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to shape the emerging metropolis | Ahead of the Curve

Nowadays, It's 'Modem, Sweet Modem'

February 06, 1996|Associated Press

Neal Berry has a laptop computer, a cellular phone, a screaming-fast modem and a slew of friends on the Internet.

About the only things he doesn't have are a place to live and a job.

Could the 22-year-old from Los Angeles be the leading edge of a new demographic? He may be the first to surf the 'Net from beneath a freeway bridge, a living arrangement that is very much his choice.

"People don't understand why I chose to live on the streets, but I don't understand why they're willing to pay $500 a month just for a place to live," he said. "All a house is is a glorified cardboard box."

His outdoor digs in upscale Marin County include a tent, a mattress, some clothes and his connections to the online world. He got a post office box and a voice mail account so he could get mail and phone calls. Next came a pager, so he'd know when someone had called his voice mail number. Then a cellular phone account so he could make calls.

Last summer, he got a laptop so he could log in from his tent. He used an adapter to connect his equipment to heavy-duty batteries.

"With me, instead of watching TV six hours a day, I'm on line, talking to real live people," Berry said. He hangs out on a bulletin board where "everybody . . . was so nice and so friendly. They all wanted to meet me."

The batteries were his undoing. Last month the Highway Patrol discovered his roost, including several 24-volt, 50-pound batteries belonging to the state Department of Transportation. He was arrested and charged with theft.

"We're not talking DieHard," said Novato Police Sgt. Jim Laveroni. "We're talking large, earthmoving equipment batteries."

Berry, who said he found the batteries, was released without bail last week after five days in jail and recommended for a program that will clear his record if he stays out of trouble.

As soon as his legal problems are cleared up, Berry said, he plans to head north to Eugene, Ore.

"I'm going to move, find work, get a place and eventually save money and buy more hardware and software and books, so I can learn how to program," he said.

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