Wind, pelting rain, municipal folly and the unluckiest among us

20th Stand

Staying dry, if not warm, in my new red boots, 20th stand, March 31, 2012
Staying dry, if not warm, in my new red boots, 20th stand, March 31, 2012

Amidst a full-blown downpour, I stop at the local hardware store on my way to stand this morning and pick up a pair of red, plastic galoshes, donning them in the store and bagging my shoes.

The train is down, so I grab a bus, which takes longer. I arrive late, and dripping, holding my umbrella steady with all the strength of my two hands against the wind.

The first person I see, huddled under the eaves of a stage door to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium is one of the homeless men who panhandles us for coffee money almost every week.

His lips bite themselves over his toothless gums, and though he is bundled in a heavy jacket and hoodie, I can’t help thinking he must be very cold.

Foolishly, I came away without cash in my pockets, so I have nothing to offer him today and pass by, wondering where he slept last night.

That question is soon answered. At least, I hope it is.

Rounding the corner to cross the street into the plaza, I see dozens of homeless lined up under the sheltering eaves of the auditorium.

For once, the police must have had mercy on them, affording them at least that much respite from the tearing wind, rain and cold.

Shopping carts and backpacks litter the entire length of the building, nearly a city block.

Recalling frigid nights and days in a soggy camping tent, our sleeping bags soaked through, the meager campfire more smoke than flame, I can’t help wondering what is wrong with our society that we cannot take care of these, the people among us who for whatever reasons are so little able to take care of themselves.

Oh, their pride might say otherwise, but no one wants to sleep on a concrete walk, in fear of her life, in the blowing rain and wind.

Workers erecting canopies in the pouring rain, 20th stand, March 31, 2012
Workers erecting canopies in the pouring rain, 20th stand, March 31, 2012

While I stand, workers erect two shelters over the steps of city hall, a large one, presumably for dignitaries and speeches, another one spanning the sidewalk, presumably for guests and media.

Four red party trucks rest at the curb as the workers unload their goods and struggle in the blowing wind to assemble, raise and stabilize these flighty structures.

What can possibly be so important that (very likely) minimum wage workers must labor in the cold and wet on slippery ladders for well over an hour to set up a structure they will only have to take down a few hours later?

In a city struggling to meet its payroll and serve its neediest citizens, how can we possibly justify the expense of these canopies, neither of which will provide more than the tiniest respite from the storm.

Soon my hour will end. I will slosh back to the bus and ride in relative comfort to my safe, warm home, where love, family, good food and as much hot tea and coffee as I desire await.

A quirk of fate and I could be among the huddled homeless, stamping their feet to keep warm, and very likely mourning the loss of panhandling profitability.

Where will they get the money for sugar-laden coffee, and yes, perhaps the drugs and alcohol that numb their bodies and minds to the tortures of their every day?

Text and images © L Kathryn Grace – All rights reserved

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