What’s His Story?

As I enter my favorite Starbucks for a post-workout non-fat latte I see him. The hunched-over figure was there, again, but this time he is in a corner near a sun-drenched window. He appears to be sleeping. Yellow finger-less gloves covered his hands, which lay in his lap, almost lifeless. The hood of his dirty gray sweatshirt jacket was pulled down over his head, covering much of his eyes. His legs were concealed by an old army-green wool blanket.

The man is in a wheelchair.

I frequent this Starbucks too often really, usually mid-morning after the gym, but also afternoons as well. I’ve been trying to cut down but I keep getting lured by the point system of free drinks or food after so many purchases.   This wheelchair guy has been a fixture now for many weeks. It’s not altogether surprising given than it is winter; it has been cold here in middle-earth land Alabama.

It’s hard to tell his age: Hmm, maybe late thirties? Was he a war vet? Is he a victim of disease? I should broach a conversation. But…well…you know…..

From the looks of it, one thing seems certain: life has not been altogether easy or kind for him.

Most times I grab and go with my coffee but lately I’ve been staying for a spell in an effort to get more reading in. I’ll order coffee and maybe a treat and sit in a comfy chair with my Kindle turned to my current read.  So I’ve had a chance to watch the guy in the wheelchair.  He doesn’t appear to engage with anyone. Sometimes he sleeps and sometimes he seems deeply sad, staring-off into space, as if yearning for another life. And, sometimes, he seems to be keenly aware, with even a hint of a smile as he people-watches.

It’s my turn in line to order.  The young barista at the register has beautiful eyes, perfectly lined …and her arms are covered with colorful, nicely done tattoos.  How can she afford them?  I have often wondered.

“What is his story? —the guy in the wheelchair over there—,” I ask her, sotto voce.

“He’s homeless,” came the reply.

I sort of figured that given his appearance.

“I thought as much,” I said. “So…well…Okay. I’d like to buy him a drink or a meal…anonymously. Can you put a purchase for him on my card please?”

The barista was quite matter-of-fact…as if this wasn’t the first time she’d been asked the very same question.

“He won’t take it…so don’t bother.”

Ah. Immediately, I am sad.

I order my coffee and take it for the road home.

As I drive, I am deep in thought about the man in the wheelchair.  A memory from my Southern California days surfaces. It was about another guy who wouldn’t take anything either. For eight years, during every morning run I made to the ocean I’d see a seriously bedraggled man who looked liked he’d just spent years holed-up in a cave. Privately, I referred to him as Caveman Dude. His shirt barely covered his distended belly and his hair and beard were almost always scruffy, wild and unkempt. His legs seemed perennially swollen and his feet, often bare, were a mess of sores. Nearly every day Caveman Dude could be seen walking up and down the main drag or along the The Strand (the beach boardwalk). He walked with purpose, as if he was going to work or meeting a friend for lunch. On occasion, In the early morning I’d see him cocooned in a sleeping bag near a business merchant’s doorway. Some days he’d be limping, shuffling, barely able to walk…other days he’d be sitting on a street corner soaking up the Southern California sun like throngs of other beach goers. And, some days, he’d have a Styrofoam coffee cup in hand, which made me feel hopeful for him. It was evident he was homeless and it boggled my mind that for so many years he’d been living this way.  homeless

Every time I saw him I wondered: What is his story? How did “this life” happen to him?

One day as I was running up the steep hill from the pier I see Caveman Dude limping down the hill in my direction. Tired and sweaty, I was nearing the end of an 18-mile long run. As it often happened during my long runs I’d find money on sidewalks, in street gutters or on dirt trails. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters and, amazingly all too often, dollar bills too. On that particular run I was giddy with delight over my finds: three dimes, five quarters and two wadded-up dollar bills.

As Caveman Dude approached I thought: Here is my opportunity.

I stopped running and fished out the street money from the pocket of my drenched running shorts.

As he reached me I smile and hold out my hand, saying something to the effect: “Hi. Good Morning. Look, I found this change on the street while running so I’m giving it to you.”

He stops for only a nano-second, not making eye contact. He shakes his head and ever so politely says: “No thank you.” as he continues on.

I was dismayed but impressed by his politeness. I didn’t linger nor look back.

On that day too, I was inexplicably sad.

Whatever their stories may be, I’m ever aware that in the blink of an eye_________

Well…you know, I could have a story too.

Grateful.

Urban sprawl….a mixed bag

When we moved to “middle earth” we intended on renting initially.  I’m pretty sure my hubby was nervous about buying particularly since he nearly had to drag me by the hair to get me to move here.  Anyhow, it became apparent in just a day of pounding the pavement in search of a decent abode that renting would not be an option.  There just weren’t many homes to rent and the ones that were for rent certainly didn’t meet our standards.

So we bought.

Our house is enormous compared to the townhouse we lived in, in Southern California.  There we “squeezed” into 2,500 square feet.  Well, that’s what it felt like anyway (I know…that’s a mansion to some) after living in a single family, two-story, home with a large basement in Northern Virginia.  Somehow with the layout of the townhouse we didn’t have room for certain furniture.  I actually gave an entire bedroom suite to one of the moving men.  He didn’t even have to unload it from the moving van.   He was a young kid, married –didn’t look older than eighteen–with a child on the way.  “Take it…its yours,” I had said.  “We just don’t have the room for it.”  And, while that was definitely true since we were down one bedroom and an entire basement from our Virginia home,  I’ll confess that I loathed that colonial style furniture, vestiges from a previous chapter in my hubby’s life.  This was the perfect opportunity to pass it on!  The young man was most appreciative and that made my heart glad.

So, here…we enjoy 5,100 square feet.  I know. It’s crazy!  There’s just the two of us and the furniture we have looks like doll-house furniture in this house.  We have one room with practically nothing in it (currently, I use it for storage).  Maybe someday, if we stay here long enough I’ll figure out what to do with that room.

“We do not need this much house,” I told my husband last year during our second walk-through with the real estate agent.    And every day when I have to clean it I am reminded of that statement!  Hubby’s answer to me then was “I know…but it’s the floor plan we like and it’s so quiet up here.”

My mamma was spitting bullets I hear tell; she thought we were nuts to have bought such a large house.  Yes mamma, you’re right.  But guess what?  We have this big house for now…because we can!  This is not a forever deal.  We’re enjoying the moment, as it were.  Who knows where we will end up next and what we will have?  I’m almost 99.9% confident that our next home will be small again…and, eventually we may even be in some assisted living facility….and then we’ll be in an urn of some sort before our ashes are cast out into the sea….or wherever….

Home, sweet, home...for now

Home, sweet, home…for now

So, perhaps you can be happy for us?

Anyhow…

It’s mighty quiet up here, a complete turnaround from the wall to wall concrete jungle where we used to live in Southern California.  Now that it’s getting cooler it is almost eerily silent without the constant drone of frogs, cicadas or crickets.  I’m glad these critters are quiet now.  Some people find them comforting or charming.  Me…not so much!    Our home is situated on the top of a mountain, specifically Little Mountain.  When we moved into this three year-old home at the end of July 2012, there were only five homes on Little Mountain and about 40 lots for sale.  We thought that all these lots were never going to move.  Most of them had sat unsold for well over five years.  There is also a lot of rock up here (big rock) and although it adds to the beauty of the landscape it makes it difficult to plant anything).  Also, we’re smack dab in the middle of a forest of sorts.  Lots and lots of mountain oak, mountain ash trees, river birch, weeds large and small, etc.  Clearing lots with all the rocks and trees adds to the expense of buying these lots so we thought it would be years before more were sold.

We were wrong.

In the last six months eight homes have sprung up on Little Mountain.  In addition, two more lots are in the process of being cleared.  Naturally, this new construction has caused a considerable amount of noise (breaking up the big rocks has caused my house to quiver and shake and has proved might upsetting to the poodle!).  Add to that all the congestion on Little Mountain with all the construction trucks, not to mention loads and loads of trash, construction debris, and many flat tires (at this writing we have managed to escape being nailed.  I’d like to think it’s because of my diligence in picking up nail after nail during my daily walks with the poodle.).

The encroachment of more homes is a mixed bag for me.  On the one hand it is comforting to know that there are a few more souls living on Little Mountain.  I’m a city gal at heart.  I’m used to living close to the pulse of bright lights and shopping malls not to mention Starbucks at every mile post.  Sometimes I feel mighty isolated up here, especially at night when hubby is away on business travel.  Taking my poodle out for a walk in the pitch dark takes all the nerve I can muster some nights.  We do have a lot of critters up here.  There’s the skunk or two that has sprayed the neighbors dogs not once, but three times.  There are a couple of turkeys roaming around, hawks and owls, tons of menacing squirrels who take delight in taunting the poodle, chipmunks, bats, slithering snakes, and dreaded armadillos.  Those damned armadillos are almost as bad at tearing up the mountain as the construction machinery!    There are deer, possums, badgers, and even a couple of foxes.  And, don’t get me started on the plethora of super-sized creepy-crawlies. People are mighty plump in Alabama and the bugs are no exception!

Deer me!

Deer me!

What pains me is what’s happening to the deer population.  Mind you, there aren’t that many deer….perhaps eight to ten including several fawns this year.  It is clear that they are in certain peril of loosing their homeland.  Yes…. several homeowners have complained of flowers being eaten and gardens ruined, but still….for the most part its lovely to catch glimpses of these creatures during my early morning walks or late in the afternoon when walking the poodle.  They are rapidly being pushed down the mountain, into neighborhoods with lots of houses and little protection, and eventually out, onto the highway.  My heart aches for them; they have nowhere to go.

And though we are still considered rural, we are fast becoming part of the urban sprawl with more homes on the mountain,  the new Walgreen’s set to open next week down the mountain, and there’s breaking ground for yet another store yet to be named.  I’m still a city gal at heart but it is a mixed bag watching everything around me change so dramatically in just the course of a year.

Finding the bliss in all this change is challenging…

It’s all part of the journey and fighting it makes no sense whatsoever.  I’m not going to be here forever…there is bliss in that.  🙂