Motivation for the Marketplace
Motivation for the Marketplace
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Their goal on this day: earn, beg or borrow enough to rent a room for the weekend and to buy food.
Life on Either Side of America’s Glass Walls

    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, Chicago’s 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, you’ll try anything to find a way out,” they told us.

    Later the same evening, I strolled back up the same street in front of Chicago’s 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 times—something 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 don’t want to meet those who scratch out a life on the fearful outer side. The folk outside don’t 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.


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