People in my Neighborhood

Michelle lives on the sidewalk between her shopping cart and the shrubs. In that spot, she sleeps sitting up, with her knees drawn up to her chest, blankets over her head. She is afraid to live in the shelter; something very bad happened there once. She wants to live alone, on her own. She is afraid of people. That is, until she decides you are safe. She likes Chinese fried rice, Coke and People magazine. She has been living like this for many years. She is the same age as me.

A certain man spends all day, every day, hanging out in the front of the liquor store. He does not buy booze, he just spends every day “living” there. He talks to himself all day, and wears the same exact thing every day: army boots and pants, flight jacket, baseball cap and dark glasses. He goes home at night. Every day, there he is again, in the same place, talking to invisible people.

Sometimes a drug deal goes down on my street right near my house. The car turns the corner, slows to a stop, a bicycle rides up, the trade is made, and they go off in different directions. I haven’t had the chance to meet these neighbors yet; they drive off too fast.

Bill lives in a 40 year old Volkswagen van, parked on a street. It is set up like a tiny little studio apartment. His foot is in a fabric cast and he walks with a limp; it is taking a long time to heal. He’s dressed in rags. He is just trying to make it through each day.

Ralph is disabled and you will find him traveling all over our neighborhood in his fully loaded, high power motorized wheelchair, which doubles as his home on wheels. It’s easy to spot him at a distance with the sock flag on a tall stick announcing, “RALPH”, and his well stocked red wagon in tow. He goes around giving out hard candy and a cheerful word to all he meets.

There’s a woman one street over. The man she used to be married to beat her pretty bad: she is disfigured. Now she’s a recovering addict. She looks like she is 20 years older than she really is. Her voice is ragged sounding; she sounds tough, but she is very friendly.

Dozens of men from Mexico and Central America line both sides of one street, hoping to get hired for the day. They stand around in groups talking all day, unless someone picks them up. They are hoping for work because most of them have wives and children to support.

At the Mexican market and around the main grocery store, I always see Joseph, who spends his days riding around on his bicycle, planting tracts that promote the worship of the Roman Catholic Mary.

At the Arabic market I met a young mother with her two beautiful preschoolers. She recently moved from the Middle East since her husband got a job here. Right now she is observing Ramadan.

“And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.’ ” Luke 14:23.