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Streets and People Sense: What It Takes to Cross the Street and Get Along with Others

Dec 13, 2007
I didn't personally know any of these three people. I did speak on occasion to two of them but it was never any sort of conversation; simply a statement in passing. One of them I never spoke to. Yet each in his own way taught me something that I did not know...and for that, I am grateful.

Supposedly Oscar was a college student before something snapped. Several people said his parents were rich and he could afford to buy whatever he needed. Oscar used to push his train up and down Mission Street. One day I was walking out of the bakery and I offered him a pastry but he said he preferred his beer.

I suppose there is some psychiatric term for Oscar's condition but I'm not sure what it is. He is certainly not unique as many communities have 'residents' that push carts and collect paper, especially plastic. Oscar would pick up trash and objects along the street and save them. He somehow got wagons and formed a 'train'; I saw him with up to three different wagons he was pulling. He always had a big smile.

Oscar used to pull his train over at night and sleep in the center divide on Bay Street going up to the University. I would always marvel at how he could pull such a weight up a hill. Oscar was a big man. It must have taken him hours to get back to his campsite but I guess time is relative and Oscar lived on his own time. And except for his wagons, time was all he needed.

One day returning from San Francisco down Highway 1 we saw him just below Half Moon Bay...some forty plus miles outside of town. How did he get there and what was he doing? Who knows...I'm not sure if he knows. I haven't seen him on Mission Street for over a year...maybe he snapped back into our everyday reality and is working in a bank. Wonder what his apartment looks like...

The next young man I never met. I only saw him from the curb as I was waiting at a traffic light. I think this was the time they were trying to figure out just how severely disabled residents could be at the halfway house near my office.

I had just missed the light and stopped for the red. This young man was among a group of obviously challenged adults that was waiting to cross the street. He could tell the light had changed and he stepped anxiously onto the street and then back up on the curb. In the minute I was stopped he did it probably ten times. His counselor or aide was letting him try. He kept smiling and shaking his head as he would back up to the curb.

He never made it across on his own. At least on that try. I assume he finally crossed the street with the help of his counselor but it appeared he could not do it on his own. He wanted to...and I could see it in his eyes. His smile was one of frustration and I could see the look of anguish as he regrouped psychologically and made another attempt. I wonder if his whole life was spent trying to regroup.

He caused me to wonder. I wondered how I would feel if he were my son. I wondered what set of skills and aptitudes are required to walk down the street; something most of us do without giving it any thought. My conclusion is that something simple like crossing the street is really an incredible array of mental processes. Some of us don't have it and probably most of us that do certainly take it for granted.

The third person was known around town simply as Granma. She stayed at the halfway house on the next block and I would see her walk by my office window many times a day. I guess she had a set path she walked as I only saw her going in one direction.

I spoke to her twice on the street and then no more. She was probably in her early sixties and walked briskly. She always had a frown and never did I see her smile. When spoken to she would raise her voice and curse like a sailor. It was somewhat surprising to see this grandmotherly looking woman cursing at everything and everyone that came across her path.

We locals knew her and didn't think much about her after a while. She never did anything but walk and curse. From my office window I could see the crosswalk she used as she made her rounds. She would just walk right out into the street which is not very safe where I live because there are a lot of folks whose focus is not on the street when they drive. At any rate she would walk out into the crosswalk and suddenly stop and let out an invective at some poor tourist who had stopped and was left wondering what the heck he did to tick her off. We used to laugh because it was funny.

So what is my point here? I'm not sure, even though I've thought a lot about it. I still think of the young man going from the curb to the street and back again; not being able to pull all his faculties together to cross. I think of Oscar and wonder if he'll ever come back or is he pulling his train across the country.

And I think of the Granma that can't have a conversation without cursing vehemently at whoever speaks to her. Can't have many friends that way...what a living hell, no?

I'm reminded of the saying 'and there but for the grace of God, go I'. Well, I'm not sure if it's God's grace or what but there is probably only a thin line between me and the three characters in my story. And as I get older I could at obviously end up at some point in my life like any of these three.

Actually come to think of it, you could too. It's actually a thin line for all of us...
About the Author
Jack D. Deal writes promotional and marketing articles. He can be contacted at jddeal@jddeal.com Related articles may be found at http://www.jddeal.com and http://www.freeandinquiringmind.typepad.com
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