Speak Up vendor’s Requiem for a Lost Generation

Dustin has lost many friends. This piece is an ode to many of those homeless companions who have passed on.

By Dustin Lapres, Speak Up vendor

I would like to take a moment to remember some of the Brothers we lost along the way. Growing up in an upper-middle-class home, I never dreamed that I would live the life I have, and it has been a very tough life. Those who know me well can attest to that. And yet, I can honestly say, if I had to do it all again, I would do it the all the same.

I say this not because of the brutality I have experienced, or the multiple incarcerations, the periods of gnawing hunger and near frostbitten extremities, the day-to-day filthiness that I have had to endure for lack of clean clothes and shower facilities, nor the shame which was an ever-burdening companion during my days living publicly. I say this and can say it unequivocally because of the people I have met along the way.

If I had done one thing differently, I may never have had the chance to know some of the most beautiful people I have ever been graced with the opportunity to share a bottle or a campsite and a meal and the occasional adventure with. Let’s pay homage to some of the old school hobos who taught me as a young man to survive and thrive on the street.

Dustin Lapres

When I was about 12, I met my first homeless friend. His name was Ralph Laymette, and he was a 50-something-year-old Vietnam vet who camped here in Traverse during the summers and then hitchhiked to Jacksonville for the winters.

The day I met him, he invited me to his campfire and shared a fish with me which he had caught out of Boardman River/ Lake right around the trestle (long before they developed that area) which used to be the prime camping area for the hobo culture as it was an abandoned, unloved part of town, and most people stayed out of there.

Ralph and I began to hang out regularly. Ralph taught me how to dumpsterdive and to go canning [collecting cans for the deposit refund value], how to build a shelter or look for a natural one. He told me stories about his life, and he loved me like a son — something I badly needed in my life because at just 12 and 13 years old, I was contemplating suicide because of my problems socially, as well as at home.

As I grew older, I spent many summers with Ralph and shared many 40-ouncers over a camp fire. He loved me at a time in my life in a way that I like to think now probably saved me. I needed that friend at that moment in time.

Ralph died while I was away in prison around the turn of the millennium. After 30+ years of fighting with the government over his benefits as a Vietnam Veteran, he received a settlement for a large sum; and that same week as he was riding into town to go to the store, the vehicle he was in was destroyed. Ralph didn’t make it.

“Steve befriended me when I had nobody and nothing. Had he not been there, I may not have made it.”

Another close friend was Steve Gunn. Steve was a lot like Sam Elliott [the American actor known for playing cowboys] — a tough old long-haired biker cat with a hard attitude and a heart of gold. I met Steve when I was 15 and hung out with him almost daily for a few years. He and I had some great adventures canning, and his stories always chased away the loneliness and fear that were always so pervasive during those young street years for me.

Steve had been a roadie for the Grateful Dead, amongst other things; and in his rugged biker/cowboy way, he was a very loving friend… always ready to fight at the drop of a hat to protect his friends.

Steve befriended me and stuck with me during a time when I had nobody and nothing — I was sleeping in the Civic Center bathroom some nights and outdoors other nights. Nobody was really there for me except him and my homeless friends. Had he not been there, I may not have made it. I had every reason to give up, but men like him kept me going.

Steve died while I was away in prison in 2005-2006. He went to Safe Harbor on a sub-zero night, and they turned him away for being drunk and refusing to leave his bottle. He made it a few blocks away onto the State Hospital grounds and fell in the creek and froze to death. He was one of the smartest men I have ever known.

Requiem for a Lost Generation as it appeared in Speak Up

Larry Delater was probably one of the most steadfast friends I have ever known. I met Larry when he moved to Michigan shortly after I was released from prison. A sweeter, gentler human being I have never known.

Larry was homeless much of his life; and toward the end of it, he received disability and CMH housing. I saw him nearly every day the last 10 years when I was not locked up. He always gave me a place to sleep, food to eat, lent me a few bucks. He adored me. To Little Larry, I was a rockstar, and he would sit and listen to me play for hours, tickled to death.

I had a lot of problems after the better part of a decade in institutions, and yet Larry always accepted me the way I was. He was my brother, and I loved him.

The post-prison days were initially very tough for me. I had nobody and nothing, and once again, fate smiled on me and put this goofy little street kid right there beside me to become my best friend. I learned so much from him about how to love people again and how valuable we all are as humans.

Larry passed last June while I was away in treatment. It crushed me, but he left behind a legacy in our memories. He was a diabetic and died due to complications at only 39, but he lived such a rich life in terms of experience. I wrote a song for him upon his passing that my wife and I still play daily.

These lost souls, this generation of lost people who were so undervalued by society and yet shone so brilliantly in my life and the lives of those who took the time to get to know them.

Times are changing. The era in which we all came of age as homeless men has passed. Back in those days, there was no Safe Harbor, no shelter for homeless kids/teens like Pete’s Place, and no breakfasts and very few meals. The people back then were even colder to us and the police were even harder. We had no one, nothing, and nowhere except each other.

When most of my friends were going to proms and driving new cars their folks had paid for, I was on the streets thinking seriously about ending my life so young. And yet at exactly the right moments, these people came into my life and accepted me and showed me love and taught me and protected me. I am what I am today because of all of them.

So, no. Ask again and I will tell you again, I wouldn’t change a thing. If you ask me, these were the brightest stars of their respective times — these tarnished diamonds in the rough who never failed to be their brother’s keeper and who lived so worldly in terms of their vices, yet so Godly in terms of the way in which they were unattached to the material life, and as ever-so-intent upon loving their fellow man.


15 thoughts on “Speak Up vendor’s Requiem for a Lost Generation

  1. Very nice tribute, Dustin. I’m so glad that through out your troubled young life, you have now found happiness in who you are, and what you’re made of.

    1. Thank you for this tribute and these honest, raw words. I know Joshua was also happy to have met you along his path as well.

    2. ThAnk you Deb and yes–One of the main themes in This piece is that these men helped me become who I am and I wouldn’t change that for the world today! God bless and thanks for reading–I love it when readers respond!

  2. Beautifully written my friend. You are an inspiration to others who will read this and think if he can do it so can I. You have nothing but a wonderful future to look to! You are loved by many my friend! Great read as alway!

  3. This is a really heart warming story! I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful person in my life!

  4. Dustin, I can say those men gave you a big heart I hope you continue their legacy to help others just like you…young and old…I’m crying as I txt this…this is a very touching article…it’s a shame how society separates us…I’m hoping this article is shared thru out….if at all possible can I share this?…

  5. Dustin,
    I am so honored to hear your story and see what you have done to better your life, yet not forget those who helped shape who you are today. I think you deserve to win with this article, Josh would be so proud of you today!

    1. God bless you George, and truth be told it is Josh who inspired me and who still at times gives me the strength to carry on–he has meaning and power even after death. I love you and Kim both.

  6. That was very very touching. When you mentioned my brother Larry DeLater I immediately started to cry. I remember he would always looked forward into meeting you as I told him about you as we was friends for the most of it. I always told my brother how great of a guy that you was and I remember my brother telling me, “your right I love him, he is such a great person”. You know Dustin, we have been friends for over half your life, but that was the greatest moment of when my brother meet you for the first time. I can’t stop crying, those are some great memories. Love you Dustin ” brother ” and love you also Larry DeLater “brother.” I sure do miss those times we had Dustin. Great memories that I wouldn’t change it either. God bless!!!!

  7. Bravo Dustin!! Your writing is always such an amazing experience for this reader! We now trudge a sober path with you, which I’m sure you’ve discovered, can be equally brutal to those you’ve endured in your past. Your past has formed an amazing human being that I am fortunate to call my friend! Your strength, courage and wisdom are priceless! These gifts have spared so many already….even if for just a few more months, days or minutes. I can not thank you enough for taking me in and sharing your home and family with me when I took the job in Traverse City! Those months will forever remain a bright spot in my life here! I wish you the very best in this contest and the even greater one of life!! Much Love!

  8. Oh my…You’re an inspiration and have inspired me.I feel the love and hope in you writing.This is such a beautiful piece.It seems as though your not forgetting you have recieved this gift that you share.Man,this touched me deeply.Keep fighting the good fight.Thank you,Kenneth VanDeventer.

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