We weren’t planning any side trips last night. We were coming home after doing a double shift of volunteering answering phones for the local NPR fund drive. It had been a fun few hours – taking pledges over the phones, meeting new people, laughing, and eating good food that had been donated to thank us for giving of our time.
But on the drive home, we saw a man in the snow. He was a bit like a tortoise on his back – thrashing and trying to right himself. Two people, presumed companions, were trying to pull him up by his arms but it was not working. When we got closer we saw crutches on the ground. Oh my – their infirmed father/friend/brother had fallen, and they could not get him up!
Because of the huge snow piles made by the plows on the sides of the roads, it is not possible these days to simply pull over. There is no place to pull over. So we drove to the next street and David jumped out to help while I stayed in the car (blocking a lane) with the flashers. But even with 3 of them pulling with all their might, the man could not get up. I got out and went over, too, and tried the “push from behind” technique. That, coupled with the 3 pulling from the front, worked. As he rose to his feet, he started to say in a bit of a frantic voice, “DOES ANYONE HERE HAVE A CAR? Does anyone have a car to drive me to the metro? Does anyone here have a car???”. The lady who had been assisting him looked at me, and I guess that is when I realized that this was not her brother/father/friend – she too had stopped to help a complete stranger, as had the young man. And the situation was not just a man on crutches in the snow – this man had TWO FEET in only socks and surgical boots – the kind where most of your sock is exposed. And he was traveling by foot on crutches in the deep snow. The sidewalks were not clear enough to safely walk, and there were no curb cuts that had been shoveled.
David and I told him we had a car and could drive him to the metro. The man who had helped disappeared without a trace. The young woman looked at me as if to ask, “Is this ok?”. She asked if there was anything else she should or could do. I told her we would drive him and she left.
David said he would help the man walk up the sidewalk a ways until they could get to a curb cut that had been shoveled and I should go bring the car and meet them. So off they slowly hobbled and I maneuvered the car around snow banks to try and get back to them, but again, there was no place to pull over. Sigh. I ended up waiting at the top of the hill (ironically by the metro entrance the poor man must’ve been trying to get to) trying to figure out HOW we were going to get him off the snowy sidewalk and into our car. I backed down the hill and we met at a spot where David could assist him in getting into the street and into our backseat.
I should say, during the blizzard last week, we pulled over in DC to offer a ride to an African American woman and man. They had been trying to hail taxis and none would stop for them. It was snowing and really windy and cold, so we pulled over and asked where they were going (meaning “because if it is anywhere near where we are going we will drive you”). The lady, presuming we were ignorant rich white people from the suburbs or out of town, started to give us directions. And I said, “No! We are offering you a RIDE”. She looked straight at us and said, “Do not do that! Do not be nice!!! That is dangerous! You get on now! Do not be nice!!”
So, shortly on the heels of that sage advice, here we were at 11:30 PM last night trying to maneuver a very large, very handicapped man into our car.
David got him and his backpack settled in. We took off and I asked him where he was heading. “Union Station” was the reply. By this point I wondered if he was homeless, so I asked if he was going to stay there for the night.
Yes, he was.
We passed the metro station he had been aiming for and drove on – destination Union Station.
And on the 40-or-so minute drive there, we talked to MARK.
Seems he had been released prematurely from the hospital. He is having problems with his legs and feet. Didn’t have surgery, but they gave him IVs and creams and medicines to try and fix him up. They suspect he also has colon cancer, but he is very allergic to many medications and they have not done the tests needed to confirm it. “Why did they release you before you were ready to go??” I naively asked. “Because, Susan, I do not have insurance and there is no one to pay” was the reply.
He was careful to use our names often. He was very lucid, did not appear to have been drinking, and was an intelligent and nice man. He is from Miami. Worked his way to DC about 20 years ago to fight a whistleblower case and in doing so lost a lot. Now has no job, no money. Sleeps in a hotel when he can get enough money to. Right now he is supposed to keep his legs elevated, and when isn’t in a hotel (i.e. – when he does not have a bed and has to sleep sitting up) that is impossible to do. But he never ASKED US to give him money – for a hotel or anything else. He was so appreciative that we were driving him in our warm car all the way to Union Station.
I asked a lot of questions and he answered them straightforwardly. Why didn’t he have Medicaid? Trying to sort through getting that. Had he ever been in the military (hoping he could maybe get assistance from the VA)? No – he graduated high school the year the Vietnam War ended and signing up for duty was not popular at that time. (He is very close to David’s age.) Would they let him stay inside all night at Union Station? Yes, during this super cold weather they will. Why doesn’t he go to the shelter instead? He has been badly abused in a shelter and so won’t go. What did he do for his career? In an ironic twist, he sold medical insurance. Sigh.
David asked if he had any family in the area, and he explained his Grandma just died in January in Miami. Someone helped him out with airfare to get to the funeral and he gave a eulogy. She was his last “real family” he said, the last one that cared anything about him. She stuck by him through everything, and now she is gone.
He asked David about his work and they talked theatre a bit. Mark said one of his roads not taken was to work in comedy. Then he said, “STATEMENT; NO GOOD MUSICALS HAVE BEEN PRODUCED SINCE THE 1960s – AGREE OR DISAGREE”. It was so sweet! It was as if our car had turned into a game show and our homeless host was in the backseat!!
So there we were, two privileged people lucky enough to have a car, a home, and food – with Mark – a down-on-his-luck but still thankful man – discussing BROADWAY MUSICALS. I had to disagree with his provocation – my goodness how could I neglect “Avenue Q” and “Rent”?? And David also disagreed, what about “Les Mis”??? But Mark stuck to his guns. He was talking about the likes of “Kiss Me Kate”, “South Pacific”, and “The King and I”. And that is when we all found ourselves singing together, “Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk. Talk about things you like to do…. You got to have a dream. If you don’t have a dream. How you gonna have a dream come true?”.
I cry as I write this. A dream? A dream? When you are as down on your luck as he is, a dream? But our voices sounded lovely together.
We brought him to the Station and David helped him walk in. When he got out of the car he thanked us very much and said that he hoped our good deed comes back to us ten fold.
David said there were quite a few other homeless people in the Station, too, so we decided we should go home, make coffee and get some treats, and bring them back. David made a cheese sandwich for Mark (one of his specialties!) and I got together packages of cookies and coffee, cups, milk, and sugar.
But when we got back, the Grate Patrol van was there. That is a van that assists homeless people by bringing food, blankets, and taking them to a shelter. But we knew Mark wouldn’t go to the shelter, so we parked and went in.
He was gone.
There was only one homeless man in the Station. We talked to a security guard and asked if he had seen a man on crutches that we were worried about, and he had not. He said they cannot sleep in the station – they either have to go outside or get in the shelter van.
So we went back outside and hunted for him. We found a lady all bundled up in layers of blankets – her boots OFF and feet tucked in – and offered her coffee and cookies. She did not want to get out of her blankets (it was about 28 degrees out) but took cookies for later.
We found two men – one who was dressed in military fatigues and called himself “Colonel” or “General” and explained that he is not homeless, but sleeps outside. Hmmm. He said churches and others give him blankets and gear, which he distributes to other homeless people. He said, “I won’t lie to you, I do drink!”. Smile. To which I could only reply, “Hey, so do we!”. He and his friend were happy to get a cup of hot coffee. We asked if they knew Mark and Colonel thought maybe he did, and that Mark is a “BSer – sorry to tell you” and uses his medical condition to get sympathy and make more money. But we didn’t really believe that – Mark had seemed so genuine and had not hit us up for anything other than a ride up one hill.
So we kept looking. Couldn’t find him outside, so we did another search inside. Nothing. We were about to leave, and I said, “Let’s just go all the way in the back” which is where the Amtrak trains come.
And there he was. Sitting in the Amtrak waiting area. He was true to his word, he didn’t want to go to a shelter.
We walked up to him and he was sleeping sitting up. Wasn’t even leaning back in the chair, and had his arm around his backpack to guard it. We were going to put the sandwich (wrapped with a red bow and with a Valentine card) by his crutches, but as we stood there he woke up. He was surprised to see us, and said, “You went all the way home and came back with this?”. He was very happy. We left him his 2 AM snack an told him Happy Valentines Day.
So we found him. We may never see him again. But I used my wish on a star last night that he would find a safe and warm place to sleep. And for that one night it looks like he did.
May he have somewhere warm to rest and put his legs up. Happy Valentines Day, Mark.