Sunday, January 10, 2010
It has been cold out lately. And if you’ve spent your entire life in the South like I have then it’s shockingly cold out.
So cold that I’ve left the electronic seat warmer button in the “HI” position since Christmas.
I live in a city that is not used to lingering cold spells. A city of contrasts that are served up in high definition when the temperature plummets.
One minute I’m in a sky box watching a Bobcats game in climate controlled comfort surrounded by beautiful people, the next I’m pulling out of my reserved parking space waiting for traffic to clear in 20 degrees of cold and only inches away from a homeless man.
He is ageless, nameless and timeless. It's 2010 but it might as well be 1929.
I think we must have invented the word “homeless” in the last decade. My grandmother would talk of being “out” as in put-out. “Out” was a dirty word in the 19th Century. Out–Law, Out–Cast, Out-Sider. In her day being "Out" was not a good thing.
The man next to my Lexus was definitely "Out". Out-side, Out of Luck, Out of Money and "Put Out" of the last place he called home.
The traffic is at a standstill and there is nowhere to run. I can’t drive forward, or back up. I can’t pretend not to notice that standing next to my big black SUV is a man who is With-Out. I’m confronted with Charlotte’s homeless and it’s up close and personal and just out side my window.
I’m not surprised. I lived in Charlotte’s 4th ward in the late 80’s long before it was fashionable or safe. One morning I found a homeless man asleep in the backseat of my unlocked, street parked BMW. One reason I’m fond of remote door locks these days.
The man next to my SUV on this cold night looks like a cross between Sasquatch and Jesus. Long hair unshaven and big. I pull the electric window button and the glass that divides warmth from cold, have and have-not, with and with-out, glides effortlessly downward the way 60 thousand dollars of automotive luxury should. The cold air rushes in, and my wife wonders aloud if I’ve lost my mind.
The traffic light on the corner changes to green and the cars around us begin to creep forward and a space opens up to which I could make a fast escape. I pull an Andrew Jackson out of my navy blazer pocket and hold it out the window.
The car behind me lays on the horn, the blaring noise echoing through the concrete parking deck and out onto the street.
The man says nothing, just nods and crumples the twenty into his large hand and stuffs it into his coat pocket.
And in an instant I’m headed down 3rd street to my warm home in Meckburbia and out twenty dollars.
There is no message here, I don’t expect readers to jump up and adopt a homeless person or start handing out large sums of money to people living on the streets. But being there, in the cold and with the contrast between being in and being out, to me, is huge.
A sobering reminder that I’m only a couple of paychecks away from being OUT.