Yesterday I volunteered at a local soup kitchen for school service hours, dishing out simple lunches to the homeless people in a downtown neighborhood here in Andale. I live on the outskirts of town, right in the middle-class suburbs, so I don't often go down there, except when I hang out with Rose at her place. She lives in a kinda poor neighboorhood downtown. I think Roland - my buddy in PE - said he lives not too far from her.
I'm on a tangent again.
So, I was practically a waiter and busboy, I'd go give people their stew and bread and water, deal with the empty plates and clean up the tiny tables that were set up in the downtown community center. Most of the people were fairly obviously poor - dirty, ragged clothes, poor hygiene, things like that. Almost all of them were men and women in their late 30s to 50s. Presumably without jobs or families, friends, or else they wouldn't be homeless, but it's not like I went up to them and talked them out of their life story or anything.
There was someone there that caught my attention immediately. He was waiting, sat at a table when I first noticed him. Looked to be about 18 or so, but he didn't look so dejected or miserable like some of the other homeless. In fact he had determination in his eyes, an air of experience and familiarity about him.
The confident teen made for a pretty stark juxtaposition against the washed-up homeless.
I had to talk to him.
I mean, he seemed so interesting - what is a young guy like him doing at a place like this? Why's he homeless? Where's his family? I got over my usual shyness for this unusual encounter.
I delivered him his meal quickly, but instead of hurrying away with a swift 'have a fantastic day' and a smile, I sat with him. He didn't look up at me at first. He quickly devoured about a quarter of his bowl of stew before addressing me.
"What do you want, kiddo?" The words came out with only the slightest hint of condescension in his tone.
"You're not like everyone else here. These are all bums, burnt-out failures with nothing to do but wander the streets, maybe try and beg some money off of someone for a smoke and a drink before resorting back to total poverty. But not you. You're different."
"We're all a little different, now aren't we?"
At least I knew he's not stupid.
"What's your name?"
He paused. He stopped eating, and looked up at me for a second.
Sizing me up, judging silently, seeming to be making decisions in his mind.
"I'm John." I held my hand out to him, and with no hesitation he returned the handshake.
From there we talked for almost a half hour. I talked to him a bit about my life, and he told me about his.
James is 19 years old, originally from the northeastern side of the US, though he didn't tell me where exactly. He's been traveling the States for the past year or so, mainly down the east coast and has been making his way west, eventually going to make a circle around the map. He's really into seeing all the different sights - the cities, the landscapes, the people.
"Staying low-key is pretty important for me, you know what I mean?"
So, he usually sticks around in the cities he likes, until either he decides it's no longer interesting or he decides that "it'd best to skip town."
Sounds kinda sketchy, but he's a charismatic guy and knows how to tell a tale, so I kept on listening.
James went into detail about some of the other places he's been to, a few stories about his experiences, and the like. He's currently staying in Andale, just arrived on Friday, and wants to stick around for a long while.
He seems to really like the place so far.
I bid him goodbye and farewell, returning to my job as busboy. He's a really interesting guy. I told him I'd try to do more charity work at this particular complex to talk more.
He said that sounded great.