside asked if I wanted to, “help a homeless veteran out.” I didn’t hear the last part so I said, “of course, but did you say veteran?” He thought I wanted confirmation so he showed me his Veteran Affairs id card. I told him I believed him all along. His id said his name was Rudgle, he said I could call him Reggie. I like “Rudge.” He said he wanted something to eat so we walked inside, he had a serious limp. On they way into Union Station he told me he was shot in the war and he was waiting on benefits.
Rudge got McDonalds. I didn’t eat.
So you were shot in your leg?
I was shot in my leg and my hip. And really, I should have got benefits years ago but I never put in for it. Because I didn’t know that you could put in for it. There are so many veterans that are putting in for benefits right now, especially those coming from Afghanistan and all that, and Iraq. And the VA is backed up. We didn’t know until the 90’s. I didn’t know until I went to a substance abuse program that I was eligible to put in.
What substance were you abusing?
You really want to know?
I really want to know.
Alcohol. And crack cocaine.
A lot of people live paycheck-to-paycheck and struggle. Why do you think you’re homeless?
I’m homeless because I can’t hold a full-time job. I can’t get up and go to work like everybody else and sit…I can’t do it. I have uh, I have mental issues and I have physical issues that hold me back from holding a 40-hour job. And I deal with it. I’ve tried it and I can’t even sit behind a desk because I can’t sit still long enough.
I’m being honest with ya, I can’t sit still. My physical issue is that I can’t lift a lot, I used to do construction too. I’m not a healthy walker.
So where do you normally sleep?
I sleep in a shelter.
Do they have that year round?
Nah. Well yeah, you can go down to different shelters, but right now I stay on 2nd street. Because the weather.
Are there a lot of shelters available?
How did you get in?
Well, being that it’s cold out, we’re getting this cold rain. But I’m not a shelter guy, I can’t sleep around a bunch of guys. I go in, take my shower and change my clothes and all that and then I go straight to bed. But you got so many personalities and I’ve dealt with that and it’s hard because I have issues myself…PTSD. So if someone comes near my bed, we got some problems.
Nah but um shelters come in handy. I’m just sorry that the District, and not only the District but a lot of the states, they don’t make affordable housing. That’s the problem. Affordable housing. I’ll tell you one thing, who can afford to live in $1500/month apartment? I know I can’t. I can’t do $15/month.
Right. SOME months.
The government needs a good revamping and I thought we had a good president up in there, but once he got up in there and he started doing his thing, ya know-
[Two guys walk in and sit behind him, my front, and start charging a phone. Naturally, I look.]
You still a young lady, looking at the young guys. [Turns around] You don’t want none of them. You want to go get you one of them guys driving a Lexus.
You like the bad boys.
No I don’t.
My daughter likes the bad boys.
How old are your kids?
My son is the oldest, he’s 38, my daughter is 37 and 34, he’s the youngest. And uh, I got another daughter too.
Oh yeah, is she older or younger?
She’s up there with my daughter. Yeah, I was in Germany.
[Realizes] Wow. Is that why you got a divorce?
You guessed it right on the nose?
She forgave me, but she found some things out. I feel funny sitting down here talking to you about it and we have so much of an age difference. But uh, there’s nothing like telling the truth on yourself.
It feels good.
[Catches me looking away]
Just like my daughter she loves to meet one of them bad boys. I’m going to tell your father on you one day, I’ll probably see him before you.
[Earlier, I told him my father was probably in heaven, but even if he weren’t that I would have faith in God]
Nah, I’m going to hell.
No you’re not.
So in the summer and spring do you usually sleep outside?
A lot of times I do, I get my backpack out and I roll my sleeping bag and I mainly I’ll go over to Southeast. Because I’m alone and uh, I can sleep out in the woods. Or either…I just chill out. I got family I could go to but really I don’t want to be a burden to them, I never have and I never will. I’ll help them out if I got anything, but I don’t want to take my family through nothing else, ya know. What I took myself through, I took myself through. The military took me through something and they are going to reimburse me for it. I bought a home, it’s paid for. My daughter and my grandkids are livin up in it, and my ex-wife. Everything is cool. They don’t bug me, I don’t bug them. I go up and see them everyone once in a while but other than I don’t bother nobody.
And I don’t normally come out here panhandling, asking nobody for anything. When I find a way I go do a little odd and end jobs, you know, whatever I can do that day.
Did you say Holiday Inn jobs?
No. Odd and end jobs. [Laughs] Holiday Inn jobs. [Laughs] I’m no gigolo.
[Laughs] I wish I would. I wouldn’t be eating a Big Mac.
My oldest son wanted me to come live with him but I said no, I’ve got to come back to DC because I have to get everything back in order.
Do you think waiting for benefits outweighs going to live with someone?
Yeah, in the long run. In the long run they benefit more than I do because if something happens to me they will benefit being that I am a veteran. They are my children, they will get…and that’s more important to me to anything else.
I can deal with this stuff out here. If I can deal with a war. If I can deal with going through the military. If I can deal with just living out here, it will outweigh anything if my children…I love my kids. And I’m sure your father, he loved you didn’t he?
The only thing that hurt me everyday is that I don’t develop relationships. I love to talk. I got certain friends that I talk to but I don’t develop close relationships with anybody. Because I had too many people die around me and I didn’t get along with that, not any more, I’m too old. Cause I always feel as though when I see a person go, I’m next, ya know. And it’s sort of…[laughs] that’s irrelevant.
I love to have fun. I can be serious, but I love to have fun.
So you said you used to struggle with drug addiction. Do you still use either alcohol or crack?
Yeah, I still drink. I don’t do crack.
When did you stop?
I stopped about 15 years ago.
How did you stop?
I went to a program. I had a couple drinks earlier, then I went on over to the shelter and I said I got to get me something to eat. And I didn’t have no money, no nothing. I said let me go up here and panhandle me some money. I panhandled a couple of dollars, like I told you I had a couple dollars.
[Earlier he offered to put $2 toward his food]
If you go to the shelter drunk, will they still let you sleep there?
Yeah. They’ll let you sleep there. You better go straight to sleep! And not mess with nobody. But uh, I don’t get drunk. I stopped that years ago cause I like to know my surroundings. I got too many people that flip out. But they don’t want to flip out around me. I’m certified.
I don’t believe in getting drunk. I’ll have a couple drinks but I cant get drunk anymore because when I drink it goes to other things and I cant go back to that stuff, ya know. As long as I have a little bit of senses about myself then I know I wont pick up that stem again. It’s simple. I’m on a mission today. I’m out here trying to get my benefits together but if I start dong that other stuff I forget about everything else. I forget about life period. And I don’t want to do that.
I got grandkids and they depend on what I do today. It will benefit them in the long run. My grandkids mean the world to me.
Do you think that if you moved back in with them, they help you get back on your feet and in the long run you could have benefits that way? Is there something hard about facing that idea of moving back in and like-
Nah, there’s nothing hard. But see I know I can’t move back in with my daughter because she lives with my ex-wife. [Laughs]
I would have to tell my ex-wife “slide over.” [Laughs] I don’t think she would take to that one pretty good, we’ve been divorced sine ’79.
We’re friends but we’re not that good of friends.
So how old is your other daughter in Germany? Have you had any contact with her?
She’s in between my uh…I talked to her 5 years ago. Yeah it’s been a while, but she’s 37 years old. But I’ve seen pictures of her. I had pictures of her when I had my phone. Every now and then we’ll talk but actually another guy raised her. And uh, I’ll give him credit.
He did all right?
Yeah, I’ll give him credit. I appreciate what he did cause I wasn’t there to do it. It teaches me that when you have outside relationships like that, no one get hurts except the child.
But you were still married…
Were there signs of divorce beforehand?
Yeah, she wanted to move with me but I wouldn’t let her.
I didn’t have ranking, I couldn’t get housing. If you mess with a military guy don’t mess with an EM or…(lists ranks) mess with an officer because they got benefits, they got money. You want someone with some money. I’m sure you’ve heard this more than one time- why drive a Volvo when you could drive a Lexus?
That’s why I say something like, they say, “I want a bad boy.” I look at Judge Mathis from time to time too. Judge Mathis would say “mess with a bad boy, when they do bad things to you don’t get mad because that’s what you wanted.”
I feel like the victim here.
Why? Oh yeah, because you like bad boys.
No, because I’m being accused.
No, I’m not accusing you. You know something? Regardless of what goes on in my life and what went on in my life, I enjoy myself. And I’m sure you can tell. And I try to make other people feel comfortable around me too because I don’t want anyone to feel like “ok, this is another nutcase and this is someone that I cant say hello to because he gon’ get to yellin and screamin and all that.” Nah, I’m not that type of person. I’m not that person.
Only thing I want to do is just go through life like everyone else. I screwed my life up, so I try not to screw anyone else’s life up. If I can’t do anything to help you, I prefer to leave you alone that to sit up there and lead you astray.
You’re a wonderer. Your mind is open because your eyes keep on- they say your eyes are the window of your soul. And you like to see and feel what’s going on around you. And you have a beautiful heart because you can look into your eyes and tell.
I’ve gone through a lot in DC. I’ve gone through a lot in life period. But I think the strongest lesson I’ve learned is from my parents. My parents always told me, “I don’t care what you go through, you be strong in it. Good or bad, just be strong, because there’s always something good going to come out in the long run." Sometimes you’ve got to take yourself through something. And we take ourselves through a lot. Look at Nelson Mandela, he just died and the man went through quite a bit and he took himself through it. Spent 27 year in one cell, no bed just concrete. He did that for 27 years, can you imagine…that’s older than you are. And he came out to become a president. He came out to be praised by presidents, kings, queens, government and ran a whole society.
I lived through a lot and to watch the changes, just to watch the changes in life and then to see young people coming up like you. And I say “go.”
I watch my daughter, she works at a production company, and I say “go girl…go.” My grandkids, every time I see em they got a smile on their face.
How many grandkids do you have?
Seven. And to see them, all of them got smiles on their face. Every time I seem em they got a smile on their face. And if I walk up to em today, even though I don’t have anything to give to em. Thing about it, we’re family…and that’s what counts.
My military career, it took a toll on me, mentally, physically and everything else, but it didn’t break my spirit. These streets didn’t break my spirit. And I’m determined, nobody going to do that.
I’ve been to jail. For little petty things, drinking in public and stuff like that. And I say look here, you’re helping me out because I need to go to sleep tonight.
They say, “you ready to go?” No. Keep me for another week. “You ready to pay for this?” I said nah the city is supposed to pay for this. You locked me up. You pay for it.
But I don’t know, I just try to enjoy life and I just look at the best of my situation. I look at the end of the road. If I sit here and I think about “I got to walk out here in that freezing rain” I would sit here for the rest of my life.
Or I would sit here til it sops raining. But I can’t do that. I have to keep moving and that’s they way it is with life. Regardless of what’s out there, you have to go through it. When you stop going through stuff, then there’s some problems. And the problem is not with everybody else. The problem lays here [points to chest.] Because life goes on. Whether I want to realize that or not. Life is going to go on. I can sit here and they will put me out anyway, but I could sit here and I could debate, “what am I going to do? Poor me, poor me.” And you know something, when they come pick me up it will still be poor me.
That’s why regardless of what happens to me I got to move forward.
Do you have a relationship with God?
[Nods] That’s what keeps me going. I don’t exploit it, because why should I? I hope you have one, cause we gon’ need Him. You know when I tell people I’m going straight to hell, that’s talk, because I pray I will never get to hell.
Nah, I do. My father was a minister. I was raised up in the church. But that doesn’t mean that I have to have a relationship with Him. But I do. I call on Him all the time. Lord help me!
Other Rudge fun facts:
- He was an extra in two movies (one role was a slave)
- His left eye is always red because something happened to his retina
- He is a Redskins fan
- All of his prayer requests were for other people
- We met by that tree