Just keep going

old-shoe3I was sooo comfortable in my table seat on the commuter train.  Laptop plugged in, wireless Internet on and cranking through my email.  Best of all, there was no one else sitting at my table to bother me. But that was about to change.

“Next stop, Fremont station!”  The train squealed to a stop.  Shooom, the doors opened and the next batch of riders shuffled up the stairs to find a seat.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone rustling a bunch of bags down the aisle. I thought ‘Oh great, he’s going to plop down right across from me and ruin my little paradise.’  I was looking out the window like a kid who didn’t want the teacher to call on him in class. 

“Do you mind if I sit here?  Do you mind?” 

As if I had a choice, I said “no, not at all” and made a half-hearted attempt to pull my computer a little closer. 

He said, “Thank you, ‘preciate it. ‘Preciate it, thank you.” 

I noticed he had the same nervous twitch and repetitive speech pattern as Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rain Man.  I thought he may have been autistic or developmentally disabled in some way. He was 20-something, with a sunburned face and long, stringy red hair hanging out of the back of a baseball cap, like one of those Wayne’s World caps you see in costume shops. He wore a sleeveless white t-shirt, baggy pajama pants and beat-up running shoes.    His “luggage” consisted of a large blue vinyl duffel bag, a yellow backpack (which he hoisted up onto the table) and a re-usable cloth grocery bag, all stuffed to the seams.

I instinctively reached for my noise-cancelling headphones.  I was being courteous, but didn’t want to give the impression that I was TOO open to conversation. Well, apparently I was now a captive audience.

He said, “I’m going to Stockton.  First time going to Stockton.  First time.  Do you know Stockton?”

I smiled politely and nodded.  “Yes, I’ve been there.”

“You know any shelters?”

“Shelters?” I said.

He pointed to his duffel bag. “Yeah, shelters in Stockton. I’m homeless, homeless.”

I suddenly snapped out of my bubble.  Here was some homeless kid, riding the ACE commuter train with a bunch of 40-something executives like me, just trying to get from one place to the next.  To be honest, I usually walk right by homeless people, occasionally throwing a buck or two into a can.

“I don’t know Stockton that well, but I can look something up for you on the Internet.”

“Dang!  You got Internet right there!  Wow!!” His face lit up with an enthusiastic smile.  “You got a printer too?”

I chuckled.  “No, but I’ll write down some addresses for you.”

“That would be great, great.  ‘Preciate it, thank you. Thank you, ‘preciate it.”

I pulled up a Google map of two homeless shelters near the train station.  As I drew a little map for him, he asked, “How much is bus fare in Stockton? Bus fare?”

I clicked to find a fare schedule. “Let’s see… if you’re 18 years old it’s $1.50.  Are you over 18?”

“I’m 20 years old.  20… and I’m disabled. Cheaper price for disabled.”

I looked down the list.  “Let’s see… seniors and disabled… here it is…75 cents.” 

He smiled, “Cool, 75 cents. Cool.”

I was starting to get drawn into his story.  What did it take to keep going every day?  I couldn’t help thinking of the contrast with my own 19 year old son, who’s going to college in Santa Barbara. My son doesn’t have to worry about his next meal, or scraping together 75 cents for bus fare.

I asked him why he was on this train, and he said the bus fare from Stockton to LA was cheaper than San Jose to LA.  “I’m going to visit my mom in LA. She’s diabetic. Diabetic. She’s 54 and she’s diabetic.”  I didn’t ask anymore on the topic, as he looked troubled about it. 

He pulled out an insulated coffee mug with a train station logo on the side.  He proudly proclaimed, “The lady filled it up with hot chocolate… and I got that for FREE!” 

He pulled out a big plastic jar of apple sauce, opened the lid, and chugged a big mouthful.  “Ah, that’s good stuff. Good stuff.”

It occurred to me that I hadn’t properly introduced myself.  I reached out to shake his hand. “My name’s David, what’s yours?”

He said, “My name’s Pebbles.”

“Pebbles?” I thought it was an odd name for a guy, but I went with it.

He said, “Yeah, like on the Flintstones.  You know the Flintstones?”

“Yes, I’m old enough to know the Flintstones.”

“Yeah, my nickname is Pebbles.  Pebbles.  Because she is independent… and gets in trouble all the time!”  He laughed out loud, and then shook his head slowly.  “I just keep going. Keep going.”

I closed up my laptop and we talked about a few things, like the windmills in the Altamont hills, which led to talking about the famous Rolling Stones concert at Altamont in the 60s. He surprised me when he said, “Yeah Hell’s Angels stabbed somebody. Stabbed somebody.”

I said, “You’re not old enough to remember the Rolling Stones.” 

He rolled his eyes sarcastically and said “I KNOW history!”

“Are you saying I’m old?”

He paused for a second. “You said it, not me.  Not me.”

The train was rolling downhill faster now, and I told him my station was coming up. He silently looked out the window for a few minutes, and then back at me. His voice dropped as he said, “You know… lots of people don’t want… don’t want to be by me.  They say GET AWAY from me!”  He made a shooing gesture with his hands.  “But you…”

His face became very serious.  “You… treat me like a human being.”

I really didn’t know what to say after that.

“Next stop Tracy station!”  I gathered up my stuff, and reached into my wallet for my last $20 bill.  This kid did not once ask me for money.  But he did say ‘maybe someone will help me out,’ as if planting a hopeful seed that would sprout later. 

I wanted to be the one to help him out this time.  I said, “This’ll help you get to LA.  When you get there, tell your mother hello for me… and tell her how impressed I am with your survival skills.”

“Thank you.‘Preciate it. ‘Preciate it. Thank you.”

He grinned that big grin. “Bye David!”

“Goodbye Pebbles.”

As I walked downstairs to get off the train, another passenger tapped me on the shoulder and said “Hey, I saw what you did back there.  Not everyone would have stayed and talked to him like that.”

I said, “You know… he’s a lot sharper than he looks. And he just keeps going. Gotta respect that.”

I’ve been thinking about Pebbles the last few days. I don’t know if he found a good shelter in Stockton. I don’t know if he’s on his way to LA to see his mother.  But one thing I do know. I’ll look at homeless people differently now.  Sometimes God sends us reminders that we are not alone… that we’re put on this planet for each other.  I may have been an angel to Pebbles that day, but he was a messenger to me too.  He reminded me that no matter how tough life is, you just keep going.  You just… keep… going.

The next time you see someone who’s homeless, I encourage you to stop, spare a few dollars, and then if you can…spare a few minutes to talk to them.  Restoring their self-respect may be the greatest gift you can give.

‘Preciate it.  Thank you.

NOTE:  Here is a foodbank that several of my colleagues and I volunteered to help last Christmas.  It’s one of the really good ones: http://www.accfb.org/

Photo Credit: Justin Bugsy Sailor from http://www.hometowninvasion.com/photo/oklahoma/osiris-d3-2003

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25 Comments on “Just keep going”

  1. kellye lay Says:

    David,

    I was very glad to read this blog. You mentioned that perhaps you were an angel to him that day, I submit that there is a possibility he was one to you. Thought you might enjoy the below reference from Hebrews. Keep the love walk 🙂 Kellye

    Hebrews 13:1-3 “Let brotherly love continue.

    Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.
    Remember the prisoners as if chained with them–those who are mistreated–since you yourselves are in the body also.”

  2. Ron Says:

    How did I know that’s how you would handle that, David?

    Glad to hear you haven’t changed.

    Good on you, bud. Just keep going. We all need that.

    Ron

  3. Annette Williams Says:

    This story brought tears to my eyes. You’re a great writer and a really great human being.
    Annette

  4. davidgoad Says:

    Thanks for all the nice comments everyone. Kellye is right, that kid absolutely had a positive effect on me. I didn’t share the story to be congratulated or to lay a guilt trip on anyone, but rather to encourage others to just treat humans as humans.

    If you have a similar story to share, please use this forum to do so.

  5. Laurie Says:

    Dave,
    I really enjoy all your stories, but this one comes with a great lesson. Keep on blogging!

  6. Jeff Bagby Says:

    “Sometimes God sends us reminders that we are not alone… that we’re put on this planet for each other.” Yes, sadly, sometimes we need these reminders. Thanks for reminding us.

    I am proud to know you, bud. God was watching every moment of it. He saw it from a different angle too – from the inside-out. And I am sure he was proud to know you too.

    Thanks.

  7. Aunt Grace Says:

    I have been told that God did not make any junk. Thanks for the story. AG

  8. Shell Says:

    That was so sweet David. I am so glad you are the kind of person to get the whole message. I believe God sends his messages through us, we both receive his gift equally. It is just a matter of recognizing the gift. I just love stories like your. I am glad you enjoyed your gift that day.
    S

  9. Shell Says:

    I didn’t read the other comments until after I wrote. So, in comment to what you wrote back: I know you don’t write to be congratulated, you write from your heart and have a gift for delivering a great message. Anyone that knows you, knows that. I know that I am going to be thinking of Pebbles a lot today. I think most of us are just saying thanks for the reminder to get out of ourselves for a moment.


  10. David, the only thing better than hearing your story in person (which was my honor last week)… is to now have it captured for all eternity. Continue doing what you do… and being who you are. You make the world a better place!

  11. Irene Says:

    David,
    I really enjoyed the story and it gave me food for thought. I know you but, I didn’t really know you until this story. I liked you the first time I met you and now I know why. You are one of God’s little angels here on earth. Keep spreading your wings.

  12. Jeff G Says:

    That was amazing! Humanity is a very powerful exchange!
    Way to go Bro!
    As you know, our concentration of homeless and street people in Chicago is huge. I have found myself stopping and just talking to some street folks and you are absolutely right about giving them respect through the simple act of acknowledgement. They have also told me that they feel invisible to most because of the lack of eye contact, let alone conversation.

    One man stands out to me. Shortly after moving into our current place in Lincoln Park 11 yrs ago, I met “Roy”. I say hello to “Roy” almost daily, a 79 yr old guy who has no family, that lives at a shelter close by on Clark St. I consider “Roy” to be the unofficial greeter of the Clark and Dickens intersection as he sits on a stoop most mornings across the street from our local Starbucks. As “Roy” describes it, “I’m a black man who grew up on the South side of Chicago during the ‘Pression, and I done some pretty bad things when I was young. Thankfully, the Lord is colorblind and I’ve been letting him guide me every day since I became a Christian 40 years ago.”
    Frequently his eyes will well up when he tells me about his youth and the struggles to overcome challenges in his life. He has lived at this shelter for over 30 years!
    It’s evident that he suffers from a variety of issues as he is well bent over. As he shuffles ever so slowly to and from the Clayton house a block away, he lives for small conversations with anyone that will pause. He always greets you with a big smile, a hearty “Hi Babe” and a wave from a sometimes uncomfortably long distance, often half a block away. He’s lost all of his upper teeth and so it takes awhile to get used to his speech and cadence when he is talking to you.
    He will tell you, “I’ve lost all my people(family) so I don’t get no visitors, but I do have all of you”, gesturing to me and anyone else who may be walking by.

    I made it a point to ask him his birthday several years ago, March 27th, and to give him a card since he has no “people”. Other neighbors have also begun to do the same. Over time, other neighbors who have seen me talking to him on their way to and from the Starbucks will ask what I talk to him about. I simply answer, “whatever is on his mind that day.” Frequently it’s about the weather, other times it’s when he is going to get his morning cup of coffee. Other neighbors will buy him a coffee as well, but if he doesn’t have one when I see him, I always offer, or just surprise him with coffee of the day, “no cream, no sugar.”
    Even on a cold day in the winter, I make a point to stop, take off my glove as he always does, and shake his hand. I can see his toothless smile grow ever so slightly bigger at the gesture of respect, and the touch of a warm hand. Roy never fails to make me smile and think about what real optimism and humanity means. His faith in people is strong.
    I always look for Roy when I pass through the intersection by car or foot. On days that I don’t see him, I will sometimes wonder if something has happened to him, but then I will see him the next day and be relieved that he is still okay, and still greeting everyone who passes by him.
    I asked him what he wanted for his birthday this past March, and he said with his big toothless grin, “Already got it when I woke up today, gonna get me another next year, God willing!
    I am proud to know Roy. He makes the world a better place!

  13. davidgoad Says:

    Jeff, thanks for sharing your story too. It doesn’t take much to make a difference!

  14. Andy Says:

    Thanks for this Dave –


  15. Great story, David! It moved me deeply…


  16. Thank you David for uncovering this adventure into real life and true love. It’s a beautiful story my friend.

    I shared this on “One Man’s Highway”. My first post in eight months and it’s all about you.

    http://www.mrbesilly.com/2009/08/when-life-begins-to-imitate-love.html

  17. Dana Jezisek Says:

    Dave,
    We haven’t met. Your blog was forwarded to my through a good friend. What a nice, inspiring story during a morning coffee break. Thanks for your writing. I hope to meet you one day.

  18. Cheri Stockton Says:

    Thanks for making me cry at work David, you’re going to ruin my rep. I still love you tho. 🙂


  19. What am amazing experience. Thank you so much for sharing it with us! It’s so eye-opening when we’re fortunate enough to stop and observe another person and their struggles. Makes our own lives look so different.

    Keep up the good work!

    Stephanie

  20. Joe Franklin Says:

    Thanks, David, we are our brother’s keeper. It’s so difficult these days to separate the “hustlers” from the truly needy. We live in a decent neighborhood and it seems my Saturday afternoon nap is interrupted way too often by someone coming to the door (ignoring the no soliciting sign!) and asking for money. If they cannot produce legitimate documentation for the organization they say they are working for I send them on their way. I make up the twinge of guilt by contributing to legitimate charities that I know for sure use the money wisely.

    We both have children who are entering adulthood. The tough parental job is to help them decide who is truly needy of their help– because I discuss with my kids that they have so much relative to so many people in the world that they have to help others. I can see for myself and I hear back from others that they have good hearts, are good, caring friends and help others in need. I look back in my own life to help me try to remember how I learned who needs help and who is hustling. I think we all would say we were much more generous with our time and loose change earlier in our lives and have built up defenses along the way as we have been hurt by the hustlers. We all need this defense mechanism to just “keep going” in our own lives.

    Perhaps this story about my father has helped me. He and my mom had ten children. At a party many years ago he got the usual reaction from someone who asked how many children he had– “Ten children!!” And then was asked an unusal question. “How do you divide your love among ten children?” My mother recounted that, without missing a beat, my dad replied, “I don’t divide my love, I multiply it.”

    We all have that inate capacity to “multiply our love” and I guess, like you, I have learned that love gets returned many times over. If not directly to me then to the entire world.

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write and make us all better people for it!

  21. davidgoad Says:

    “I don’t divide my love, I multiply it.”
    That’s one to remember Joe, thanks!

  22. Nora Says:

    Hello David,
    As you know, I work for a non-profit agency that serves the homeless population. I’m often asked by adults and children what they should do when they see a homeless person. My immediate answer is that they should make eye contact and say hello!* We all crave human contact.

    As my brother says, we were born in the right household.

    *without putting themselves in danger, of course.

  23. Robb Boyd Says:

    David, hopefully you can delete my quick comment earlier…I had jumped to the bottom of your blog entry trying to find an RSS feed or the new post via email and then realized I was actually commenting instead of signing up to receieve new entries…now I read a bit slower, (not my strong suit). Great story. Great stories in the comments.

    Reminds me of a personal story I had…
    One really hot Texas afternoon one day…we are rushing around the house…I am about to drive the kids to something when the doorbell rings. What nerve! (I don’t know why the doorbell bugs me….)… but when I answered there was an 8 year old Indian boy muttering something about needing a drink of water. I was momentarily moved to simply get him a drink of water and send the little interruption on his way when I finally came to my senses and realized that there must be a story here and I can’t just shove him back out. I got him the water…and I asked him what he was up to. This lead to a story about how he was trying to find some relatives house in our neighborhood, but he had no address for it (ther are 1,500 homes?) and did not even have a recognizable name. He told me he had run away from his home because his Dad was really really mean about his bad grades in school. I further learned as we dug into it that his bad grades were probably coming from the fact that he lived in an house FULL of people…and none of them spoke much English. I know how much trouble I have with my 10 year olds homework sometime and how it is a daily thing to keep up with…I cannot imagine having the language barrier in the middle of it. I started to sound like this was perhaps a perception issue on his part being young and probably having very busy parents that cared and such but growing up is tough…we all go through it.

    We got him re-hydrated and although he insisted on not wanting to go home I told him he had no choice. I needed his address and was going to return him home regardless….I would not turn him loose again to just start wandering. I am so glad I did.

    I loaded him, and as I thought about it, my kids in the car and we drove off to find his house. He lived a good 3 miles away (imagine walking for hours in our 98 degree heat) and as we rounded the corner of his street and saw multiple police cars and neighbors standing in the yard I was so thankful I brought my kids. I had this sudden flash of what this might look like in his parents eyes as a middle aged man, a stranger, pulls up with their missing kid….might not be good. The anguish I saw in his parents eyes as they saw him through my windshield and ran to my car…I cannot overstate. The father gave me an extremely suspicious look as he embraced his son while multiple non-English speaking grandparents kept hugging me and praising his return….I was embarrased at the attention. I was also deeply affected by the sight.

    As a parent, most of us have probably gone through one (or more) of those sickening moments where we have lost sight of one of our kids…the moment may only last a few minutes…but it is amazing how devastating and helpless we can feel so quickly. I am actually choking up as I write this. It was probably only a few hours that this child was missing. It must have felt like an eternity. It was obvious that this family loved and cherished their child regardless of what the perceptions and challenges were as told from the childs side. I was very glad that I slowed down and took the time to return him to his parents.


  24. […] wrote a story in August, 2009 about a homeless kid I met on a train.  It seemed like a small thing to me at the time, but it ended up being the most read and passed […]


  25. […] speech was really a blog post brought to life… so many of you readers responded to the post Just Keep Going when it first came out, it compelled me to re-live it on stage and share it as broadly as […]


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