Volume 81, Number 11 | August 11 - 17, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photos by Lincoln Anderson

From left, Cameron, Marcel and Peter on East Houston St. RIGHT: IJanice and James in Tompkins Square Park.

Travelers have trickled back to Tompkins Sq. a bit

By Lincoln Anderson

This spring and early summer, there was a noticeable absence in Tompkins Square Park: Crusty Row was empty of its usual inhabitants — the travelers. Like migrating salmon or monarch butterflies, every May and June they’d return to the park, then — once the weather would turn — depart for warmer climes.

Marcel, Cameron and Peter, hanging out in front of the East Houston St. Whole Foods on Saturday night in late June, spanging for beer change, said they had definitely been avoiding Tompkins Square, instead opting to stay with friends in Coney Island. Basically, they said, Tompkins had an unsavory association heroin.

Marcel, 21, said it had gotten to the point where a recent episode of the TV show “Arrested Development” even spoofed “junkies falling over in Tompkins Square Park.” That was it for him.

Asked if he was staunchly against heroin use, Marcel responded, “I’m not going to say that. I’ve had my stint. But I don’t like it. It doesn’t enable my traveling at all. It’s something I stay away from.”

A North Carolina native sporting a “Gypsy eye” tattoo, he’s been crisscrossing the country for the past four years. He and his dog, Outlaw, had just rode a freight train down the Hudson’s Jersey side to New York — an amazing ride, he said.

“I didn’t have a bad childhood,” he shrugged. “I just like motion.”

Cameron, 24, had another idea why travelers hadn’t been returning to the East Village.

“It’s the Rainbow Gathering in Washington,” he figured. “A lot of guys are shooting out there.”

“There’s not a lot of people in town,” Marcel observed.

They don’t mind being called crusties or hobos.

“You can call us whatever you want,” said Marcel.

However, as it turns out, eventually, travelers did start finding their way back to Tompkins Square Park, though in smaller numbers. This past Monday evening, a handful of them were camped out on the pathway and benches at the northern end of Crusty Row.

“Tompkins Square is pretty much blown up,” confirmed James, 23. “I’ve been here for two days. I’m usually at Washington Square Park — I was there for two months — or Union Square...going back and forth.”

He grew up on Long Island and first started sleeping on the street three years ago.

He said he noticed this May and June that no travelers were really hanging out in Tompkins Square, though, he added, “There were a lot of people here a week ago.”

While the Tompkins travelers scene has a reputation for heroin, James said, “Washington Square Park is more associated with weed and beer... . Union Square Park certainly is very much associated with heroin and methadone.”

After police recently cracked down in Union Square in response to a spike in crime, the travelers were pushed out and headed down to Washington Square, he said. Others are staying in squats in Brooklyn. As he spoke, he kept a wary eye on a police car parked by the Temperance Fountain, which seemed to be keeping an eye on the travelers.

As for himself, he’ll drink beer, but noted, “I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to any drugs,” adding he hadn’t even had anything to drink that day. Indeed, their group seemed to be a pretty healthy looking bunch of travelers.

He and Janice, 22, from North Carolina, plan to head down to New Orleans once it gets cold. For now his goal is to raise enough money to get her a ukulele after someone stole the one she had.

She’s an artist, she said, and whatever she does in the future will definitely involve art. He takes photographs.

Asked if they were boyfriend and girlfriend, Janice explained the travelers don’t use terms like that.

“We’re best friends, and we travel together,” she said.

Her dream is to create an autonomous community someday. Sort of like a hippie commune?

No, she said — again, travelers don’t use those sort of descriptions. But one thing she’s certain of — it would definitely involve the word “free.”

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