Bridge Woman

Everyone deserves a place where they feel safe.

As you prepare to eat a nice warm meal on this Thanksgiving day (provided you’re are able to overlook the disturbing colonial overtones of this holiday), and whether you’re spending the day with family or friends or all alone, I hope that you remember to count your blessings, dear reader. I know I’m making a lot of assumptions about your circumstances, but the fact that you have access to the internet tells me that, like me, you’re a lot better off than many people are.

I’d like to tell you about someone who doesn’t have it as good as we do. As I write this, she’s sorting through garbage in a ditch, not 20 yards from where I sit. Perspective.

Here at work, I spend a great deal of time watching the comings and goings of the people who cross my drawbridge. After doing this for a while, I began to spot patterns. I’ve learned people’s routines. I’ve created backstories about them in my head, which, admittedly, are quite likely inaccurate, but it helps me feel a certain kinship with these people, even though they probably don’t even know I exist.

In the past month or so, I’ve been seeing quite a bit of someone that I’ll call “Bridge Woman”. I considered calling her “Drainage Ditch Woman”, but that seems undignified.  And she needs all the dignity she can get.

I suspect that this woman is mentally ill and/or homeless. She spends hours on the bridge approaches, sitting on the curb that separates the sidewalk from the bike lane. She is completely engrossed in the detritus that flows down the drainage ditch. It’s as if she is panning for gold. She doesn’t even look up when someone goes past.

She sorts through the gunk, sifting out little bits of God-knows-what, and puts those things in what she deems to be their proper place. Some things are placed on the sidewalk, some on the curb, and apparently some things don’t pass muster and are returned to the ditch. I’ve tried to figure out her method of categorization, but I’ve yet to succeed.

She doesn’t do anyone any harm, and it is, after all, a public sidewalk, and she’s far enough away from the part of the bridge that moves to be safe, so I let her be. And I’m painfully aware that her odds of continuing to “be” are a lot higher when she sits on this bridge and quietly organizes away. Here, she’s relatively safe. No one hassles her. No one influences her or takes advantage of her vulnerability. If anyone tries to hurt her, there are witnesses. I strongly suspect that these things can’t be said about the rest of her days or nights.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, women comprise only 29 percent of the homeless individuals (as opposed to families) in this country. This means they’re greatly outnumbered in most places. Women who are unsheltered have a much higher risk of premature death, mainly due to mental health and chronic health issues. And, “The rates of victimization and assault, including robbery, physical abuse, and sexual assault are much higher for women than men.”

An article entitled, “Rates of violence against the homeless are worse than you think” spells it out in upsetting detail. It also contains a link to a comprehensive report entitled, “Vulnerable to Hate: A Survey of Bias-Motivated Violence against People Experiencing Homelessness which details stats from 2016-2017.”

Here are some of the statistics from the article and that report that jumped out at me:

  • Life expectancy for someone who is homeless is 20-30 years less than the general population.
  • About 13,000 American homeless people die on the streets each year.
  • 1 in 3 homeless people have been deliberately hit, kicked, or experienced some other form of violence, including having things thrown at them. Some are urinated on, intimidated or threatened, or verbally abused or harassed.
  • While 1-3% of the general youth population report sexual assault, 21-42% of homeless youth have reported sexual assault. 1 in 3 teens are lured into prostitution within 48 hours of living on the street.
  • 1 in 3 homeless youth engage in survival sex.
  • The experience of violence in the lives of homeless women: A research report, showed that 78.3% of homeless women in the study had been subjected to rape, physical assault, and/or stalking. Those who experience such assault while homeless also lack access to legal, medical and mental health services, which can worsen the post traumatic effects of the experience.
  • The report also briefly focused on Seattle, my city, by saying, “many cities do not often provide free public restrooms that are easily accessible. For example, Seattle, which has the third-largest homeless population in the U.S, only had one functional 24-hour restroom, downtown, as of 2015.”

Homelessness is a rough life for anyone, but it’s even more so for women. So when I see Bridge Woman organizing garbage in the ditch, oddly enough I’m happy she’s there. Yes, I would like much more for her, but given the current state of the world, I think that that ditch is probably a safer place than many of her current societal alternatives. It makes me sad, but I genuinely believe that it’s true.

As winter approaches, and the cold, raw, Seattle weather settles in for the duration, I worry about Bridge Woman. I’m relieved to see that she now has warm clothing and good shoes, and she looks clean enough that she would blend in with the general population if only she were not so focused on the task at hand. I assume that she has been in contact with someone who cares, at least, either personally or professionally.

I hope her situation improves even more.

It probably won’t.

When the ditch is flooded with icy water, she may not enjoy her project quite as much. She’ll most likely choose to pass her time elsewhere. I hope that she continues to find safe places, ideally places that are warm and dry, where she won’t be hassled, even if it’s only for a few hours a day.

Gazing out the window at her, I count my blessings and think that she deserves better. I wonder if people understand how much we have let this woman down, or if they think she gets more than she’s entitled to. I have no idea what she wants or what she can get. I hope she is loved.

At a bare minimum, I’d like to think that all but the most cold-hearted among us can agree that everyone deserves a place where they feel safe. I’m glad my bridge has provided her with that kind of respite, if only for a short time.

I hope, dear reader, that like me, you use this holiday to give thanks for all that is good in your life, rather than thinking back, with pride, on the wholesale theft of this continent and all the bloodshed that was required to rip it from the hands of the people who were already here. If so, then Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude should not require a holiday. But if you’re giving added focus to it on this day, please consider ordering my book, Notes on Gratitude. And happy Thanksgiving, dear reader. I’m so glad you’re here!

Meet the Homeless of Seattle

Everyone has their own story.

When I first moved to the Seattle area in the Summer of 2014, I was shocked by the sprawling, garbage-strewn homeless encampments that I saw beside the highway and under the bridges. I had never seen so many homeless people in my entire life. They were, and still are, everywhere in this city.

I kept asking myself why it was so extreme here as compared to Jacksonville, Florida, where I had lived for 30 years. I mean, let’s face it. The weather here is pretty horrible for most of the year. When I see people huddling in makeshift tents in this cold, damp, unforgiving climate, I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. In Florida, on the other hand, you can survive in a tent. As a matter of fact, I did so for what seemed like an endless portion of my childhood.

The general population would love for homelessness to be a simple problem that would come with a simple solution. But there are as many reasons for homelessness as there are homeless people. Society wants to think that all homeless people are either schizophrenics or drug addicts who have brought their problems on themselves. They want to believe that they remain homeless due to a lack of ambition or an inherent laziness. People justify avoiding the beggars on the street corners by assuming that they are all either scammers or part of the criminal element, and that every one of them is out on the lunatic fringe and therefore potentially violent. Or worse yet, they are illegal immigrants that our politicians have convinced us are a disease-laden, dangerous scourge.

I have a theory that the vast majority of Seattleites are skirting on the edge of homelessness whether they care to admit it or not. The cost of living here is outrageous. According to Salary.com, it’s currently 35.7% higher than the national average. Granted, it’s cheaper to live here than it is in San Francisco, New York, or Washington DC, but that’s setting the bar rather high. The average mortgage payment in this town, according to this article, is $3014 per month. The median rent for a one bedroom apartment, according to this article, is $1850 per month, and you can anticipate a 24% increase in rent from one year to the next.

Suffice it to say that it takes a heck of a lot of money to keep a roof over your head in this town, and it takes even more money to plan for all contingencies. If you’re laid off because of the pandemic, you can sink into poverty almost instantly. If you have a catastrophic health condition that causes you to be unable to work, you are screwed. If a natural disaster strikes, or one of your family’s breadwinners unexpectedly dies, what then? The safety net in Seattle is much further away from your tightrope than it is in other communities, and the net is full of holes. Don’t even think about falling. You could very easily find yourself on the pavement along with so many others.

People in Seattle are getting so used to seeing homeless people that they barely even blink anymore. Yes, everyone says that “something has to be done” about them, and every now and then the city will sweep through a camp and throw away everything within it, leaving the people tentless and without even a change of clothing, but that’s quite obviously not a viable or humane solution.

There are no affordable housing options, and not enough hospital beds. The drug rehabilitation facilities are few and far between, and even when you can get in, their success rates are as abysmal as they are everywhere else in the country. There are a lot of high paying jobs here, but you have to be highly educated and trained in a very specific niche to get one, and now with the pandemic, everyone seems to be downsizing, and these plum positions are becoming harder to obtain. Expect to be faced with a lot of competition.

Another factor that makes Seattle’s homeless more evident than Jacksonville’s is that, crammed between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington as it is, Seattle is densely populated. There’s no room for expansion, and there are very few places for the homeless to “hide”. Jacksonville, on the other hand, is a large, sprawling berg where the cost of living is 7.4% below the national average, and there are plenty of open fields and forests.

That, and Jacksonville is very hostile to its homeless. The police have been known to drive them to the county line and dump them off there to walk the 20 miles in the blistering heat that it takes to reach civilization again. They also trash the encampments with annoying frequency, and they make sure all the park benches have arm rests every foot or so to prevent people from lying down. Even so, I’m now hearing from friends that homeless camps are increasing even there, and that makes me really sad.

Bottom line, though, is that all these people may not have homes, but they are fellow human beings, each with their own story. So many of us try to ignore them or avoid them that we tend to dehumanize them. That’s why I was thrilled to stumble upon the “You Know Me Now” website. Visit that site to hear some very poignant stories as told by the homeless people of Seattle. In the future, there will also be a podcast on this site, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

In the meantime, don’t avert your eyes. Look at your fellow humans. From the privacy of your warm, dry home, read their stories. If the 1 percent continue to refuse to allow people to have living wages, there will always be plenty of stories to read. Here’s hoping your story or mine will never need to be told there.

Stay safe. Get vaccinated. You can enjoy my book while you wait in line. http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

West Coast Wander, Day 12: Riding on the Coast Starlight

From here on, our trip was more of a swaying glide than a wander.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

From here on out, our trip is less of a wander and more of a swaying glide. We decided to let Amtrak do the driving. We hopped on the train in Los Angeles for a 35 hour trip up the coast to Seattle. This train, called the Coast Starlight, was every bit as magical and romantic as its name.

We could have caught a train in San Clemente, our southernmost point on the journey, but that would have meant getting up at an obscene hour, and then changing trains and then experiencing a long delay in Los Angeles anyway. We decided it would be better to stay in a hotel nearby in Los Angeles and uber over to join the other passengers at a more civilized hour. (You’ve probably gotten the idea that I’m not a morning person by now, and that goes to show you’re very smart, indeed.)

The drive to Union Station in Los Angeles was a bit sobering. Train stations and their accompanying tracks tend not to be in the best of neighborhoods, and this was no exception. We passed so many homeless encampments that I wanted to cry. Something has got to change in this country. There is a division of wealth that has reached criminal levels. There is absolutely no reason why everyone in this country shouldn’t be able to live in a place that is safe and comfortable and permanent. Instead we have someone spending 28 million dollars to fly into outer space for 11 minutes with Jeff Bezos and his brother while people are suffering in tents on city sidewalks. Outrageous.

After seeing that, it kind of made me blink to walk into Los Angeles’ Union Station, with its art deco vibe. It was like being transported back in time. Marble floors, stunning chandeliers, leather seating, tile accents. It’s beautiful, and you’ve probably seen bits of it in many a movie. I kind of felt like a country mouse seeing the big city for the first time. But I was startled to see a pigeon in there who seemed to have made himself quite at home.

I knew I was in for a real treat, and one that is out of reach for many people. It reminded me how lucky I am, and how I’ve done very little to earn any of this privilege. It’s a rather odd feeling, admitting to that and yet still taking advantage of it.

This train made several stops along the way. I hope no one in the business/coach class was staying on for the entire route. 35 hours in an upright seat in a room full of strangers, not all of whom consistently wore masks, with no meals provided, sounds a little hellish.

We opted for the next class up. We got a roomette. This consisted of two reclinable chairs facing each other by a window. At night, the chairs slide down and toward each other to make a single bed, and then an upper bunk folds down from the ceiling. It was cozy and very convenient. Bathrooms were down the hall, and we didn’t find out until later that there was a shower down below. The thought of trying to shower on a swaying train boggles the mind. It wasn’t a huge sacrifice. The trip was only 35 hours, after all.

We checked a lot of our baggage, but even so, the room was a little snug. It began to feel even more snug with each passing hour. But it was fun sitting there watching the gorgeous world go by, and it was a rare and delicious opportunity to do nothing but read for hours on end. What luxury.

They do also offer bedrooms, which are twice the size of a roomette and have private bathrooms. The family bedrooms are even bigger. I peeked into a few of those, as discreetly as possible. I didn’t want to creep people out. The accommodations looked quite nice.

And there were other places to go on the train. There was a sightseer lounge with windows on both sides, and we took advantage of that quite a bit to enjoy the water views as our roomette was on the inland side. It was very comfortable. We also saw lush forests, fertile valleys, farms, and gorgeous mountains. Train tracks being what they are, we also saw some very beautiful and creative graffiti along the way.

And of course there was the dining car with its many tables. Meals were included for anyone who had booked a sleeper. Thanks to COVID, they’re not doing their formal dining. They’ve opted for what they call flexible dining. There’s a range of times that you can show up for meals, and the same menu for both day’s lunches and dinners, and a different one for breakfast. On this first day, I had shrimp with lobster sauce for lunch and braised beef for dinner. It was surprisingly good for meals that had been prepared in advance and simply had to be heated up by the staff.

If you travel by train during flexible dining, I suggest that you do what we did, and wait until closer to the end of the meal’s time frame. You avoid the rush and the crowds that way. They also are not making people sit at the same table with strangers anymore, due to the pandemic. I was definitely not complaining about that. I don’t enjoy making small talk with strangers while trying to eat. So this worked out perfectly.

We got to pass through many of the same towns we had explored as we went south. It was often a different perspective. It definitely was in the large cities, as we saw a lot more homeless encampments along the tracks than we did on the tourist trail.

Riding on a swaying train can be rather hypnotic. We set up the roomette into sleep mode and went to bed early, but not before passing through the outskirts of San Francisco. I enjoyed knowing that as I slept away, we would draw ever closer to home sweet home.

Check out Day 13 of this grand adventure here!

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An Horrific Insight

Cold, wet, desperate people, everywhere.

There are actually three versions of this story. The first version was my initial, gut reaction. The second was my instant reaction after obtaining more information. The third was my conclusion after some calm, pragmatic thought. Be sure and read to the very end if you want to see how quickly your point of view can be altered!

Version One:

It was your typical Pacific Northwest November night: raw, wet, cold, and basically gloomy. But I was inside, warm and safe and dry, beside a crackling fire, watching Netflix. All was right with the world, even though I was totally taking it for granted.

And then came the knock on my door. I nearly jumped out of my fuzzy pajamas. We almost never get visitors unannounced, especially in times of pandemic. Our house is relatively isolated and not close to the main street, so it takes some effort to get here. Here’s the perfect litmus test for that: There have been no Halloween trick or treaters on this front porch in decades.

It was a young man, asking for food. Not begging. Not giving an explanation or an excuse. He was just hungry and in need. He looked wet and disheveled and had nothing with him but a backpack.

My husband had him wait on the porch (safety first), and went in and made him a big sandwich. He threw an apple, a Pepsi, and a tuna snack for later into the mix. He then sent him on his way.

A wave of sadness washed over me. It was the sadness of knowing that we’d be seeing a lot more of this in the coming months. Desperate people. Cold, wet, desperate people, everywhere. And there would always be this feeling of not having done enough. There are just so many of them, and only one of me.

There’s also this sense of survivor’s guilt. I’m considered an essential worker, although I have no idea why. So my income hasn’t decreased in this pandemic. I’ve managed to stay relatively isolated and healthy, and I still have my health insurance. I suspect I’ll stay warm and dry throughout the winter. Even my dogs will get to stay warm and dry. I’m not at all accustomed to being one of the haves.

I wonder where that young man slept that night. I wonder where he’ll sleep tonight. For me, he is the leading edge of a wall of hundreds of thousands of people out there, just trying to survive. This is the wall that has been built, and it’s an ugly thing to behold.

I can’t shake the feeling that this is only the beginning. How privileged so many of us have been, secure in the knowledge that survival was likely. Now everything seems much more fragile. And a heck of a lot more scary.

Version Two:

The next day, without us even having broached the subject, some friends from 1/2 mile down the street said that the same guy came to their door that night. That time he was turned away and the theory that he was casing the neighborhood, seeing which houses don’t have men and/or dogs, for later burglary, was posited.

I was instantly furious. Had we been used? Are we now unsafe? He could see our TV through the window. I hate being taken advantage of! People suck!

Version Three:

After I had a chance to calm down and climb out from under my massive pile of righteous indignation, I realized that in both versions above, I was drawing conclusions from facts not in evidence. I will never know what that young man’s motivations were.

Was he a saint or a sinner? My most pragmatic self assumes that, like most of us, he is something in between. From that concept, a new theory has emerged for me.

It was a wet, raw, miserable night, and most criminals are lazy. If he had been casing the neighborhood, I suspect he’d have waited for better weather to do so. No one would be out in that weather without a good reason. So I suspect he was, indeed, in need.

But I also now suspect that like most panhandlers, he was hoping that if he asked for food, what he’d really get was money. Money is a much more flexible commodity. With it you can buy food you actually like. Or you can pay the rent. Or you can buy drugs or alcohol. Or you can take care of a sick child.

He did stand out on the porch and wait for the food. If he had been casing the neighborhood, that would have slowed him down. If he was hoping for money, maybe once he realized that my husband was actually fixing him food, he hoped that some actual cash would also be slipped into the bag.

The money theory makes me sad, because I feel mildly manipulated. But at least there was still a need there, whatever it may have been, and we did our best to help. I hope drugs or alcohol was not a factor. There’s no way to know.

But what’s the point of speculating, really? Our motivations were pure. If his motivations were not, that’s on him. I just hate that we live in a world where we feel the need to question and theorize. I hate that this might taint our desire to help our fellow man in the future. The bottom line is that we’ll never know the whole story.

What do you think, dear reader?

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My Most Memorable Year

You just never know what’s in store for you.

On my way to work the other day, I was thinking about the fact that, ten years from now, if people are asked what their most memorable year has been, a good percentage of them are going to say 2020. That’s heartbreaking, because this year SUCKS. I’m sure most of the memories from this year won’t be happy ones. I’ll be happy to get past this year and move on, no matter what that looks like. I think that’s the scariest bit. We have no idea what the world is going to be like after this year.

Fortunately, 2020 is not my most memorable year to date. If I had to pick one, it would be 2014, because it was overflowing with the really, really bad, but ended up really, really good. It was the most pivotal year of my life.

For starters, in 2014 I went to visit my favorite aunt, Betty, in Connecticut. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be the last time I saw her face to face. I wish you could have known her. She was amazing.

Unfortunately, while I was there, I got a phone call from the Jacksonville, Florida Sheriff’s Office telling me that they found my boyfriend dead in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, in the pharmacy parking lot a few short blocks from my apartment. Upon hearing that, I instantly came down with the flu, and couldn’t hear a thing for three days, which made flying home in tears quite fun. It felt like I was ground zero at a nuclear blast, such was the devastation this caused in my life.

There was a huge family conflict over whether or not I should attend his memorial service (thank God I ignored them and went), and the taking of all his possessions (and a few of mine) by his adult children. Other than that, I really don’t remember much about those next few months, except a lot of tears, forgetting to eat, and a constant ringing in my ears. I did go to work, though. I had to. Fortunately, there can be tears in bridgetending.

Not long after that, my landlord, who lived in the other half of the house, figured out that I’d probably not be able to make the rent without my boyfriend’s assistance, and she kicked me and my two dogs out of my apartment with no notice at all. I was too devastated at the time to fight it.

Fortunately I had a place to store my stuff, but I got to experience a brief stint of homelessness there. Nothing quite like sleeping with two dogs in a crapped out Buick LeSabre to make you appreciate all the comforts of home. Then I did a bit of couch surfing and realized who my friends really were.

Finally, I found a place to rent that I could just barely afford. I hunkered down in anticipation of an existence in which I would be all alone, working a dead end job, and living paycheck to paycheck. I was resigned to my fate.

I was talking to a coworker about just that when he mentioned that there was a job opening for a bridge operator in the City of Seattle. I had never been to Seattle. I had never even been to the state of Washington in my life. I didn’t know anyone there. But man, was I ever due for a do-over. My life was going nowhere fast and I was miserable. So what the hell, I applied. What did I have to lose?

And, what the hell? They hired me. Sight unseen. Over the phone. Just like that.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to move across the continent. Fortunately, my sister and my husband not only loaned me money, but they gave me a more viable van. And for the rest, I dipped into what little savings I had, and also did a crowdfunding campaign.

That campaign was amazing and humbling. Not only did friends from decades ago come out of the woodwork, but also total strangers gave me money. Without all that generosity, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Because of that, I do my best to pay it forward every chance I get.

House hunting from a distance is not at all fun, but somehow everything fell into place (including the breaking of a lease I had only signed 2 months before) and the next thing I knew, I was driving across the country with two dogs and entirely too much stuff.

The cross country trip was amazing. (Read more about it here.) You have no idea how vast this nation is until you drive 3100 miles across it. It’s magical. I will never forget that experience.

And then, on this very day (August 24th) in 2014, I arrived in Seattle. I was scared half to death, and second guessing myself the entire time, but I was also extremely excited for this fresh start. And my life has been, despite a few false starts, an ever-increasing high ever since.

Because I came here, I’m actually making a living wage for the first time in my life. Because I came here, I published my first book. Because I came here, I bought a wonderful little house. Because I came here, I met my amazing husband-to-be and was married for the first (and only) time ever.

No one at my wedding had known me more than a year or two. That kind of smarted. But, as a dear friend says, onward and upward and into the future!

I’ve met some wonderful people here and have had too many exciting experiences to list. (You may want to check out the archives of my blog for that.) And I’m happy to say that I feel as though I’ve made an excellent life for myself.

So, yeah, 2014 beats 2020 all to hell. And because of that, life is ever so good, and I am exactly where I want to be. You just never know what’s in store for you. Truly, what a ride…

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

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A Different Kind of Class Struggle

I drifted off to sleep, thinking about how lucky I am.

I was driving home from work at 11:40 pm, and it was bitterly cold and raw outside. Frost, glittering beneath the street lights, was already covering the grass and the pavement. I looked forward to getting home.

Almost to my destination, I noticed a car in the dark parking lot of the city park down the street from our house. The windows were all fogged up. Someone was inside.

“Please let it be lovers,” I thought. But it was midweek, and the weather was hardly conducive to romance. The car wasn’t exactly date-worthy, either.

I went home to my warm house and my loving husband and my well-fed dogs. There was a fire in the fireplace, and warm food waiting for me. Before bed, we luxuriated in the hot tub as the freezing fog surrounded us.

As I took my hot shower and then tucked in beneath my warm comforter, belly full and feeling safe, I couldn’t get that car out of my mind. I drifted off to sleep, thinking about how lucky I am.

The next morning I woke up at 5:20 am, because on that day I work the day shift, not the swing shift as I had the night before. The fog in my head was as thick as the fog outside. I stumbled about, preparing for work, too tired to complain about my usual less than 5 hours of sleep on this day of the week.

I stepped out into the 35 degree wall of grey and wondered about that car. “Please let it be gone,” I thought, as I started the engine and cranked up the heat.

But no. There it was, still at the park. The windows were still fogged, so the occupant was still breathing, at the very least. But man, it was so cold.

How do you face the day, struggle to improve your lot in life, manage to get clean and find food, after a night like that? How do you cope? What do you do next?

What could I have done? Invite this person, this stranger, this (let’s face it) potentially mentally ill drug addict, to stay in our guest room? Is that person’s life worth my own? But what if it was a single mom with a baby who was running away from spousal abuse?

Should I have entered that dark, deserted parking lot and offered that fellow human being money or blankets or food or… something? Anything? And then, what about the next person? And the next?

What should I have done? What would have been enough? What would you do?

I hesitated to write this post. I hate to sound like a bleeding heart liberal. I hate to reveal that I did nothing, as I almost always do. I did nothing but take my white, overly-privileged butt home to my hot tub, where I wallowed in my ineffectual guilt.

The worst part about it is that I guarantee you that that’s what I’ll be doing next week, too. Yes, I’ll throw money at causes. I’ll vote. I’ll blog. But what good does that do for the thousands of people sleeping in their cars or, worse yet, on the streets, in my city each night?

Fog

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The Dancing Man

I gave him that name because of what happened next.

The first time I saw the dancing man, he was standing beside my car. That made me uncomfortable, because drawbridges seem to draw an unusual number of characters, and as a bridgetender I can’t really leave the tower unattended simply because I fear for my paint job. So I had to stare helplessly out the tower window and hope for the best. In other words, it was my average day at work.

I used to wonder what it was about drawbridges that attract strange people. I’ve blogged about my unique encounters before. But my latest theory is that there’s nothing special about drawbridges. These people are everywhere. It’s just that I get to be a full-time observer of them here. I look at it as my own little sociological investigation of a cross section of humanity.

Anyway, back to the dancing man. I gave him that name because of what happened next. He went to the front driver’s side corner of my car and did what I can only describe as a ritualistic dance. The steps, while rudimentary, seemed full of purpose.

But this is Seattle, so people took note but continued to walk by, letting him do his own thing. Next, he moved to the front passenger side and did the same dance. He repeated the process until he got to all four corners, and then he walked away.

I was confused. I was mesmerized. I was a little charmed. But mostly I was relieved that no damage had been done to my car.

Since then, I’ve watched the dancing man perform this ritual on at least a half dozen occasions. I’m increasingly delighted every time. I’ve chosen to view it as some sort of blessing he is bestowing upon my vehicle. Maybe I’ve avoided an accident because of this magical love bubble that he’s placed on my car. Who knows?

Recently he stopped by to get his groove on during shift change, and I pointed him out to my coworker. “I just love that guy,” I said. Apparently, mine is the only car he interacts with, but he is still a regular fixture on other shifts.

My coworker said, “See that coat he’s wearing? I gave that to him. He was walking past and he looked like he needed one, and I had an extra.”

So there you have it. The one who bestows blessings had a completely unrelated blessing bestowed upon him. I really love how the universe works sometimes.

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Pillows

Comfort in material form.

Recently I wrote that I got to go to see the storytellers of Snap Judgment Live. One of them discussed his experiences with being homeless, and how it makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do, such as apply for demoralizing jobs. Amen, buddy. Been there.

But one of the aspects of homelessness that he brought up was something I had never even considered. You never have a pillow. You can’t get comfortable. Which means you can’t rest. Ever.

Wow. Even when I lived in a tent, I always had a pillow. I can’t imagine life without one. Pillows help you sleep, yes, but they also give you something to hug when you’re all alone, and something to cry into when you’re sad. They are comfort in material form. They are also the only acceptable things to punch when you’re frustrated. Unfortunately, like humans, they need a clean, stable environment in order to thrive, so they wouldn’t handle homelessness well.

Even in your darkest times, may you always have a pillow, dear reader.

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

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Shoe Shock

Recently I was downtown, and while there, I decided to visit the Nordstrom department store. Not that I needed or wanted to buy anything. It’s just that I’d never been in one before. I figured at the very least, it would have cool Christmas decorations. So, in I went.

And I quickly discovered why I’d never been in one before. I got that feeling that I get whenever I enter a rich people’s place. It’s as if someone is going to somehow figure out that I couldn’t even afford the socks in this store, and I’ll be quickly ushered out the service entrance and left on the loading dock like yesterday’s trash.

I wandered around, praying that I wouldn’t accidentally knock something over. The bejeweled wedding dresses were gorgeous, and had no price tags. No doubt they’d cost about a half year’s pay for me. (Not that I need a wedding dress. I can’t even get a date, even when I do the asking.)

The shoes, too, were stunning. Extravagant. Works of art. The kind of things you’d never wear in the rain. I didn’t even bother looking at the prices. I did go over to what looked like a sales rack, and sure enough, accidentally dropped a shoe. When I picked it up, the price on the bottom was 768 dollars. And I had just dropped the thing. Eeep.

This is why I’d never make a good rich person. How does one buy 768 dollar shoes, have them rung up by a cashier that doesn’t earn that much in a week, and then saunter out the door, past homeless people begging on the sidewalk out front? How do you justify paying that much for a shoe, which you’ll only wear a certain amount of times before it either wears out or goes out of style or gives you bunions? It’s just not in me.

Finally, I had to get out of there because I was being overwhelmed by a tsunami of income inequality, and I was afraid I might blow my stack right there amongst the Hermes scarves. I can’t relate to this type of consumerism. It makes me sick to my stomach. I was glad to make my exit and return to the real world, where my discount shoes are the norm.

And then I passed a Coach store. Amongst their outrageously priced handbags, there were really cute change purses in the shapes of animals. They fit in the palm of my hand. And they were 85 dollars each. They were probably made in china by someone who earns a dollar a day.

There’s a special circle of hell for people who sell these unnecessary things, and for the people who buy them, or even think there’s a need for them.

The fact that stores like this can thrive in Seattle is exactly why the majority of us can’t afford to live here anymore. Then who’s going to sell you your shoes?

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This lovely shoe “only” costs $1,195.00 at Nordstrom.

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