Yesterday, it was 110 degrees in the shade. That’s not an extraordinary figure, though it’s a little early for such a warm day. Rolling off the freeway, I made sure to pull my car into the offramp lane furthest from the curb, something I do by habit to avoid being hassled by panhandlers.
And yea verily, there was a raggedy guy with his worldly possessions tossed on the ground all around him, begging for a handout. A guy in an SUV pulled up beside me, and sure enough, the panhandler barged up to the driver’s-side door and demanded money. SUV dude ignored him.
I was on my way to the PoD vendor, there to pick up some page proofs. It’s a lot cheaper to drive down south of the airport than to have him ship the things to me. Seemed to me I saw an awful lot of derelict-looking folks, and not just in the scruffier part of town. Earlier I’d spotted a guy begging at the corner of Tatum and Shea, smack in the middle of tony Paradise Valley, across the street from a supermarket where one finds BMWs, Mercedes, and even now and again a Bentley in the parking lot.
On an idle impulse, I decided to count the number of transients between the printer’s shop and my place.
So northward and westward bound it was. One . . . two . . . three, four . . . five . . . six, seven, eight . . . Some were huddled together in spots of shade, others were standing out in the full sun with their “Disabled Veteran” and “Need Food” signs, trying to cadge a few bucks. And of course, every freeway underpass has at least one and often several panhandlers working the offramps in the shade of the overpass.
On 24th Street at Roosevelt, a freight train was stopped — permanently as far as anyone could tell — right across the road. Becalmed, I settled in for a long, long wait, but then spotted a couple of 18-wheel truckers pushing their way through so right quick shoved my way in behind one of them (yes, I am an aggressive driver), and before long we were eastbound on Roosevelt, following the tracks to God knows where. Nine . . . ten. . . .
It was a long and roundabout trip, and I’ll admit I lost track of my bums because I passed some of the time gathering wool. Eventually we came out on McDowell by way of 36th Street.
This took me way out of my way. But I recalled that I needed something from a Target, and that the Costco shopping center on 44th Street north of McDowell happened to host one of those worthy stores. So bore easterly some more and finally north. Eleven . . . twelve . . .
Parked. Went into the Target. Didn’t find the desired item, but did find Bum #13 loitering in the portico outside the entrance.
By the time I got home, I had counted FIFTEEN derelicts stumbling around the streets, most of them no doubt mentally ill, drug addicts, or both.
Think of that. Fifteen homeless, miserable human beings in one trip. In 110-degree heat.
When I was a little kid in the 1950s, my father used to brag to me that America was “the greatest country in the world,” and one of the manifestations of that greatness was that we didn’t have people sleeping in the streets. In those days, out in Arabia, we would get Life and Saturday Evening Post and Time magazines shipped to us. Those amazing bygone publications would run stories with lots of photos displaying the wide, wide world to the American middle class.
This particular brag of my father’s came, memorably, when one of the magazines ran a big photo spread about India, showing scenes of poverty-stricken, half-starved men, women, and children living permanently on the sidewalks and the roads. See there! said he. America is such a great country, we never have people living on our streets.
Well, of course, he had lived through the Great Depression and passed a time when, for 10 days running, he and my mother had nothing to eat but pancakes and oranges kiped from local orchards, and I’m quite sure he knew about Hoovervilles and Okies. But the Depression was in the past and now we were in the 1950s and we were a Great Country.
He was right, though. When we would go home on long leaves, we would drive all the way across the country, from New York to Ft. Worth to Berkeley and back, and never once encounter anyone begging.
Today you see beggars on every corner.
If we were a Great Country, we could come up with the wherewithal to provide mental health care, drug addiction care, and housing for people who are too sick and too feckless to care for themselves.
When America was a Great Country (so said my father), we and our friends passed through towns and cities in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrein, India, Africa…and everyplace we went we encountered hungry people begging for handouts. That was considered an exotic sight, something you only saw in Third-World countries.
Today we don’t have to travel far to meet a beggar. All we have to do is go down to the corner grocery store.
WTF is wrong with us that we have so many people living and begging in the streets?