For most Sacramento residents, losing an earring in a parking garage is unfortunate, yet the jewelry is replaceable. But for the homeless who choose Old Sacramento as their home base, a lost earring could be their next meal ticket, the price of Donald “Don” Frueh’s sleet grey skateboard or the tattered red baseball cap sitting on Chris Lanse’s head.
Lanse was born and raised in Sacramento and chose to stay local to remain close to his 6-year-old son, Nate. Frueh and his dog, Nemesis, have lived all around Sacramento for about five years. He takes pride in the nomadic lifestyle and the freedom it provides.
While both men live here with different personal motives, they agree getting by in the California capital takes ingenious thinking. Lanse and Frueh use found objects, such as earrings, in a system that harkens back to a time predating Old Sac: bartering.
“Everything I have came from the streets.” Lanse said, displaying his findings on the warm concrete. “My dual USB portable charger, Wonderboom, which is an over-$100 speaker – everything.”
Bartering and trading is a staple within homeless communities across the country. This way of life belongs to an era when the things people carried played an essential role in their lives, as opposed to our modern society, where many see their possessions as expendable, even if they don’t realize it.
Shelby Barritt, Sactown Sports Bar & Grill bartender, sees it every day. Her bar gets numerous items lost every day, ranging from phones, jackets, purses and credit cards.
“We’ve had a phone in the safe since New Year’s,” Barritt said.
The owner of that phone, which is tucked away and undamaged in the safe, likely spent hundreds of dollars replacing it.
While Frueh chooses not to carry personal electronics in fear of theft, Lanse embraces their presence in his life. Lanse currently has a smartphone. While he lacks service, relying solely on wifi, his phone is full of pictures of him and Nate, who is currently in the custody of his ex-girlfriend’s sister.
Lanse recognizes the value electronics hold in the world of trade. A forgotten iPhone could mean two weeks shelter, money to buy a gift for his son or a way to purchase Frueh’s current meal of choice, organic peanut butter sticks.
Everyone loses things. It’s human nature to lose sight of the tiny key chain bought on a vacation to Old Sacramento in the midst of big picture problems. Most people can recall one time in their life where they’ve lost something, or found an item awaiting its owner’s return.
Las Vegas native Kim Voskuil, who is staying with her sister on a vacation in Sacramento, is currently trying to find the owner of an expensive digital camera she discovered when hiking a trail in Nevada.
“I found a camera with some nice pictures on it. Hiking and climbing photos mostly. I’m still trying to find the owner,” Voskuil said.
The chances of Voskuil reuniting the lost camera with its rightful owner are slim, and little does she know that an item like this lost camera could be the difference between going hungry and a full stomach for someone like Lanse or Frueh.
State Park ranger Karsten Banz says people misplace their belongings everywhere, especially in Old Sac. Banz routinely finds lavish-looking handbags sitting alone on train seats, as well as the occasional wedding band that slipped through the cracks of creaky, wooden floor panels framing the historic section of town.
The truth of the matter is most lost belongings are never reunited with their original owner. But as Frueh and Lanse can attest, found items gain a second life as currency for survival.
Neither man is a thief searching for their next target. Frueh detailed the number of Bluetooth headphones he finds in Old Sacramento and the lengths he’s gone to find the owners.
“I found a pair of nice, expensive Bluetooth headphones. I hung around the area where I found them,” Frueh said. “I asked the security guard around the business [area], and he said ‘Nope, they’re yours.’”
Along with finding commercially valuable items on the street, Frueh enjoys searching for broken items and giving them new life. His most profitable endeavor is finding vape pens along the street and reassembling them into pipes for smoking marijuana.
Lanse’s interests lie more in the music department. Lanse procured his impressively loud Wonderboom speaker through the Old Sac trade system and speaks enthusiastically about the role music plays in his life. His mantra: “Music makes the world go round, not money.”
Lanse feels as though the world isn’t quite the same when his speaker dies.
“It sounds weird, but whenever my speaker dies, there’s instant silence. You don’t hear nothing. Everything seems like it comes to a standstill,” Lanse said.
Frueh and Lanse have seen firsthand the quality objects Sacramentans throw away, and they benefit of our throw-away culture. Lanse is accustomed to finding functioning computers and gaming systems, along with all the necessary wiring and games, together in the trash.
These nomads know not to carry anything of high economic value for too long, choosing to trade what they find immediately in fear of it being stolen. This is because theft is common in homeless communities. What they do keep are their necessities.
Their most valuable possessions? For Lanse, it’s his speaker and the coloring books he finds along Old Sac’s cobblestone streets. He enjoys collecting them and any brightly colored pens tourists leave behind. For Frueh, it’s his skateboard and any extra boards he can trade.
For both men, living on the street is a lifestyle choice, not an unfortunate circumstance. Lanse feels that living on the streets suits him better than being confined to a closed space; Frueh merely likes to sleep outside.
“I know what it’s like living inside,” Lanse said. “It comes down to four walls.”
Using trade as currency may not be ideal for the average American, but these two vagabonds have mastered the art of seeing value in items left behind on a vacation to Old Sac.
“Everything is tradeable to someone,” Frueh said.