Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Same Planet—Different World

I found myself waiting at a train & bus station recently for a little longer than I normally do. The human interaction among the people waiting there was intriguing. And I should add, educational.

One older gentleman wore shabby, dirty clothes and slowly made his way through the small crowd asking for money. Most people ignored him or shook their heads. He passed a young lady who wore stylish clothing and yapped loudly on her phone. When he asked her, she looked at him like he was a disgusting parasite.

"Get the hell away from me. I hate you *$#%@ homeless bums begging all the time." She turned away from him and continued her phone conversation. She made sure her friend—and everyone else there—knew how much the @%^$# homeless guy bugged her.

The man quietly commented that he was just trying to get by and she didn't need to be so rude to him. He then asked me for some help to get bus money. I gave him a couple dollars in hopes he would stay for a minute and talk with me. He thanked me and asked God to bless me, then commented again on the rudeness of his previous client. He went into an interesting speech that I'm sure he'd practiced.

"You know, I don't like panhandling, but I don't have much of a choice. I'm between jobs and doing the best I can. You know, if they banned panhandling back in the thirties during the Great Depression, a lot of people would have starved to death. Then a lot of us probably wouldn't even be here now, you know."

I agreed with him. "We're all on this planet together. I guess we need to watch out for each other now and again."

He gave me a knuckle punch and left, and I noticed he wasn't heading for a bus stop.

Another man stepped over and spoke to me. "I've seen that guy here almost every day, but I've never seen him take a bus."

I figured that was probably the case. "Well, maybe he just needs a drink."

We started a conversation. He'd grown up in the area not far from the train station. It was amazing how much things had changed since he was little. I told him how I'd taken the bus when I was younger and it was only ten cents back then. I also related how I rode the bus to Deseret Gym.

As soon as he heard that, it was like we were sudden kindred spirits. "I used to go there all the time. We could walk to it from my house. They had handball and racquetball and swimming and basketball. That was our hangout spot. It's a shame they tore it down. Now you can't find anything like that for anywhere near the price."

Then a seagull flew over and he ducked. "Watch out—Mormon Dive Bombers."

That was a phrase I hadn't heard in a while. You probably only know what it means if you're from northern Utah.

I asked if he worked in the area, but no, he was between jobs himself. I'd been out of work at one point in my own life, so I could relate with him. He boarded the next bus and I continued my wait.

Two young ladies walked up and sat on the bench. Both were in high heels, tight jeans, revealing tops, and lots of makeup, piercings, and tattoos. They started talking about the men they'd just been with and the odd things they'd done. I decided it might not be in my best interest to have a conversation with them, although I might have learned something new.

Another young man came by, probably in his mid-twenties. He wore a long, dirty coat and an old hat. He had a different method of asking for help.

"Spare change or dollar bills. Spare change or dollar bills." That's all he said as he meandered through the crowd. I didn't notice anyone give him anything.

Another older man put on some blue rubber evidence gloves and sifted through the garbage can. I found that interesting. Was he looking for food? If so, would the gloves protect him from anything he ingested? He didn't find anything, but was happy when a lady offered him a drag from her cigarette. Then he took the gloves off and walked around the station, politely asking for any help.

A young man sitting nearby and dressed in a tight white teeshirt and dirty work jeans saw this new panhandler. "Hey, you got arms, you got legs, go get a job." He spoke with a heavy accent and was obviously an immigrant, and probably a hard-working one.

A well-dressed lady holding a large binder and standing next to him spoke. "You don't need to say that to him."

The young guy laughed. "These people all get money from the government, then they still come out here and ask for more. I work. I pay taxes. Then the government gives the money to these people."

The lady shook her head. "I work with homeless people all the time, and I don't think it works that way."

The guy was unfazed. "He can get a job. I got a job and I ain't even white."

My bus came next, so I boarded it and rode off to my destination.

We're all on the same planet, but we all come from different worlds.

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