Mad Mike with some weed discovered on the ground. Photo courtesy of Mad Mike
I first met Mad Mike the Hippie Bum at the turn of the millennium in New Orleans’s French Quarter, where he could often be found sitting on the ground playing folk songs featuring lyrics like “What would you do if little gnomes came and ate your poop at night?” (The goal was to get tourists to stop, listen, laugh, and ultimately donate.) Today, Mad Mike is 35 and still homeless but, thanks to a talent for scavenging, living in relative comfort in Austin, Texas, where he finds amazing amounts of drugs on the ground, which he considers to be his “career.” He also maintains a blog, called the Ground Score, about his life of homelessness (which he chose) and his habit of scooping up and sampling whatever powders or crystals he comes across. I talked to him recently to see how he was getting on.
VICE: How do Austin and New Orleans differ in terms of finding drugs on the ground?Mad Mike the Hippie Bum: I used to find drugs occasionally in New Orleans, but it was nothing you could base a career on. I think the number of college kids in Austin, combined with the heavy drinking culture, creates sort of a perfect storm of drug-losing. There is just a lot of opportunities for kids to buy drugs and subsequently drop them on the ground.
Do you scavenge enough food to sustain yourself?
In terms of food, clothing, and other supplies, yes. I do take showers at the local homeless shelter, and sometimes I'll eat some donated food or something, but for the most part I'm a self-sufficient scavenger. People are wasteful enough that a guy like me can easily live off the fat of the land. And it's a rare day that I don't find a gram or two.
What is the most expensive drug, or stash of drugs, you’ve found on the ground?
I found $500 worth of crack in New Orleans. In Austin the most expensive thing I've found is a bottle of Dom Pérignon, 2005. It was behind a dumpster in back of a restaurant—I think a waiter was trying to steal it and I beat him to the punch.
Did you smoke the $500 worth of crack you found on the ground?
Yes. I was with [New Orleans musician] Ray Bong when I found it—I told him, “We're just going to smoke a couple of rocks; then I'm going to sell the rest to a crackhead I know.” It didn't work out that way, of course. We ended up smoking the whole thing, and then we went to Jazz Fest the next day.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had trying a drug you found on the ground? Which mystery drug brought you closest to never trying another unknown drug again?
By far, the worst experience I've had was mistaking K2 [synthetic cannabis] for weed, back when it was a relatively new thing. There was a couple of times I was thinking about going to the hospital and asking them to knock me out until it wore off. Once, I lost an hour of time and thought I had teleported to a different part of town. That stuff will scare the hell out of you if you're not used to it.
What is the one bit of advice you would give people who want to find drugs on the ground?
Move to a college town and get to know a series of alleyways so well that you can tell if someone has been down them before you that day.
So you should learn the terrain near party spots?
Absolutely. Any place where people congregate to do drugs. Some bars are much better than others because they draw a stoner clientele—so, for example, you're likely to do much better at a nightclub that specializes in reggae or dance music than you are at a sports bar. Skate parks and bus stops have also yielded some interesting things. I can't tell you the very best spots, because then they'd get blown up and I'd have to find a new career.
Sometimes you’ll blog about finding a $100 bill or a box of chocolate-liqueur bottles, and it just feels like the universe is bringing this all to you. Do you think you find more drugs on the ground than other people do?
You mean, do I think God is helping me find the drugs? To tell you the truth, I'd like to think I have some kind of special mojo, but I'm pretty sure I do so well just because I spend so much time on it. If other people woke with the sun every morning and spent hours looking intently at the ground, they would probably find lots of stuff too.
Clearly, you’re of above average intelligence and are healthy enough. Why are you homeless?
There are lots of reasons, but the main thing is I just find it relaxing. There's a wonderful sense of freedom in hitting rock bottom. It's not like I can be evicted from my apartment. Plus, now that I'm writing, it has become a great source of material.
What’s the difference between you and those annoying, fake, wandering punks who hang out in every major American city and hassle people for spare change while pretending they don’t have trust funds?
The main difference between me and the people you are describing is that I have a strict rule against bothering anyone. I never panhandle, never ask for cigarettes, never pee or poo in your garden. I think everyone should have a sense of social responsibility and contribute to the community, homeless or not. Everything I do, from dumpster diving to finding drugs on the ground, is so I don't have to rely on other people to get by. I think lots of old-school homeless people are that way, but some of these Johnny-come-latelies are making it look bad for the rest of us. You have to judge the homeless as individuals.