The Night of Drifters

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We had long planned to do some field testing in an urban environment and also toyed with the idea of homelessness. These thoughts combined with Night Visions movie festival and our own showing there, we realized this had to be done. The movie in question was, of course, Hobo With A Shotgun, starring Rutger Hauer.

One thing led to another and I set out with Turo into the nightlife of Helsinki to promote the movie festival, dressed as drifters and taking things somewhat far.

Friday

Departure from the Varusteleka retail shop. Our designated budget was 80 euros and we had to get everything we need during the journey with just that. Should any money be left over, it could be used for alcoholic beverages, or food even. We didn't bring any ID, wallets or other things we take for granted. Just one cell phone in case of an emergency.

So the starting point was in the nude when we began gathering clothes and gear.

My kit consisted of the following: BW watch cap, Swiss scarf, Polish mittens with Leopard camo, NVA officer's raincoat, British "Chinese Fighting Jacket" liner, T-shirt and a college jacket from the shop's outlet, British long johns, BW combat trousers, Finnish socks, Czechoslovakian boots and a plastic bag. After these I had 18.70 € left for food and drinks. All this actually seemed pretty good, considering that the weather forecast had promised stormy weather and it was October.

I had the following: BW winter hat with Flecktarn camo, Swiss wool scarf, Czech M85 mittens, East-German Zivilverteidigung quilted outfit, NVA breeches, BW field shirt, NVA base layer, Czechoslovakian suspenders, NVA footwraps (of which the other pair I lost) and BW rubber boots. At this point, I had about 30 € left. -Turo

The journey began from outside of Varusteleka towards Alko, the state's liquor store, in Konala. We gathered some funny looks on the way and the employees at Alko were also raising their eyebrows a bit as we compared between Gambina and Valdemar. We decided on two bottles of the latter, as it's slightly cheaper than the competition. Gambina, I'm truly sorry about this. We continued towards Konala's Lidl, a German grocery store chain, which sells beer at a decent price.

The plan was to reach downtown Helsinki and see what happens. For a moment we considered walking 10 km (about 6 miles and a quarter), or head towards Kannelmäki hoods and take the train. We went to the notorious Sitra square in Kannelmäki by foot, and started wondering which tavern would be the cheapest to sit down for a while. We deemed this to be and emergency and called Simo from Kannelmäki, a famous rock star and lord in the area. His recommendation was to choose Kannel Pub, which always has action going on and it's generally The place to be. Stepping in, we couldn't believe our eyes, that's how amazing the scene was. We also spotted one man wearing Varusteleka's Support Squad hoodie. We found seats and drank beer, which was a bit too pricey for our budget, even though it was Happy Hour.

After downing our malty refreshments, we were about to leave as a local giant came to tell Turo how much his shirt was appreciated. Turo was wearing a BW field blouse with (West-)German flags on the sleeves. We got a lecture about broken windows, respecting the shirt and something about spiritual leaders and imams who should get out. Receiving this kind of praise was our cue to leave before making too many good friends.

At the Kannelmäki train stop we intended to open the first bottle of Valdemar, but to our great misfortune, we found Turo's bottle had broken inside the plastic bag and Turo's quilted clothes had soaked some of it. Well, we couldn't not drink that booze, it had cost six euros after all, so as seasoned drunks and fresh drifters we made a small hole to the corner of the bag and drank straight from there. To keep something for later, we drained the rest into empty beer cans. People gave us long looks, once again. As we finished this operation, the train arrived at the best possible moment. We boarded the train with intentions to pay for a ticket, but due to circumstances tickets were never sold to us. Sorry, VR (Finnish federal railways).

Drinking Valdemar from a broken Varusteleka plastic bag is quite possibly the best thing I've done as a drunk drifter in Kannelmäki! -Turo

Pro-Tip from Eric

I used to be a bartender in Helsinki and a regular hobo would come in from time to time to escape the cold. He caused no harm and didn't bother customers, so we usually let him stay. One time the fellow came in with a sixpack of beer and asked for a plastic bag. We looked at him in disbelief as he promptly started to empty the bottles into the bag. His reasoning was that the bottles had a return deposit and he wanted it right away.

We got out of the train in Pasila and figured we'd walk to Kallio, the Mecca of drifters. We stopped by at Lidl Pasila to return empty cans and the broken Valdemar bottle. We managed to get the deposit from that too. On we went and found Kallio to suffer from a lack of action. We found some empty bottles and naturally picked them up on the way. Headed to Sörnäinen, nothing there either. In Hakaniemi some Middle-Eastern gentlemen started heckling Turo about Hitler, possibly again because of the shirt. What's the matter with people? At this point, we ate for the first time: one-euro cheeseburgers from McDonald's in Hakaniemi.

It was dark when we reached the centrum and it was getting chilly also. The wind was fairly strong and some rain came down as well. We decided to get indoors for a while and managed to get into Wall Street Bar in an alley behind Ateneum, a large art museum in the heart of Helsinki. We gave out flyers to Hobo With a Shotgun and the bartender made us eggnogs with rum to warm us up. Thanks for this!

Soon after, a Laestadian millionaire approached us. He told us stories of everything under the sun and could also improvise wild rhymes from any subject you'd care to mention. Wonderful gentleman. I could go on about him, but let's not make him too major of a character. It's worth mentioning that he wasn't short on cash, which meant we had some 16yo. single malt, as hobos often do. Oh, and the story of how he found his heterosexuality is too good to leave out: the man was on a business trip in Russia and ended up in a hotel room with two ladies. While doing one, the other lady started to fit a dildo up his ass. He thought why not, since it actually felt pretty good. However, he got some nasty hemorrhoids and as he was in a pharmacist's in Murmansk trying to buy ointment for his bothersome situation, he decided he's all straight and won't have anything shoved into his anus ever again.

This fellow was a strange one. His stories ranged from hemorrhoid ointments to MMA champions looking just like Eric does. A side character in this show was an older Russian lady, who tried really hard to attract our attention. After noticing our obvious lack of interest, he started making moves towards the millionaire, who was at the top of the world at this point and becoming susceptible to flirting. An eye-catching feature of the millionaire was how he handled money. On his way to smoke a fag he would put 250 euros on the counter without saying much apart from "here's a fifty as tip" and "get that guy seven mugs of beer". Jeesh. -Turo

We spent a fair amount of time with this man and he even invited us to his home for an afterparty, but not before going to a karaoke bar. I will not enter a karaoke bar unless Simo from Kannelmäki is there to sing, so our ways with this noble gentleman parted. Soon after we left the cozy indoors warmth and went into the moist darkness of Helsinki to spend some hobo-lifestyle time.

"We should go to Perkele to pass flyers." -Good idea. So we went to PRKL Club and got free coat service from the staff, who felt sympathy for a couple of shabby drifters. We left just bags with empty bottles there. Meeting a couple of employees, Ami and Jussi, meant that we could slightly pressure them to offer us some Jaegermeister and Irish Coffee. After some quality time, the night was calling us once again. Upon leaving we were greeted by a surprise: the chef of the club had packed us some food into doggy bags.

Cradling some empty bottles and our chow we went to Ateneum's grass to eat. Wieners, bacon, mash and something I didn't recognize, all good anyways. Thank you, master chef of Perkele! It's within reason to claim that these portions were the deciding factor that prevented us from dying that night.

Before leaving I went downstairs at PRKL to try some covert sleeping, which was a decent success. A cold drifter will probably face more trouble getting in than finding a dark spot to squeeze into for a nap. Also, homeless people don't often have men on the inside... In any case, public toilets are more likely better spots to close your eyes for a moment. -Turo

We had seen a construction site on the way and headed there to look for a place to stay for the night. We encountered a tall fence with some barbed wire on top, which we didn't spot in the dark. With a couple of cuts we managed to climb over to the other side and set up camp. The night wasn't pleasant at all, sleeping on wet pavement is slightly terrible and the cold certainly didn't help.

I have to say, the Zivilverteidigung outfit beats a bad sleeping bag. The night was far from comfortable, but this East-German quilted suit is a good choice for sleeping in parks in October. -Turo

Saturday

We somehow made it through the night with a few hours of sleep. Cold as hell at eight in the morning we walked to McDonald's in Sokos to get some breakfast. Coffee and a cheeseburger, 2 euros. From there we went to a grocery store in Kamppi to buy some juice and found ourselves in a nearby dog park to get some rest. The sun came up and we started feeling a bit warmer. In the dog park, we saw some exotic animals, such as a polar bear. It was rather peculiar since I wasn't quite sure if I was awake or not.

We decided to get back to the construction site and sleep a bit more. This time we noticed a doorway in the fence and avoided playing with barbed wire. It was some kind of a storage place for planks and concrete sacks.

We also found a pillow and some wool clothes: apparently an actual hobo crashes there. I wasn't quite in my sharpest mind and used a concrete sack as a pillow.

Pro-Tips

Sleeping in construction sites is pretty OK. As long as you don't break things and piss in the corners, no-one should have cause to be angry about it. They are often peaceful places after working hours, but it's advisable to mind the opinions of security guards and site employees.

There are also several homeless shelters in Helsinki. These are open to anyone in any condition, but it also means the company isn't necessarily great. It's a common sight in these places to see the police drag bad boys away. Shelters make the difference between survival and death for many during winter months. If you try hard enough, you could get the police to lock you up for the night, but this requires a skilled attempt or a dissociative mental state. The police are reasonably friendly as they drag drunks to jail.

I favor late McDonalds' in Kamppi, Sokos and Forum, which are open until five in the morning. You can't sleep there, but sipping on some coffee is cool. They are then closed for a couple of hours, which you can spend at the railway station. Surviving the nights carries an element of suspense, but can be very repetitive.

At midday we got really hungry and chose to have a couple of 1-€ cheeseburgers in the Hakaniemi McDonald's. We also visited the pharmacists there to get some ibuprofen for Turo's headache. The general feeling wasn't as good as it could be. We spent the rest of the day in Kamppi trying to pass on flyers. This was difficult.

On the way to Kamppi, we stopped to sit down at the Hakaniemi waterfront, where I spent 50 cents to enjoy a public toilet for two reasons. The first one was nostalgic: if you're crawling out of the pub at four in the morning and going to fort Suomenlinna on the morning ferry for one reason or another, it can be a good idea to occupy these toilets at the market square. The ferry terminal doesn't open before six o' clock and two drunk hours during the winter can become fairly cold ones. The other reason sucked. Between Kamppi and Hotel Kämp we also dropped some flyers to Kino Maxim. -Turo

At some point we found ourselves in front of Hotel Kämp staring at rich people, when suddenly someone started shouting at us in English something about Germans. He came forward and realized we're all Finns. Once again the (West-) German flag was proven to be some kind of secret code for Finnish patriots. He gestured strongly while telling us about rubbish people, deporting them, and Baltic herring. Yes: that man gave us tomato herring, because "Finland needs men like us". At the end of this weird conversation, he also gave us a fiver and went towards karaoke bar Pata-Ässä. What can you say but thanks for the fish and money? After gathering back our belief of real life we started strolling towards Narinkkatori square in Kamppi.

Kamppi was boring. We took shelter from the rain and gathered empty bottles. The feeling was still pretty bad and the stomach started to ache as well. We went to McDonald's Kamppi to get some cheese-bacon burgers because we had found plenty of bottles so we had the cash to spend. The rain finally stopped and our employee from the graphics team came to take some pictures of us. We told him about all the weird things we had encountered and showed where we had spent the night and so on.

We ended back to Perkele, where Hupli offered us coffee, although we were quite well off on our own. After parting ways with him we declared the field test to have ended. We took our emergency phone and called the designated driver, Pötkö, that he could pick us up from Kisahalli.

The rain began pouring and behind Kisahalli we finally got soaked. Pötkö arrived and dropped us off at Varusteleka HQ. We gave him herrings from the fanatic and a bottle of red wine from the millionaire. We heard that the bottle later broke.

Conclusive words

You can get warm clothes for peanuts, but you'll look like an idiot. There's more to drifting than funny clothes. Being homeless is not good. Anyone can be "homeless" for a weekend, especially if you run into interesting scenes as we did. In all seriousness, it's a horrible phenomenon and shouldn't be a laughing stock. My sympathies are with actual homeless people who got the short end of the stick.

Pro-tip from Eric

Helsinki is full of empty bottles and cans. This endless stream of money is just waiting to be picked. The downside is that some people actually make a living by gathering bottles and cashing the deposits, and they may be willing to hurt competitors in their territory. Thanks to freedom of movement and bothersome Roma beggars.

Actual thanks: the girl tending the bar at Wall Street Bar, Laestadian millionaire, the doorman, chef and bartender with a mohawk at PRKL Club, the fanatic in front of Hotel Kämp, Samu Hupli and Pötkö. I also want to extend special thanks to Kristus Mikkonen aka. "Skitso-Make", whose teachings have been greatly helpful to me in life.

Eric's product reviews

NVA Officer's Raincoat, surplus

Superb choice for this task. The jacket kept wind and rain off me, which is a key point in urban survival when you sleep outside. The jacket itself is not that warm, so add layers to increase insulation in colder weather. Quite stylish, too, would probably make a good overcoat for festivities.

British "Chinese Fighting Jacket”, surplus

Without this one I probably wouldn't have made the night outside. Not the best quilted liner around, but good enough. And cheap.

BW field trousers, Flecktarn, surplus

A budget choice for those who are not overweight. The price is laughable for durable, windproof and practical trousers. The pockets are roomy and there's enough of them.

Czechoslovakian M60 combat boots, surplus

I stumbled upon a fitting pair of these from the pile of used ones. My initial thought was that it's cheating to pick these, as the purpose of the journey was to be a miserable drifter. They fit quite well otherwise, but the ankle strap didn't have enough adjustment range for me, so my socks were drifting constantly when walking. Otherwise these were the part, kept the water out and drunks off my toes.

BW wool cap, surplus

A really good German watch cap. Too warm for autumn days, but indispensable when it gets cold. For some reason I had ditched the cap during the night and wrapped the neck scarf around my head. I don't really know why.

Polish mittens, "Leopard camo", surplus

These were surprisingly effective mitts. My fingers remained warm despite getting a little wet, and they remained moist for the rest of the time. Good gloves are very important when you're a homeless drifter, because you don't want to rummage through trash cans with your bare hands.

Some cotton underwear

The budget ruled out merino wool and other superfibers, so I picked the cheapest cotton I found for sale. Cotton in itself is OK until you're sweating or get soaked in the rain. Neither challenge presented itself to us, so these worked well enough. If you end up living on the streets, I strongly recommend acquiring woollen long johns from a flea market or such. It'll extend your life.

Varusteleka plastic tote bag

Flimsy bag that broke down quickly in our use.

Turo's product reviews

DDR Zivilverteidigung quilted jacket and trousers, surplus

My Euro jacket size is 52-54, but the East-German size 48G fit quite well with a field shirt and base layer underneath. The same size trousers were suitable as well. Very warm and comfortable thermal clothes for doing nothing but laying around in a park. Cheap as chips!

NVA foot wraps, surplus

I probably folded these incorrectly, because they shifted and drifted around my feet in use. Pretty warm and comfortable, once worn right. Despite being a bit moist after the day, they still offered a degree of insulation during the night. OK stuff for the price, but in all seriousness, I'll just use these as shoe-polishing rags from here on.

Czech M85 mittens

Warm and nice. Buy these and go ice-fishing!

NVA base layer, surplus

Here we go: cotton. Don't piss your pants!

BW rubber boots, surplus

Excellent rubber boots. However, rubber boots are rubber boots are rubber boots.

NVA breeches

These are awesome trousers. You get free booze when you wear these.

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