Street Level

October 24, 2011 on 2:58 pm | In Community, Employee Adventures, Random Musings | 1 Comment

By Tom Demerly

He hollered through a broken smile that looked like his brown teeth had chomped down on rock.

“Hey- how much was ‘saht bike? I seen ‘em bikes ‘sat cost eight hunder dollars and weigh three pounds. You kin pick ‘em up with yer pinky finger…”

Every morning on the commute in, and again on the way home, I see the men at the corner. They live under the bridge and sell papers to people stopped at the traffic light. Most people sitting behind safety glass in temperature controlled distance ignore them. Some buy papers, mostly tan men in pick-up trucks with ladders and tool buckets.

On a bike you are connected to the world, the environment. You sit on a bike, not in it. There is a greater level of interaction, intimacy even- with your surroundings. The interaction is both beautiful and sobering.

So it was that one morning I decided to ask one of the paper men; “How did you start selling papers on the corner and living under the bridge?”

This would seem an inappropriate question. It’s none of our business. We turn up the radio, crank the air and look away. Mind our own business. How much are tinted windows? And the Nietzsche quote, “If you stare into the Abyss long enough, the Abyss stares back” came to mind just a second after I asked him the question.

“Awww…” He started. “I’s ridin’ the buses. You ‘kin stay on ‘em all night. But they threw me off. I had a bed up in Phoenix- they let ya keep it fer a month. You get all yer own stuff, a locker too…”

The light changed. I got up on the curb with him. “But ya gotta find a job, and I ain’t had a job in eight years.” Cars were turning left now, passing inches from us. No one looked at us. It was as if he and I didn’t exist.

“Where you goin?” He asked me. I told him, “work”, pointing up the street to about where is. “You make bombs?”

“No, no, we sell triathlon stuff- bikes and shoes- mail order.”

Ahhh. Bikes. They make bombs over there for the Air Force Base.

He didn’t answer my question. What I wanted to know was, “How did you wind up here? What led to this? Do you ever dream of getting out- getting a job, getting an apartment?” and perhaps most importantly, “Are you happy this way- have you made this ‘work’?”

The light turned green and I had to get to work. I told him, “Listen Man, have a good one…”

OK Man,” he said through the broken tooth smile. “I’ll see you later buddy…

It was unrealistic to believe I could gain an understanding of why people are homeless in one conversation between stoplights. Like most issues in society it’s more complex than a four minute, two traffic light conversation. But it is a start. And that start is reflective of how riding a bike can connect us to our surroundings.

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  1. Well said, Tom. Well said.

    Comment by Patricia Jankowski — October 24, 2011 #

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