I apologise for posting so soon, but as I have four already lined up, I’d rather just get on with it.
Like most people, I inhabit two worlds : that of home and that of work. We all change hats several times a day between parent, partner, co worker, friend etc, over the course of the day, but I have a very distinct split between the two physical spaces I inhabit on a daily basis. I live in a pretty small town and to say that they roll up the sidewalks at seven pm would not be too much of an exaggeration. My morning 15 minute walk to the boat is along a gravel path and then the main drag. The only other people I encounter are fellow commuters and the occasional delivery guy dropping off supplies at any one of the numerous “Downtown” stores. It’s a quiet walk along a well maintained and clean pavement with uninhabited doorways all the way down. On the boat, my fellow passengers are decked out in durable outerwear and The North Face, Arcteryx and REI labels abound. They sit chatting or reading, often from screens whilst sipping ( I assume shade grown, fair trade organic) coffee from travel mugs or from Thermos flasks that resemble nothing so much as post – modern artillery shells and eat whatever they have brought for breakfast.
Upon reaching the other side, one is faced with two options: One can either be assailed by the stench of stale urine, or by taking a different route, a host of Somali town car drivers touting for business. The choice is yours. I go for the urine free route as it is not only quicker but also less upsetting. This doesn’t last for long however as the first sight that greets me upon leaving the terminal is that of someone sleeping underneath the eaves of the Subway outlet wrapped in the sort of felt blanket used by movers to protect furniture. It gets worse. after crossing the road the first thing I see is a small dome tent set up underneath the viaduct, the guy ropes held in place by concrete blocks and a wheelchair parked outside. Just dwell on that for a moment. This tent along with a couple of others nearby seem to be permanent fixtures, and I can’t even begin to imagine what life must be like for their residents. Nor do I really want to, if I am being honest.
The rest of the walk is fairly uneventful as the residents stir from their doorways and collect in small huddles in the park or near the day center front doors, waiting for them to open. There are a couple of exceptions: namely the scrawny individual in heels, fishnets and leather mini skirt who was several yards ahead of me one morning. Lets’ face it, most people aren’t dressed like that at 7 AM and my first reaction of “That’s a dude” proved disturbingly accurate. The other is the man camped in the corner doorway at the last light before my office who on at least two occasions last week greeted the new day by hurling abuse at someone only he could see.
The evening walk is sometimes offers more more interesting sights, including the old guy, naked from the waist up throwing various items of clothing into his open suitcase which was lying in the road to the obvious amusement and bemusement of the onlooking police officer waiting for his backup to arrive. Or perhaps the woman who seemed to be engaged in a mixture of interpretive dance and traffic direction despite the lack of either music or traffic. Other locals are in full vigour and never seem to miss a chance to hit someone up for money. I will admit that they are always polite, and begin with “Sir, sir!” before introducing themselves and inquiring about your general well being before asking for enough cash (often $10) to pay for a bed at a certain local hostel. Now, I realise that Christians can be a pretty uncharitable group at times, but I find it very difficult to believe that even they would charge a homeless person $10 for a bed. Needless to say I avoid such encounters as much as I can, as not only do I not carry much cash, (due largely to not having much anyway) but I’m not as green as I’m cabbage looking, and earphones and a brisk walking pace also help one avoid most interactions.
I realise this all sounds a bit harsh, but what am I supposed to do? Any money I give will no doubt be used to buy either a hit or a 40 ouncer, and I’m just not going to support that. Within 45 minutes of leaving work I am back home, in my slippers and ready to enjoy dinner. I know my commute sounds a bit like a case of “Cheap holidays in other people’s misery” but how many of us are absolutely sure that we are not just one financial disaster away from standing on a street corner with a message on a piece of cardboard in one hand and a used soda cup in the other? I’m damn sure I’m not.