I haven’t blogged in a few months – and for that matter, when I was blogging two months ago, I was still catching up on LAST YEAR’s events. There are no guarantees that I will ever “catch up,” but I’ve decided that I’m just going to jump again and do what I can!
Which brings me to about a week and a half ago. Our internet went down at home, so I biked over to Common Grounds, a lovely local coffee shop with free internet. I hung out there for a few hours and then packed up to bike back home. As I got to my bike, a homeless man was sitting outside the coffee shop window.
I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with homeless people — as in, I will turn my head to acknowledge their existence instead of staring fixedly away — ever since our church started hosting the Interfaith Rotating Winter Shelter and I actually hung out with homeless folks. So instead of ignoring him, I nodded politely at him and bent to unlock my bike, when he startled me by saying, “You know, I’m from Chinatown.”
I replied, “Um… welcome to Davis!”
“I’m the most famous poet in Chinatown. I’m the most famous poet in the world,” he continued.
I said, “Pleased to meet you.”
“I’m an Irishman,” he continued. “Did you know that the Irish and the Chinese built the railroads?” He continued on to share some various railroad-building facts.
At this point, I had the feeling that I wasn’t going to be leaving right away. I settled into a comfortable standing position, and we chatted about railroads, Chinatown, his friend who gave him a free bottle of vodka, where he was from (Sacramento, but he’s been in San Francisco for a while), and why he was in Davis (he was stuck there).
“Is there any way,” he asked, “that you could get me a train ticket to San Francisco? I’m just so stuck here. If you could just get me a ticket to Richmond – I have a BART card that I can use from there.”
Well, as a matter of fact, I had installed the Amtrak app on my phone to use for a recent business trip. I looked up the fare for Davis to Richmond, and it was around $20. “I can do that for you,” I said, and bought the ticket on my phone, marveling at the wonders of technology. I put the ticket under his name and wrote down the confirmation number for him. He happened to have a handful of local maps, so I found the Davis map, circled his current location, and drew an arrow for where to walk in order to get to the Amtrak station.
Michael kept saying, full of emotion, “You don’t even know. You don’t even know how wonderful you are right now. Thank you, thank you. Oh, you are just an angel.” He actually started crying a little bit. “I would marry you. I love you.”
I laughed and said, “Thank you, but I am already married.”
“Well, he’s a lucky guy, let me tell you. You are just an angel. I am never going to say anything bad about the Chinese EVER AGAIN. I love the Chinese. I love China. I don’t care what anyone else says, I am going to tell them that the Chinese are the best people there are.”
I said, “Well, technically my parents came from Taiwan.”
“I love Taiwan, too. I love them all. I love you.”
I was a little worried that in his slightly intoxicated state, that he wouldn’t remember to go to Amtrak. Even though the train ticket I bought was for 7 pm (it was now 3:30 pm), I said, “Hey, Michael? If you could just stay put here, I’ll get my husband to come and give you a ride to the station. Would that work for you?”
“Yes. I love you. I love him too.”
“Okay, cool. Don’t move, okay?”
I unlocked my bike. As I biked over the overpass, I called Steve to give him a heads-up and have him get the kids in the car. Ten minutes later, I pulled into our driveway, threw my bike into the garage, and ran inside to grab some granola bars, new socks, and a bag of chips to give to our new friend. Steven had gotten his brand new little Travis Credit Union piggy bank that he’d gotten from Celebrate Davis the night before (where lots of vendors give away free stuff) and put a dollar and some change in it, wanting to give it to “the homeless man.” We drove back over to Common Grounds, and I hopped out.
And found a pile of newspapers and an empty cigarette box, but no Michael.
I looked wildly around. Did the police come by and take him away? Did he wander off?
I got back in the car and asked Steve to drive and see if we could find him. We drove down Cowell to the Amtrak station. Note that this was a Friday afternoon, i.e., when every car in Davis is out trying to get on the freeway, and we hit every single red light (and some multiple times). We saw one homeless man with his dog lying down in the shade, several college students at the bus stop, and one sweaty-looking woman walking in the hot sun. But no Michael.
(We did see our friends Alex and Jada pulling into Dutch Brothers, and texted Alex to see if she could get Steve a Kicker Freeze. She invited us to their house to meet their new puppy.)
I asked Steve if he minded going back to Common Grounds so that I could ask around to see if anyone had seen Michael. So we turned around (getting the Kicker delivered to us in a drive-by pass-off) and crawled back to the coffee shop parking lot.
I went inside the coffee shop and saw someone sitting by the window. Gathering together my courage, I asked, “Hi! This is kind of random – but there was a homeless guy sitting out there. Did you happen to see him or see where he went?” The guy answered, “Actually, I did see him. He came in here with his bottle of vodka to go to the bathroom, but I don’t know if he left or what.”
I checked the bathrooms. Empty.
I went to the front counter and asked, “Hi! There was a homeless guy who came in here to go to the restroom. Did you happen to see where he went after that?”
“Oh, we pointed him toward the Amtrak station. So he went out walking that way,” they said, pointing to the direction we’d just drive from.
Hm. I went back out and asked, “Steve, do you mind if we drive back just one more time?”
Back we went. Cars. Red lights. No homeless man.
“Well,” I said, “I guess there’s nothing else we can do. Hopefully he makes it.” We decided to drive to Alex’s house to meet the puppy.
So here’s the deal. All this time, we’d been driving through the parking lot to go towards the train station (red). This time, we just stayed on Cowell Blvd to head toward Alex’s house (blue). So that’s when I saw him.
Actually – that’s when I saw it – the distinctive striped bag that Michael had been carrying, on the bike path (see orange spot on the map above). And then I saw two legs, sticking out of the bushes, and a bottle of rum next to the legs.
“STEVE!” I cried, “That’s him!!! He passed out in the bushes!!!!”
Steve muttered, “You’re killing me,” but he made a U-turn at the light, pulled over, and went over to the legs sticking out of the bushes. After shaking Michael awake, he walked him to the car – supporting Michael around the waist because he literally could not walk straight. I climbed into the back seat of the van, while Steve helped Michael get into the passenger seat.
Michael, who hadn’t dropped a single inappropriate word in my conversation with him, chose this moment to make up the difference with my children in the car. “I love you guys so #@$*ing much,” he said. “I’m sorry – I’m so @&#*ing drunk.” He continued in this vein for a while. “That Chinese girl – she is the nicest girl. Man, I am just so @^#*ing drunk.”
At the Amtrak station, I helped Steven give Michael the goodie bag and piggy bank. “Oh, you’re just a sweetheart,” Michael gushed. “I just love you.” Steven looked back stoically. Steve led Michael into the Amtrak station while I stayed in the car with the kids.
Several long minutes passed.
I finally texted Steve, “Everything okay?”
He texted back, “No! Look up greyhoud info please.”
“???” I replied.
“Discover?” He wrote.
“Amtrak,” I responded. I was so confused.
Steve came back out.
So apparently Amtrak only allows passengers with government-issued photo ID. Since Michael did not have photo ID, even though we bought a ticket for him, he was not allowed to get on the train! They refunded our ticket and suggested that we look into Greyhound.
I had a frustrating few minutes trying to use the Greyhoud website on my phone. The nearest station was in Sacramento, and this original errand of mercy was starting to be a huge hassle. Steve did not want to keep the kids in the car any longer, much less drive in Friday traffic out to Sacramento.
After some tense talking with Steve, I finally decided to offer to drive Michael out to Sacramento in the morning, if he was willing to hang around. I found him inside the Amtrak station at the plexiglass window, yelling at the station manager, “EXCUSE ME! SIR! I WANT MY TICKET! WHY AREN’T YOU TALKING TO ME?”
I touched him on the arm. “Hey – so there’s a problem.” I explained the photo ID thing. “So – we can give you a ride tomorrow morning if you don’t mind waiting.”
He said, “What?! I don’t want to wait! I’m done waiting! You know what, @%#* all this!!! Today is my day to die!!!!”
He stormed out of the Amtrak station, right toward the train that was sitting on the tracks.
Son of a Nutcracker! I thought, He is going to run in front of the train!!!!
I rushed out after him, grabbing his arm. “Michael!” I cried. “Hold on! Let’s figure something out!”
Seeing as how he was a foot taller than me, he simply had to shrug me off. “No. It’s my day to die!”
He walked right onto the open doors of the train.
And the doors closed (they had just given the final call), and the train went off to Sacramento.
And that was the abrupt end to my story.
(Amtrak doesn’t check for tickets at the doors, but the conductor goes through during the ride to check tickets. Presumably Michael would get thrown off at the next stop in Sacramento.)
I still feel somewhat traumatized by the whole experience. What would have been the best or right thing to do in this whole scenario? Davis doesn’t really have “emergency homeless aid” places, nor do I know of any specific organization that is able to help a very drunk man get to where he wants to go. Steve pointed out that even if we could have gotten him to Richmond, would he really have made it to San Francisco?
And this brings up all kinds of questions about helping the homeless long-term. With this specific man, short of “adopting” him, was there anything else we could have done to help him toward any level of success in his life?
I don’t know the answers, and I’m not sure if I will ever know. And I’m not sure what I would do the next time a homeless man or woman asked me for help with transportation. At least I will check to see if they have photo ID before buying an Amtrak ticket!
And also, I have a husband with the patience of a saint.