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There But By the Grace...

Having just returned from my pseudo-tradition of hopping on my motorcycle and heading uptown on Christmas morning,  I was struck by my sheer dumb luck.  I worry about where my forever home will be, my shrinking pension, my bum shoulder, and well, what's going to become of me when I grow up.  

These 600-pound gorillas shrank to insignificance when I noticed the night denizens of Saint Petersburg.  Every town has them of any size.  It is an army of people who live on the streets, in Bum Paradise (Williams Park), Gulf-side benches, and wherever the homeless and disengaged spend their time.  These people are not to be confused with the panhandlers who make more than I do who were forced out around here, and all moved over to Tampa.  

These are ladies and men whose life circumstances have created a demographic profile of folks on the lowest rung of the class ladder of America.  No addresses, no Internet, no documents, no social or legal contract with any entity, other than with themselves.  


While cruising around the traffic-less streets in the heart of town at 5:30 AM I saw a fellow rummaging around one of the trash receptacles.  He shuffled over to it like he had a bad leg.  No need to hurry, of course, he had all day to search.  There were no lines at the trash bin and with it being a holiday, no one would come by to pick it up.  

I saw another guy walking across the street slowly, no place to go really, I guess.  He had in his hands two bags which probably contained all of his worldly possessions.  He paused briefly before stepping on the sidewalk as if to ponder - right or left, as if that would make all the difference.

I also saw a woman pulling a wagon with two young children in it.  Mind you, it was 5:30 AM, in the chilly morning.  At first I thought maybe she was heading to some one's place for an early Christmas get-together.  I wanted to get her picture pulling the kids so I turned around and had to go down a couple blocks to get back to where I thought she would be.  But she wasn't.  I felt relieved that she had perhaps made it to where she was going and the kids were safe in a nice warm downtown apartment.  But when I started up again she was heading back from where she was heading before, and I couldn't get the thought out of my mind that she was simply on the move.  No where to go, no place to park, she and the kids just endlessly riding the empty sidewalks of downtown.  No where to go but "around".  

I didn't take any pictures for a couple reasons, the first is it simply seemed terribly rude and invasive.  Mental health is an issue with many homeless and they are people, not a tourist attraction.  I don't need to be yelled at if spotted, and I don't need to steal a moment of street desperation.  It just doesn't seem right.  I have instructed my family that there will be no pictures of me when I am dying. There will be no photographic evidence of the ravages of disease.  I imagine taking pictures of these people is somewhat similar. 

This isn't a political rant.  I know about the disparity between the have's and have-nots.  There has always been disparity.  There have always been the homeless.  And there are a thousands of reasons why.  Education, chance, lack of opportunity, squandering resources, addiction, motivation, fright, illness and luck all play a role.  And various derivations, thereof.  But when I examine my life, and see the relative goodness of it, played against a backdrop of normal worry and concern, I feel damn lucky.  Lucky to have had all the chances, lucky to have had all the resources, lucky to have had the familial support, lucky to have had the career, and lucky to have had the luck.     

I then hopped back on the bike and headed home.  Home.  It may be rented, and it may be in God-forsaken Florida, and it may be dubbed Shawshank, and it may be not what I consider my final residence, but it is home, nonetheless.  And while I get inside from the early morning chill, and head to the coffee pot for a cup and smell the smells of Christmas food cooking,  I think of that guy rummaging through the trash.  The wet empty remains of beer cups, the wrappers with old cold cheese and mustard,  the things that are stuck inside trash bins that one wouldn't want to linger too long thinking about.  And I think of those kids.  Riding in a wagon on Christmas morning when everyone else is in bed dreaming of fun things ahead, going no where, just "around".      



  1. Excellent post Mike. Perhaps not often enough are we aware that a small change in life circumstances could have put any of us in a completely different place. It continues to be a lucky life. We would love to think it was skill and acumen that put us where we are. It was simply good fortune and chance. Thanks for your well written and thoughtful reminder, that but for grace....


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