"If there’s a world here in a hundred years, it’s going to be saved by tens of millions of little things. The powers-that-be can break up any big thing they want. They can corrupt it or co-opt it from the inside, or they can attack it from the outside. But what are they going to do about 10 million little things? They break up two of them, and three more like them spring up!"
- Pete Seeger, in YES! Magazine

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Give the time of day to a homeless man

The project:
Take a few minutes to talk to a homeless man.

10 minutes

Why bother?
This isn't something I normally do. Sure, I'm cordial when our paths cross with those of homeless people, but I don't typically have a conversation.

Today, however, I'd stopped by a convenience store to grab a quick drink no my way north for a speaking engagement. When I came out, there at the busy gas pump was a 1934 Ford roadster built to the max - rumbling engine, flames, wheelie bar, even a parachute. Even if you're not that into cars, you couldn't help but notice it. And if you ARE into cars, you couldn't help but understand and appreciate the kind of time and effort that went into the build.

The wizened homeless guy on the curb just next to where I'd parked my own standard, modern minivan and I were in the same boat on this one. Both of us were gawking. He started the conversation with, "Ain't that a beauty?" Then he filled me in on the car's details.

Turns out his dad was a mechanic, so as a young guy he'd had the shop at his disposal. He built a Chevelle (427) to the max and made some money racing it in the Central Valley back in the day. He'd wanted to drive it up the twists and turns of Highway 1 with the woman who became his wife, but she knew how he drove and wouldn't have any of it. (Not sure I blame her.)

He never asked me for anything. When another homeless guy drunk off his derriere walked up to us both and asked for 50 cents, it was the auto expert living out of his backpack who was first to his pocket. He pulled out the contents of his pocket and handed it over.

Worth it?
Yes. People end up on the streets for lots of reasons: mental illness, addictions, poor financial decisions, terrible luck, even choice. Regardless of what got them there, I believe homeless people, like most people, want to be acknowledged. I know it can be scary, and in this instance I felt not like I was talking to a homeless man, but to a man with a shared interest in an amazing vehicle - nothing more.

1 comment:

  1. It's too easy to relax our minds into the thought that 'homeless people' are simply ugly objects that litter our streets, sidewalks, parks, etc. Thank you for being aware enough to remember, each and every one of them is a PERSON! And, like you mentioned, we almost never know the circumstances that have gotten them where they are. How nice it must have been for him to be spoken to in 'normal' conversation.


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