One Stinking Dollar

“I’m sorry sir.” I respectfully informed the bus driver. “But I don’t have a dollar.”

My next line was well rehearsed. I’d gone over it time & again in my mind. Not so much to memorize it as to talk myself through a crisis of confidence. How would I get on the bus with no dollar? I panicked. Then reassured myself thus:

When I see one I know it – I’m a connoisseur of these things – and I happened to have handy a smashingly good excuse.

“I’m homeless.” I explained. “And literally on my way to church.”

How bout it? I ask you. Is that a good reason to ride the bus for free?

“No.” Said the bus driver.

Maybe he thought I was lying. I admittedly didn’t look like I was on my way to church. I looked homeless. I smelled. And probably came off a bit crazily.

But Quakers – the self-anointed Religious Society of Friends — are exceptionally good people. I trusted them to accept me as I came; as a friend in need.

I had a pitch, also well rehearsed, that I wanted to make them. Quakers have an admirably deep sense of Service; theirs is a people devoted to peace. They’ve worked tirelessly to end the Iraq War. That is tireless work I admire. Alas for all their tireless work the war rages on unabated.

I know how it feels when one’s benevolently tireless efforts fail. I’ve had no success in my own quest to stop another, equally frightful, injustice: homelessness. Specifically my own.

Now. Maybe it was a long shot. But I thought the Northampton Quakers – do gooders that they are – would want to do a bit about the homeless problem in their own community. I genuinely believed they’d appreciate the unforeseen chance to help me.

And thus gain a boost in confidence, from one problem well solved, that may help them bring more peace.

If not – no matter. The hour of communal silence that is a Quaker Meeting for Worship would be reward enough for my journey; provide me with the strength of spirit required to contend with my plight. Because in the midst of their silence, at least, I am not homeless. Not hungry. I am among friends.

And friends don’t let friends go homeless & hungry.

I asked the bus driver “Please?”

I aimed admirably to better myself. Was mine not a compelling case of need?

The bus driver said no. Fair enough. This is America after all. Where nobody rides for free.

“I know!” I tenaciously proposed. “I’ll ask someone at church for $2 bucks! And pay you for the round trip when I ride back to Amherst.”

Maybe the Northampton Quakers couldn’t help me not be homeless that particular Sunday. But pay my bus fare? I personally guarantee it!

Again the bus driver said no.

I grew flustered. But quickly regained my composure. I am after all a professional journalist. And if this jerk wouldn’t let me ride a near-empty municipal bus to church – I suppose that’s the Story.

I tapped the lap top computer – my one worldly possession since I lost track of my clothes – that was slung in a bag over my shoulder. And informed him that I was writing an article about homelessness for the Valley Advocate [local free/leftist weekly].

“Look.” I proffered smartly. “We can do this the easy way. Or the Other Way.”

The other way, I promised, would be hard for us both. Because I’d have to hitch hike to church. And he’d have to Deal With what I say about him in the article I suspect he did not believe would be written.

I pointed my thumb to Northampton. And I thought I should seriously thank my new bus driver friend! Because writers need dumb snot butt wipes like him. To excentuate our Point. Prove us right. And help us sell stories.

No one picked me up hitch hiking.

I struggled beneath the awkwardly gravitated weight of my lap top computer. Slung in a one-strap bag. First across a painfully slumped shoulder. Then across my other. All the way to Northampton on foot.

It hurt.

I’d not slept. Nor could I remember the last time I’d eaten. The no food thing worried me. I grew aware that I lacked the recent caloric intake required to comfortably fuel the demands I placed on my body. I’m very skinny. And not as young as I used to be.

About the same age, I realized, as Neil Cassidy – when he died in mid step on a long walk after some nights of no sleep and who knew how long since he’d eaten.

But there was no turning back. No time to rest. Not even a sip of water to drink. There was only me & the Story. And to sell the story I’d need Proof. A witness. Who would verify my unavoidably late arrival at Quaker Meeting that day.

I had to show up before the last Quaker straggler closed & locked their Meetinghouse door.

To professionally cover the story.

The last straggler was friendly. Gave me apple juice & a snack & patiently heard my tale of woe. I’m certain she would have gladly tossed me a buck for bus fare, as well, but I forgot to ask.

Somewhere along that 10 mile walk back to Amherst I decided not to thank the bus driver after all. Because every homeless person who can’t ride the bus will not write an article about it. And the article may not sell.

But every homeless person has somewhere better to go.

The Northampton Quakers may have helped me. Who knows? But for my lack of one stinking dollar I might be already home.

6 Responses to “One Stinking Dollar”

  1. 1 jaylogic September 8, 2007 at 4:54 am

    Strong piece mate. Your ivestigative journalist technics have led you to “the Story ” and everyone needs the story. We love a good fuckin pitch too, wiffle ball curve out of the park, hot dog in hand dripping yellow mustard and onion relish all over the front page of yesterdays head line. I can see it now, ” Homeless man Win’s the pullitzer ” Bang on! ~J

  2. 2 AuntJackie September 10, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    Keep plugging away. I love your writing style, and spirit. I am wishing all the best for you, and hope you catch a good break soon. Hard to find people out there who can care about anyone else but themselves, and the degree of bad people in this world make it hard to trust any other living human… Tough like that.

  3. 3 galloway September 12, 2007 at 8:54 am

    This is a great piece of writing, Mike. I,ve reproduced it on my blog. Hope you don’t mind. Maybe it’ll give you a bit of extra exposure. Good luck.

  4. 4 jayherron September 26, 2007 at 7:31 pm

    Mike E….by now I can see you-a bundle of this months Rolling S

  5. 5 maiabee February 22, 2008 at 3:20 am

    Yo Mikey,
    I am truly impressed. You speak the truth with elegance, my friend. Let us co-conspire to communicate. I’ll be at the ‘Vane tomorrow night (actually, technically tonight) tending bar, come on down and we’ll discuss a game plan of your vision.
    Thank you for inviting me to illustrate your thoughts,

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