I once came across a homeless bum

As I was driving down Fifth Avenue last night, leaving work at the Horton Plaza Mall in Downtown, I saw a homeless guy.
…like every other person who walks through downtown, yeah, big deal.

But being stopped at the red light with the windows down (music off, for once – killer headache) and overhearing two homeless people converse briefly caused me to sympathize  – it made these particular people not just another couple of homeless bums, but breathing, struggling people, with basic needs and emotions as everyone else.

A father, a daughter.  She was headed toward the market.
“Don’t spend more than $5.00, okay?” he yelled over to her as she crossed the street.
“Ok, yeah, I know.”

I didn’t realize I was staring until his eyes caught mine (I tend to do that often, I realize – people watch, not even nonchalantly). He very quickly looked away.
It broke my heart.

Alright, alright, so maybe I have this picture all wrong.

Maybe, in my mind, it’s this poor father and daughter, starving on the streets, trying to get by and survive together. They only had five dollars on this particular day to buy themselves food for the week, or until they attained enough money for more, either from recycling bottles, or begging on the streets. The cold night would come, and they would huddle together in dirty blankets over a trash bag, wondering how they would get by the next day.

Or maybe not.
Maybe the old guy was a crackhead drug dealer, and the girl wasn’t his daughter, but his crackhead, prostitute girlfriend who was on the way to the market to buy some more booze (can you buy booze for less than $5?).  Maybe they are completely capable of turning their lives around and they’re just lazy and aren’t.

Maybe I’m completely naïve.  But I mean, to me, regardless, I don’t care what anyone says, it’s not easy to just turn your life around from that point.  However you got there, whether it was your fault or not, wouldn’t change the fact.  Whether you’re a 72-year-old crackhead, or a 19-year-old kicked out of the house, it can’t be easy.

Anyway, for some reason that whole two seconds of dialogue left me feeling extremely heavy-hearted for the two.  And, not to mention, completely ungrateful – I had just been complaining at work to my coworkers an hour prior about not being able to buy Starbucks everyday on my 15 minute break anymore because of how much it was quietly eating away at my expenses.

So maybe my take is a little on the dramatic side.  It still got my mind running in a million different directions.  This is what was sitting in my brain on the ride down the 94, homebound:

1.) The economy.  All the people struggling right now, mainly the middle class (my family can attest to this).  I’m reading this book for one of my classes, Sonic Boom: Globalization at Mach Speed written by Gregg Easterbrook.

History shows that when some crisis interrupts a larger trend, as soon as the crisis ends, the larger trend resumes.

He’s referring to the complete downturn of the economy. According to him, although pain, struggle, and stress-inducing of globalization is the price we’ll pay until then, the world boom is coming. A substantial rise in human prosperity is coming.  These things come and go in cycles.  Does this occur organically due to the nature of the economy and the market?  Or does it occur because of us?  I guess it depends on your school of thought in terms of economics.

2.) About the ridiculously large  gap between the wealthy and poor in this country–quite easy to see it represented when you go to any big city.  You run into all walks of life.  Take Downtown San Diego–you have the extremely wealthy residing in the $6.7 million, ocean-view West Tower penthouses, and you have the population of 8,500 homeless people in the San Diego county, a great deal of them living in the streets of downtown.  I came across this quote by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton in an interview with Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Tumblr account today via Twitter:

“If you think again in percentage terms, so the top 20 percent, as I said, have 85 percent of the wealth, most Americans want them to have roughly 35 percent of the wealth. You’re talking about 50 percent of all the wealth in the United States, which as you can imagine is a very, very large number. People would like that to be more evenly distributed across people with less income.”

Listen/read the whole interview.  It’s interesting (and really short, I promise).  I bet you’ll realize you were completely unaware.  I did.

On a completely random note, whenever I see a homeless guy, I instantly hear my dad.
“Hey, look, it’s a buddy of mine,”  he says, jokingly.
He backpacked through Europe for about three years or so, and I imagine that he looked similar: thick-bearded, rugged, really grimey-looking. That’s how he chose to travel. Sounds like the adventure of a lifetime, but there were times when it would be snowing and he didn’t have warm clothes or shelter, or times when he had no food, or no money. As our good friend Bob Dylan says, though, “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Anyway, he always gives them a couple bucks, perhaps because he empathizes. As a man who was in that position: Homeless, carless, jobless, possessionless, carefree…so many years ago.  Or maybe he empathizes on another level… just as a human being.
But what if he goes and spends it on alcohol, we’d say.
“I say, let the man have his beer.”

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