Written in July, 2,000
On a trip to San Francisco to visit my daughter, we took the bus downtown from her apartment. I am not a “Big City” person. I find the crush of humanity bewildering. I love visiting the museums, and the bay front and the usual tourist attractions. But it’s the people who fascinate me. You never know what you will run into there. I enjoy visiting the “City by the Bay,” but I couldn’t live there. One has to wait in long lines to get into various restaurants, and then sit elbow to elbow with other diners. The din prevents carrying on a conversation. I don’t do well in crowds. I’m always glad to get back to my small-town existence.
There are many homeless in SF, as there are in many of our cities. I observed one of them on that bus ride. I called it-
It’s a cold, rainy San Francisco spring evening. He gets on the bus and sits a few seats down from my daughter and me, facing the center aisle. His hair is long and matted, as is his ragged, graying beard. His thin face is deeply lined, his vacant eyes stare at nothing. I wonder about the ragged, filthy blanket he holds around his shoulders in lieu of a coat. He rests his elbows on his knees. This is a man who seems to be at the end of his rope.
I am moved with pity. Is he a Vietnam vet, destroyed by the war and its aftermath? Is he a schizophrenic, off his meds and out of control? Maybe “just” another drug addict? What has brought him to this sorry state?
One dirty hand clutches the blanket at his neck, the other moves restlessly in the air. He mumbles to himself, quietly. The other passengers near him pull away.
He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the window. His bare feet in their worn sandals are stretched out in the aisle.
Someone trips over those feet as he gets on the bus, hastening on down the aisle. The man jerks them up on the seat under his haunches in an almost fetal position. He puts his arms around his knees, which show through the holes in the worn olive-green fabric, moaning a little.
He shivers, clutches his blanket. Suddenly I can see the passing lights glittering in the tears in his eyes. He mumbles to himself without looking at anyone.
The nearby passengers try to pretend he isn’t there. Their nostrils twitch. They move or get off at the next stop. I wonder if I should offer him some money. I don’t have much in my purse, and it has to last until I go home. Before I can act, our stop comes up and we leave the man behind. I’ve always wondered what happened to him.