“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.” ~ Irish Proverb
We hop through the Chicago Blue Line train doors and look for seats. I glance over to a solitary figure in the corner back seat. He makes eye contact, gives a smile that shows his missing teeth and gestures that I may sit in the seat next to him.
I am usually chatty and he is, too. We immediately engage in lively conversation about Chicago, the sites to see, etc. He is a wealth of information as to free events going on in the city. My goodness, I must be sitting next to the Good Will Ambassador of Chicago!
As our conversation continues he volunteers information about himself. He is 60 years old, spent five years in the Air Force, moved to Chicago with his parents at age three and lives on the Chicago subway train system. Yes, this is what he calls his home since it is much safer than the homeless shelters. He says that a 60-year-old man is a target on the streets and in the shelters, so he feels safer on the train.
I ask my new friend, Nate, about his family. His parents both lived to their mid 80’s to 90’s and his mother died from Alzheimer disease. We have this in common so our conversation never lags. He entertains me with stories of his mother’s forgetfulness which I can relate to.
Nate shakes his head and laments the fact that so much food is wasted in America, but it’s to his advantage if good food is thrown in a dumpster or somewhere that he can retrieve it.
I am aware that Nate is working me for a handout, but that’s O.K. Interesting conversation, information about the sites and events in Chicago, and a little insight to another world that I am fortunate not to have experienced. Maybe he isn’t homeless and it’s just a scam, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I give Nate some money and a cold bottle of water and he seems genuinely appreciative. He has his eye on a pork sandwich from a vendor he knows, that is a good value and lets me know that the cold bottle of water I gave him is such a treat.
We arrive at our stop and the train doors open. We say our goodbyes and walk through the door, continuing to play the role of tourists. Nate, on the other hand, stays on the train hoping another nice tourist hops on the train and finds a seat next to him.