A fellow blogger, Anne at Not Ready for AARP, recently wrote about the sadness she feels when traveling into Baltimore for the holidays.
While she loves the fun and energy of the city during the festive Christmas season, she also sees those down on their luck.
Those sitting with head in hands on the steps leading into the park.
The people asking for spare change as shoppers walk past them.
Sometimes seeing them.
But, usually not.
Her post got me thinking about my past and those who I saw everyday that needed a bit of help.
When I lived in Chicago, I lived and worked in very normal neighborhoods. Neighborhoods full of working class people.
Neighborhoods full of native Chicagoans, immigrants, homeless people, college students, and young families.
Three people to this day stand out in my mind.
Three people whose story I have no idea about.
But three people I saw on a regular basis.
Guy on the corner by the Popeyes Chicken and Dunkin Donuts:
When I worked at an animal clinic in the late 90's in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, I took my dog Madison to work with me.
The Cabrini Green housing projects were one black west of the clinic.
I often would walk down Division Street to get something for lunch.
Choices were endless when searching for lunch foods.
Hot dogs, fried chicken, sandwiches, deep dish pizza.
If I decided to eat at the corner of Division and Clark, I usually stopped in at Popeyes Chicken to get some red beans and rice and biscuits.
The red line El stop was at this corner.
The entrance to the underground subway was always bustling with people.
People coming out of the dark, others going down into it.
The first time I walked down there for lunch with my dog Madison, "he" was there.
"He" being a scrawny African American guy, probably in his late thirties to my late twenties.
Since it was such a busy stretch of sidewalk, I couldn't find a suitable spot to tie Madison to while I went into Popeyes to get my lunch.
Seeing a dog tied up outside a storefront is not an uncommon sight in Chicago.
Chicago is very dog friendly, but restaurants still don't allow dogs inside.
The guy asked me for money as I searched for a safe place to park my dog.
Then, I had an idea.
"If I tied my dog up here, would you watch him while I went inside to get my lunch? Protect him and I'll give you a few dollars for your time."
"But, I don't like dogs! Dogs scare me!"
he bellowed to me.
I said to him "I'm not asking you to touch him, just make sure no one bothers him or tries to take him."
He thought it over.
Whatever need he had for a few extra dollars, I don't know.
It was none of my business really.
I didn't know his story.
I just saw someone who wanted something and I needed something, so it was a win-win.
As I went in to get my rice and beans, I could hear him yelling at passerbys.
"Don't touch that dog! I'm watching him!"
"Hey, watch out for the dog! I'm watching him!"
I came back out and asked him how it went.
He said no one had bothered the dog and asked if I was still going to pay him.
"Of course" I said.
He did a job and I owed him.
I handed him a few dollars, thanked him for his guard work, and walked down the sidewalk back to work.
He seemed to always be at that corner when I went that way for lunch.
I don't remember if I ever asked him his name.
I may have.
It was long ago, though.
But, he always watched over Madison if he was with me.
It was our thing.
Me, my dog, and his subway guardian.
To be continued...