I took the bus in to work this morning as I do every day. I tend to spend the time "plugged in" -- either listening to music from Hype Machine, or scrolling through news from my Google Reader as I catch up on my day. This morning, I spent the ride listening and exchanging a few words with a homeless man on the bus with me.
He first entered my consciousness when I almost took his seat. He had been sitting on the step from the back door to the back section of the bus. I could see he needed the seat more than I did, and apologized for accidentally trying to grab it ahead of him.
That was enough of an opening for him to start talking. Memories of @trevoro having "garbage juice" dripping on his leg didn't necessarily make me want to engage. But I unplugged one ear and prepared to humour him. He began to tell a tale of suffering from summer allergies - no sleep, no money for anti-histamines, but needing anti-histamines so he could live. In this case, iiving meaning finding empties to collect.
He was coming from my neck of the woods somewhere - Granville & Broadway. Why was he on the 98, headed downtown? Well, the only bottle depot that takes unlimited bottles is at Main & Hastings. AKA grand central station of the homeless / drug / etc. "problem" in Vancouver. The Safeway? They grudgingly take 6 empties as returns, never mind 2 bags full.
Back to the anti-histamines. In Canada socialist healthcare land, we get our basics taken care of, at low prices, since generic drugs etc. are stocked and prescribed. But, some time ago, our current premier turned allergy drugs into over the counter drugs. This means that they aren't covered, so this homeless man has to come up with the money to pay for them himself.
He was burned a deep nut brown by the sun. We'll all look like this when the apocalypse hits and we have to eak out a living among the burned out shells of buildings. My generation still did nuclear drills in elementary school, knowing that obliteration was just a mis-translated word away. I've been feeling for a long while that this is the same sort of thin ice we've been skating on for some time. That perhaps, the answer is to head back to the hills. A pre-emptive strike of back to the land.
The man continued his story. He gets hassled by police whenever he heads down to Downtown Eastside ground zero. Police dump out his bag, steal his new Army & Navy socks, because he doesn't have proof of purchase. He's only there to get his bottle deposit, because he has no where else that will turn this aluminum gold into portable cash. And what he's got is a stack of "panhandling" tickets, at $120 a piece, and he owes transit fines, and the government takes it off his dole, where he's paying off his fines at $35 a month.
I've been feeling pretty deep in a hole for a long time. The sides of it aren't getting any shallower. I knew what this man was feeling. Half plugged into my cellphone, it isn't the same world at all. But at the same time, I felt where he's at. The deck stacked against him, and pretty much no way out.
I had a twenty in my pocket, and that's it. It felt like a lot to just hand out. Maybe I would buy him breakfast at Tim Horton's, and assuage my guilt. Or connect a little deeper, share my name, tell him to call me if the police hassled him. But then he was getting out, and he was gone, and I shouted a "good luck" after him.
And I still don't know his name.