Last year in November, I walked with a friend up Michigan Avenue in
downtown Chicago. A brisk, cold wind swept snowflakes across my face.
We walked on a street of stark contrast.
On one side of the sparkling windows of first floor businesses, shops
and restaurants, I watched people browse, eat, consider purchases as
shared smiles, laughter, arms and conversation. Just outside, on the
other side of those same glass walls, I met five strangers.
My first encounter was with Bobby. He worked as a vendor for Street
Wise, Chicagos newspaper for the homeless. By selling the tabloid,
Bobby earned enough to secure a meal and a warm bed for the night. I
bought a copy and asked him how things were going. He explained his
job, adding, It is better than stealing and staying in trouble.
Next, as my friend and I rounded a corner in search of lunch, a man and
a woman offered us a copy of the same newspaper. Their story was grim.
Burned out of their apartment six months earlier, this couple and their
four children lived on the street. Their goal on this day: earn, beg
or borrow enough to rent a room for the weekend and to buy food. They
talked of God and a Bishop Pate and his healing oil. When you are
on the street, youll try anything to find a way out, they told us.
Later the same evening, I strolled back up the same street in front of
Chicagos Art Institute. Busy people flooded the sidewalks. Troy
almost escaped my notice until he stepped into my path to ask for any
little bit of change for a meal. Originally from small town Arkansas,
he moved to Chicago where he fell on hard timessomething about a woman
on drugs. His family in suburban Chicago tried hard to forget him.
Finally, I joked with a street corner saxophone entertainer. I offered
that I bet he could teach the President a thing or two about the sax!
He replied that he ought to be President, and he played a fast blues number for
me. I thanked him with applause and a tip dropped into his horn case.
Relaxing in my hotel room that evening, I reflected. People live on
either side of glass walls in this country. People who live, work and
play on the safe side of the glass dont want to meet those who
scratch out a life on the fearful outer side. The folk outside dont
know how to get the attention of those inside in an appropriate manner.
I find this reality very sad. People who lie, work and play on the
dangerous aside of the glass wall are simply people too. Both groups
have much to offer each other, if only they could stop and talk.