A True Story- The Homeless - Human Beings and the "L" Train

by Dave Nuzzo - Date: 2007-03-06 - Word Count: 1179 Share This!

What follows is a true story that happened to me a little over a year and a half ago. It really made me think and I have been wanting to share it with the Fifth Column Magazine audience for sometime. I debated the best way to showcase its impact and after much deliberation I decided to just tell the story and leave the interpretation up to the reader.

I attended college in the city of Chicago right downtown, I won't say which college because that isn't important, and I commuted from out in the suburbs so I began each school day with a lengthy right on the "L" here in Chicago. For those of you who aren't from Chicago, the elevated trains are similar to subways but run both at ground level, underground and on elevated tracks; hence the name "L" for elevated. They are public transportation and so tend to attract the same interesting cross section of the population that you see on other forms of public transportation: everyone from high class business men to homeless bums.

I was used to the"L" rides and got used to carrying my headphones so I would have some music and wouldn't be bored during the ride. I switched trains at one point and during the trek through the transfer tunnel, I would often see homeless men and women sitting playing instruments, asking for food and money. At first, I'll admit, I was a little intimidated. I grew up in the suburbs where there weren't a lot of homeless. After a while though, I was used to it and often didn't take a second look. I'd give them any change I might have had on me but that was rare because, being a college student, I was poor and rarely had any money on me at all other than my train fare.

After a while I started taking all night classes as they only met once a week instead of two or three and this cut down on my time on the "L" each week. One particular night, I went down to class like normal, was bored out of my mind by the lecture and so I left a little early (not an uncommon occurrence for me as this was my last class before graduation). I hopped on the train and the first part of the ride was completely uneventful, I had my headphones on like normal and was pretty engrossed in my own little world.

A few stops later a man got on the train and sat across from me. He was an African American man, maybe in his mid thirties or forties. He looked a bit disheveled, had somewhat raggedy clothing and to be honest, didn't smell all that good. I didn't think much of it as, like I said, you see an interesting cross section of people on the "L". I don't normally talk to anyone on the train because I like to listen to my music and relax after class and when it's 8-9 pm and class was boring, I'm typically pretty tired.

After a stop or two this man across from me tapped me on the leg and motioned for me to take off my headphones. I did, and leaned over and he asks me politely if I could spare any change. I said no and apologized explaining that I was a college student and was pretty strapped for cash because of college expenses. He said he completely understood and thanked me anyways. I didn't think anything of it as I've had all sorts of people ask me for money on the "L" before, but then something unusual happened.

After a few more minutes this man leaned over again and tapped me on the leg and motioned again for me to take off my headphones. I did so again and leaned over and he said:

"Excuse me again... But can I ask you a question..."

"Sure" I replied.

"Do you see a human being before you?" He asked quite bluntly.

I was a little struck by the question but being a very people oriented person I immediately replied: "Yes of course".

He reached out his hand, I took it and we shook my hands firmly.

He said, "You know, I've been asking people that question all day and you are the first person to say yes to me. I asked 30 odd people or so and you are the only person who said that I was a human being."

I was completely dumbfounded and speechless. I eventually got out something to the effect of "That's horrible, I can't believe people would say that" but my mind was still a little in shock. We talked a few more minutes about how people could be so prejudiced, insensitive and judgmental. I was amazed that it was not just a few, but 30 or so people he had asked with no one being kind enough to say yes.

After a bit longer of us chatting about what I was studying in school and my goals for my future it was my stop. I got up, shook this man's hand again and he said: "God bless you, best of luck," and with a chuckle, "And because you're a young guy, I wish many hot girls upon you." I laughed and said goodbye and best of luck to him as well before leaving the train to head home.

That was quite an interesting train ride home.

I understand that some people don't like to give money to homeless people because they think they're going to spend it on drugs or something, and that some people are afraid to even talk to them because they think they're going to rob them or something. If you want to be that paranoid, that is your decision. I don't see any harm in giving a little change if I have it in my pocket, or at the very least acknowledging them and saying that I don't have any. If they spend it on drugs, oh well. I'm not going to judge someone harshly just to avoid the possibility that they might spend my hard earned.. 62 cents... on drugs.

What really struck me about this conversation is that I couldn't believe that people wouldn't even acknowledge this man as a human being. Maybe these previous 30 people didn't understand the question, maybe they didn't hear him correctly, maybe they were just trying to make him go away or maybe this man was just stringing me along hoping that his story would convince me to give him some money (which wouldn't really make sense, since he already knew I didn't have anything).

It just seems so prejudice, judgmental and derogatory to say that another person is not even a human being purely because of their looks and economic position. It really made me angry that people would ever say that to another person.

I don't know if this experience has changed how I act significantly, but it has definitely made think and more aware that we all can be judgmental and cruel towards each other.

I'll leave each person to draw their own conclusions from this story.

Related Tags: human rights, help, culture, poor, prejudice, homeless, society, discrimination, hate

D.A.N. (Dave Nuzzo) owns writes for an administers two websites. This article is part of his society and improving the world site called The Sights & Sounds from the Fifth Column. This is a site dedicated to promoting ideas from a variety of Internet authors that he thinks might help improve the world.

D.A.N. also writes primarily at a music and rock 'n' roll site called The Soul of Rock 'n' Roll. This site is dedicated to discussing his true passion: music, specifically rock and roll, blues and folk, without having to worry about mainstream ideas, what's popular, money, shock tactics or anything other than whether or not he likes the music. It also is designed to help unknown artists gain some recognition so if you're in a rock, blues or folk band, you can submit your music and it might get shown on the site.

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