We met on the light rail platform, Sunshine and I… laughing about my leak proof cup,
which was clearly not, as lemonade dripped from my bike basket. Sunshine is not homeless.
His home is a camp near the Rio Salado Habitat. It’s quiet, and there are only a few
others nearby. “I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he told me once, but I know he yearns
for the high country of northern California, and that he has a sister there. I asked what
brought him to Phoenix… “A woman in a truck,” he grinned, and we both cracked up.
He is clean-cut and gym toned and she is bleached and teased and made up carefully.
The three of us are in the elevator and he asks about her recent vacation, and of course
she is happy to share the story about how her hotel wasn’t in the best part of town,
and she drops her voice and pauses the way people do when they’re about to say something
that’s not “politically correct” and her eyes widen as she confides, “There were bums
panhandling all over the place,” and I couldn’t help but laugh and call her a Princess
We run into each other once or twice a week, Sunshine and I… I will be on my way home
from a community meeting and he will be on his way to camp. We puzzle other bus riders,
me still in my “business casual” work attire and dangly earrings, he with all the trappings
of an urban camper. Sometimes he’s already on the bus when I board, but sometimes
we run into each other at the stop and it gives us a few extra minutes to chat with one
another before we part ways at the salt river. We talk about nothing in particular and
about everything of importance.
She actually demands to know why not wanting to see bums at her $175 a night hotel makes
her a princess. “Heaven forbid you should have to see the people our culture & society have
failed,” I replied. “Not when my physical safety is in jeopardy,” she snaps… and I don’t remember what I said next but “are you fucking kidding” was all that I could think.
We have a parting ritual, Sunshine and I… I ask if he has water and tell him
to keep hydrated. He tells me how many bottles he has, then looks deep into my eyes,
and quietly says, “You be careful out there. Take care of yourself.” And I know we
are both thinking of the night when two men who clearly had homes to go to but were
in pursuit of other pleasures came over to make sure I was safe from Sunshine… and
how they were a little too eager with their eyes and their words to wait with me for
the bus they did not board, and help me with the bike rack they did not know how to
operate. I remember Sunshine falling silent, and his thumb hovering over the “9” on
the cell phone in his hand, a phone he hadn’t been holding a split second before.
“I will,” I promise him. And he nods as he ambles away, and I offer a silent prayer of
gratitude for the church downtown that offers him sanctuary in the brutal heat of the
day, and know we will both wonder if the other made it home safely, until the happy
time we meet again.
Sometimes I think about the two worlds I live in….
The suits and ties, manicures and hair dye.
The dirty hippies, the squatters, the urban campers.
I marvel that I look so much like the former…
with my love of lip gloss and other sparkly things
yet they are the ones that disgust me.
Sometimes I think about the two worlds I live in.