As I have mentioned in previous discussions, the Starbucks I most often frequent in Eagle Rock is on the cusp between more suburban communities (like Glendale, Pasadena, and La Canada) and some of the grittier urban areas of Los Angeles. Consequently, the neighborhood is an eclectic mix of the impoverished, the wealthy, and everything in between.
The obstacle course of the homeless
I usually walk to the Starbucks, which is about 25 minutes away from my home, because
- I can always use the exercise.
- I use that time to listen to audio books.
And I am often walking there in the dark because–
- I’m a morning person, who likes to get the early worm.
- I’ve got East Coast clients who may be trying to reach me at 8 or 9 A.M. their time.
- This Starbucks is open at 5 AM.
What these early morning walks mean though is that I often see a few of the neighborhood’s homeless while on the way to the Starbucks.
And by “see” I mean step around, step over, or walk past. There are a few of them. For example….
There is one homeless man who sleeps at one of two bus stop benches. Sometimes on the bench, more often on the pavement behind or in front of the bench.
And it takes some effort to step around him, because his belongings, such as they are, are spread round about him — his shoes, assorted grocery bags, and a small duffel bag. He’s completely wrapped in a dirty, stained blanket, but like a mummy — so completely so that I wasn’t even sure there was a body inside that bundle the first time I saw him. Maybe it was just garbage?
I was initially concerned, wondering if whoever it was cocooned inside that bundle of linen was dead or alive. But the belongings looked so purposely gathered around that I figure he must have been there intentionally, not dumped there.
And when he kept showing up to sleep on the sidewalk nearly every day, I figured he wasn’t dead.
Unless someone with a very sick sense of humor was replacing the corpse there every day.
But not likely.
One morning, I saw the mummy guy at the Starbucks.
Actually, that’s the first time I SAW him outside his cocoon. Which he now carried draped over his shoulders.
He had a bushy, unkempt beard and long hair, even more unkempt.
And he had that wild eyed look of a paranoid schizophrenic; he simultaneously scanned the room with fear and suspicion even as he never made eye contact with anyone. He shuffled through the dining area, swerving his way to the restroom, disappearing within.
He stayed there almost 20 minutes as a line of antsy dancy patrons formed, waiting for this one-and-only restroom. Finally, the Starbucks manager rapped on the door, ordering the man to leave.
Which he did.
I saw him sleeping on the bus stop benches another week or two, and then never again.
Then there’s Stalwart Stuart
Actually, I don’t know his name. And I didn’t realize he was homeless for several weeks, although I suspected he was.
Because there was just something strange about the fact that he was always standing in the exact same spot every morning, always leaning against the same utility box, directly in front of a neighborhood self storage place, as if waiting for it to open.
Except that the storage place didn’t open for another 3 1/2 hours.
And though he was a rather stately looking fellow—probably mid-60s and sporting a well trimmed, salt-n-pepper beard—he never looked me in the eyes: never offered a “good morning” word or nod.
And yet it was obvious that he saw me. Oh, and he always had a small suitcase with him — carry-on size.
Then one day, I was passing by about 15 minutes earlier than I normally do and there was Stalwart Stuart lying on the sidewalk in the exact same spot, but bundled up inside a sleeping bag. I had to step around to get past him.
About 20 feet or so down the street, I turned to look back and saw him propped up on his elbows looking at me. I waved. He did not wave back. Maybe I’m wrong, but I detected a look of shame, as though I had discovered his dark secret.
I continued on my way.
The next day, he was back in “his post,” standing guard as usual. This time, I nodded to him as I passed. He did not reciprocate.
Until the next day. For the first time, he looked at me directly. Without smiling, he nodded as if to say hello back.
This casual acknowledgment of each other’s existence continued for the next few weeks. Though a weak bond, it felt like a bond nonetheless. He saw that I didn’t judge him for being homeless, is my guess. And appreciated being recognized by someone.
Over time, his smile was more frequent, especially on mornings after I had skipped my trip to the Starbucks. It was as though he had been concerned about my absence and was glad to see that I was alright and there to exchange our passing nods.
And then, one day, Stalwart Stewart wasn’t stalwart any more. His post was vacant. That was over six weeks ago.
And he never came back.