I didn’t recognize the address of the homeless shelter right away, but I should have. I’ve actually picked up several other people there in the year I’ve been UberLyfting.
It’s one of those oddities of modern life that some homeless people have both cellphones and UberLyft accounts. This wasn’t the first homeless person from this place I’ve transported. One went to his mother’s place way up in Boca Raton. Another just went to Dania Beach to spend the day with friends. Both were men and, I want to emphasize, neither were a problem.
It was 6:05 in the morning when the order came in. There were several other people around because these folks are disgorged back onto the streets at 6AM, when the shelter closes. My fare had a woman’s name, which is no guarantee it would be a woman; some people use other people’s accounts. Then I saw her on the sidewalk, huddled in a blanket, with a duffle bag and a small luggage hand cart that had several bags attached. Because of all that stuff, the long handle could not be lowered and it had to go into the trunk sideways, on its back, with the rest of her stuff.
I need to describe Sally Ann [not her real name, but one that’s appropriate]. She was magazine cover stunning; my idea of beauty personified. I have always been attracted to women who look just like her. Furthermore, she was a wonderful example of it. She was not disheveled in any way. Her hair was brushed. She wore a slight amount of makeup. Her clothes were clean; baggy sweatpants, with a layered sweatshirt and hoodie combo. I’ve always liked funky gals, as opposed to prissy ones, so her dressing down only added to the overall effect. She was simply gorgeous.
All this only made her story sadder, but it shouldn’t have.
She clearly wanted to talk and was a self-starter. I merely asked a few questions, to keep the conversation going. In the 15 minutes we were together, I learned this much of her life:
She was frustrated when she got in the Grey Ghost because the shelter in which she spent the night evicts people while it’s still dark out. She feels they should wait until it’s light. I was taking her to another homeless shelter where she can get some breakfast. “Why can’t they all serve breakfast?” she wonders.
Sally Ann can barely believe she ended up homeless. It still seems like a dream she can’t wake up from. She had a college degree and a well-paying job. Divorced, she raised 2 daughters alone and put them both through university. One has a Masters; the other a PhD. Neither will give her the time of day or lift a finger to help her.
Opioids ruined her life.
She started the same way that so many addicts start: A tumble down some stairs and a doctor who over-prescribed meds for the chronic pain. She could only afford a few weeks of physiotherapy, so the pain continued, masked by the drugs. Then, before she knew it, the drugs were in control. “Bip, Bop, Boop! It all happened so fast,” she said.
She admitted that she made many mistakes with her daughters while still addicted. She lied to them. She stole from them. While she’s been clean for 8 months, her daughters still refuse to help her.
“Over the years I paid a small fortune to educate them. Charter Schools. University. I sacrificed everything so they could have better than me growing up.”
She lost her job before she lost her addiction. However, once she cleaned up, Sally Ann was convinced all her bad luck was behind her. She was working, although waiting on tables paid far less than her previous [undescribed] job. But the bills were getting paid, even if there was nothing left for frills.
Then a cascade of events (some of which may have been women’s health issues, deduced by the way she skipped over it, as if embarrassed) put her farther and farther behind. The bad knocks wouldn’t stop. A small kitchen repair after the sink overflowed. Unexpected car repairs. The A/C crapped out in the house. just one after another. “Bip, Bop, Boop!” she said again.
So many people are just a paycheque or two away from the same fate. Sally Ann said she had a 5 week cushion when the bad dominoes starting falling against each other. She couldn’t stop them. She started having to push one bill off against another. Then her creditors ran out of patience. Suddenly her house was in foreclosure. Then she was living in her car. Then the car was repossessed. “Bip, Bop, Boop!”
By that time we had arrived at our destination. Her story — and her beauty — got to me. A part of me wanted to say, “I have a spare room. Can you cook?” But I kept it totally professional.
The breakfast shelter didn’t open until 7, so there were a lot of scruffy men milling around. That made me nervous for her. “You going to be okay here by yourself?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah. I know all these people. These are my friends.”
As I wrestled her stuff out of the trunk, my next fare was flashed to me by the UberLyfting Machine. I wished Sally Ann GOOD LUCK and zipped off.
It was hard to get her off my mind. I couldn’t get over the fact that she looked nothing like what I expect a homeless woman to look like. She was difficult to shake.
A couple of hours later I got an UberLyftee going to the Miami airport. As I popped the trunk to toss their luggage inside, there was Sally’s blanket. We had both missed it in the dark.
It was a big, thick sports blanket. It wasn’t a cheap blanket when it was originally acquired. By whom? When?
Pops would have loved this blanket, he was such a Michigan fan. Was Sally Ann from Michigan? Could we know some of the same people? Or, did she just pick up the blanket somewhere in her travels?
I let myself have a good cry driving back from Miami. I’ve been close to homeless myself and was now ashamed that I had her blanket. I’m sure having it was very important to her, judging by the way she had it wrapped around her when we first met.
I drove straight back to the shelter, but now it was about 4 hours later. All I had was her first name and made a total fool of myself describing Sally Ann to several people there. No one admitted to knowing her, including the staff. They may have been trying to protect her from a weird man who showed up asking questions. I know I would have.
In the end I gave the blanket to Marley and $250 in cash to the Salvation Army. Maybe they can use it to serve breakfast.
My Freedom of Information requests from the City of Miami are beginning to add up, not to mention all the other costs of researching systemic racism and corruption in Coconut Grove