Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Homeless

Every city has its own way of dealing with homeless people. Here in Salem, Oregon they earn spending money by standing on street corners at busy intersections, or freeway off ramps, with cardboard signs, asking for a handout. Some of them, who occasionally take a cab have told me that they can bring in anywhere from one to three hundred dollars a day. Heck that’s more than a stripper makes on a bad day, and they don’t even have to take their clothes off.

One homeless woman that I used to drive, bragged to me how she didn’t pay rent for the past fifteen years because she lived in a tent behind “Costco”, down by Mill Creek, next to I-5, off Highway 22. I dropped her off in the middle of a December rainstorm one night, with a twelve pack of beer and two guys. That same area is where the homeless have one of their camps.

One night I drove a guy that I picked up at Winco, with a bag of burritos and a jug of wine for a party that was happening there. Later that night, at around 2:00 AM, I picked up another homeless man from the emergency room with a face that looked like it ran into a battering ram. The hospital was paying for his ride on their charge account with the cab company. When I asked him where he was going he told me to drop him off at the back Costco’s parking lot. On the way there my fare told me that everyone got drunk at the party they had, and a guy twice his size beat him up, because of an argument that they got in.

Then there was the homeless guy that I picked up one night, around midnight, in the early spring, when it was cool and dry, at Denny’s, on Market. He was sitting on a bench outside, with a sleeping bag, and three shopping bags, with handles. After I helped him load it all in the cab, he told me that he was going to the parking lot across the street, behind the Red Lion.

“Why don’t you save the money and just walk there?” I asked him.

“Don’t worry” he told me, “I’ll give you a tip. They told me that I could sleep in the bushes.”

When we arrived, the meter read $3.70, a dollar more than the $2.70 flag drop that we started at. He had me pull up the island next to the bus stop, where the bushes were. Then he took out the sleeping bag and unrolled it, between two rows of knee high bushes. After he arranged the shopping bags around the sleeping bag, he returned to the cab and asked me what he owed me.

“$3.70,” I told him.

He took a legal sized white envelope out of his coat pocket and opened it up. I could see currency of various denominations, and he pulled out a twenty dollar bill, handed it to me and told me to keep the change. My first reaction was to refuse the tip and return the money to him, but I remember how offended the elderly woman on welfare was, when I told her that she needed it more than me. I rack it up to Karma for the last time that I got burned, or the next time that someone asks me for a handout.

“Thanks” I told him as I took off.

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