I saw him again today, standing on the corner of 9th and Hennepin. We had a slushy mix of rain and snow last night, and today the sidewalks were covered in water and ice. Every curb sported at least a three inch-deep puddle. I spotted him standing there under the red awning of the closed porn shop, and I lowered my gaze. Thankfully I was too busy navigating the icy puddle and maneuvering around the crowd of people who just stepped off the bus to make eye contact.
He just stood there, arms in his coat pockets, bag resting on the concrete sidewalk. One more person passing him by.
Do you have any spare change?
How are you supposed to answer that? Of course I do. I have fifty cents in my bag and another dollar in my wallet. Do I need it? Not really. I could fairly easily part with it.
But how do you answer the request, usually from a homeless person? Some people like to answer ‘no,’ and quickly walk away, rationalizing that free hand outs won’t help anyone. And there might be some truth to that. But part of me thinks that’s just a nice excuse to clear your conscience and walk away guilt-free.
My standard answer is to pat my pockets and mumble something like, “No, sorry, I don’t,” –which is usually a lie. I’d have to dig that fifty cents out of my bag and I’d be two minutes late for work. Even though I get there ten minutes early every day. There’s one guy I recognize. He always stands on the corner of ninth street in front of the closed-up porno shop. A bag sits on the ground next to him and he stands there with his hands in his pockets, looking rather purposeful. Twice he’s asked me for change, but he hasn’t asked recently. He must recognize me and figured two times was plenty. Now when I see him I’ve taken to keeping my eyes on the pavement and not making eye contact.
I can’t help but wonder if there’s a better way. Is it a good idea to give fifty cent handouts? Does that accomplish anything? Is there a way I can help these people more? I saw a guy standing on the corner of a shopping plaza holding a sign that said he needed work. Are jobs that scarce? Sometimes I wonder if these homeless people truly have gotten a bum deal (no pun intended), or if they’re just lazy. I understand that it’s difficult to get a job when you have no place to stay, but is it really as bad as that? And if so, isn’t there a more reliable way I can help then giving you my spare change? It just seems like we need a better solution.
A hunter orange jacket. A rainbow colored yarmulke. A full beard. He bowed his head four times on the bus.
A black leather trench-coat. A black fedora. Bleached blond hair that stuck out below the hat in the back, but not at all on the sides. Black, Frankenstien boots with souls two inches thick. He asked where Shinders Bookstore was, and I didn’t know. I pass it every day on the way to work, but I didn’t know the comic book shop with the poster of Wolverine in the window was called Shinders.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” Five times. Just like that. The cop whipped a u-turn, parked on the curb, and stepped out to utter those words. I was too busy making sure he wasn’t talking to me to notice who he was talking to. “What do you think you’re doing?” The questions continued for the man who crossed the street when the little red hand said don’t cross, but I was already crossing 8th street.
So many people, and I’m supposed to love them all? Some days I don’t even love myself.
You never truly appreciate something until you’ve had to live without it. And if you simply can’t live without it, it must deserve a lot of appreciation. Two summers ago I went without. I can’t exactly say what I went without, because I went without just about everything. But I still had so much. I talked to a man who had nothing, and he marveled at my extravagance. Me, the street performer who ate peanut butter and jelly for lunch and washed it down with water from the drinking fountain. Me, the boy who took a 45-minute walk because it was cheaper than the bus, and the bus wasn’t that much faster.
And there are others in this world who would marvel at even less. To us meat comes from the grocery store, just the way God intended. We think only hicks and barbarians kill animals. It’s so cruel and mean. We’re so sophisticated with our chain of supply and demand that removes the consumer from the consumed by 700 miles and an air conditioned semi-truck driven by a guy named Pat who stops at a truck stop in Iowa to relieve himself.
People. Walking to and from the bus stops and riding the bus has reminded me of people. People seem real in a way they’ve never been before–not when I drove to work anyway. There’s something about freezing next to somebody while you wait for the light to change that gives you a sense of compassion. Being trapped in an enclosed automobile seems to quell this feeling, this understanding. Sitting next to total strangers, sitting around total strangers reminds me that we are all human.
It’s not that I’m connecting with anyone on a deep spiritual level–I’m not connecting with anyone period. I don’t like the fact that bus passengers have this cold acknowledgment of one another. We let you sit next to us, but we barely grumble a hello, if you’re lucky. And if a seat opens up, you better go take it. We wouldn’t want to sit next to each other if we didn’t have to.
But despite the distance, I still see these people. I see their faces, their skin, not the make and model of their car as it speeds by at 55 mph.
And aren’t people what’s really important? The rest is just clutter. Or it should be.
Of course I still don’t know how to connect with these people–or if I even should. Is it any better to see people as opposed to not seeing them if nothing comes of it? Or is seeing enough? I like to think it is.
There’s something about public transportation I really like. Every day I take the bus to and from work, and the trip involves a fair amount of walking. I like public transportation mainly because I don’t have to drive. Now don’t get me wrong, I like driving. I don’t like rush hour traffic. I don’t like speeding down the freeway with one eye on the clock because I know I’m late. I like sitting there and staring out the window. I like sitting there and reading a book. I like sitting there and writing. It’s great. I don’t have to do anything. I also like the fact that all sorts of people ride the bus. There are account executives, janitors, painters, secretaries, and even an assistant editor. There are people from all walks of life–often times people I wouldn’t ordinarily run into in my sheltered life. It kind of levels the playing field. It reminds me that I’m not so hot, in a way that passing and being passed on the freeway doesn’t. There’s something about sharing a seat with a big guy in a hefty winter jacket reading John Grisham’s The Brethren. I also think more people should do some walking on their way to work. It would probably slow the rise of the national obesity rate.
There and back again. It’s always where I’m going. And going is something I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Frankly, I’m getting sick of it. For the past three weeks I’ve been homeless, kicked out of my summer housing and not yet allowed in my fall housing. I stayed with a family from church and was able to keep working at my summer job. This week I finally moved into my fall housing, and then left again for home. I haven’t been home since Christmas. In a few short days I’ll be on the move again, but hopefully by this time next week I’ll have settled down.
In a cryptic nutshell, that’s my excuse for not posting my thoughts here for the past few weeks. It’s also my excuse for any haphazard postings in the next few days. But I haven’t completely stopped writing. In fact, I’ve probably been writing more. And I love it.
Continue reading Discovering Public Transportation
Traffic time thoughts are so scattered. The traffic is buzzing by, the accelerator is getting closer and closer to the floor, and you’re watching the minutes tick by on the clock. You know you have to be on the freeway by 8:17 or you’ll be late. It’s 8:19. Maybe if you walk fast you’ll make it. Maybe not.
I always feel bad when I’m driving. Especially lately because my commute takes me on the freeway and downtown St. Paul. I always feel like I’m making people angry. I’m not actually doing anything wrong, it’s just the tension level. There’s such a tension to commuting. You don’t see too many people taking a laid back commute. Sitting back, laughing, smiling. Those people are usually riding the train or the bus. Everybody’s sitting alone in their vehicle, flipping radio stations and switching lanes. It’s a pretty odd way to work things. But that’s the American way, so it has to be the right way.
Today’s traffic time thoughts were brought to you by Joe’s Transmission Service. Keep on commutin’, and keep us in business.
Gas. I’m sure if you have anything to do with driving an automobile you’ve noticed the rising gas prices lately. Here in Minnesota I’ve seen it as high as $1.55, and the best deal I’ve seen is $1.47. Like every other driver I’m grumbling at the high prices. But I have noticed something very interesting–no, disturbing is a better word. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to lower their production because they thought prices were too low. So now there’s a reduced supply and hence, higher prices.
Listening to the politicians try to figure out what to do about this is rather disheartening. Suggestions range from dropping the 4.3 cent gas tax, to canceling the moratorium on off-shore oil drilling, to imposing sanctions on OPEC members, to tapping into the US reserves, and they’re even considering opening a wildlife reserve in Alaska for exploratory drilling. Gas prices are too high, so we go to any length we can to squeeze more oil out of anywhere we can.
Continue reading Whining About Gas Prices
Life is hard on the streets. A hard days work for a hard day’s money. For everybody but me! I spent the day yo-yoing at the corner of Michigan and Pearson in downtown Chicago. But it’s not all fun and games. I did have to figure out the Chicago Transit Authority bus system, which is never an easy thing to figure out. But you know what I learned? It’s almost faster to walk. After waiting for the bus, and then considering that the bus stops at every stinkin’ corner, it takes just as much time to walk. I also earned myself a few cuts and bruises today. You think yo-yo’s are nice, safe toys, do ya? Well, I got news for you. I usually wrap three of my fingers to save them from string burns and blisters, and today I had to bandage a fourth. I also managed to bruise the palm of my hand. And as if the yo-yo wasn’t giving me enough trouble, I was hustled by a group of kids. They were determined to show me how good they could yo-yo, and were adamant that I pay them for their trouble. Kids. But to be serious, I did receive a few comments that me stop and think. One lady described my yo-yoing as, “real pretty,” which I think says a lot for the yo-yo itself (I can assure you the sweaty kid attached to the yo-yo wasn’t too pretty). Another kid asked what I was majoring in (the sign on my box says, “College Student”). I replied, “Writing.” He tossed a buck in my box and said, “Well write me a book.”
I’m also still loving the public transportation system here in Chicago. Rather than fight traffic for over an hour, I curl up with a book on the Metra. I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Rather than try to recapitulate what Lewis said and really mess it up, I’m just going to tell you to go read his book. It’s a very practical, very honest, and very logical defense of Christianity. Sometimes it’s a little too logical for me, but if you can wade through the deep mental waters, he says some very powerful stuff. Add it to your summer reading list. Oh wait, it is summer. Silly me. Go pick up the book now and read it.