As I've reported here before, I sit on the steps of an abandoned house at the corner of Malcolm X and Dawson every Thursday afternoon from 2-4. I arrive with an ice chest of cold, bottled water and absolutely no agenda, except the desire to listen to homeless people. I'm toying with several ideas regarding how to best use the time, including a video exercise that I call "Tell Dallas What You Really Think!"
But, I'm not there yet.
I need more listening time.
Last Thursday I met a man, I'll call him "Les," who really engaged me.
After he took a bottle of cold water, we sat on the steps and visited.
Billy, the owner of the filing station next door, had interrupted someone's question or he had stepped in front of another person to make a point or grab a bottle of water or take a seat ahead of someone else, the details elude me, but Les commented dryly with a big grin, half way under his breath, "Looks like white people could take a back seat at least sometime. Do you always have to be first?"
I regard his very fair question as having no answer save "guilty as charged."
We sat under the large, old, gnarly shade tree on those steps and talked for a long time.
"Who are you anyway?" Les finally asked.
"I work for the outfit that's building the center across the street," I told him.
"You mean, this is your job, just sitting here watching them work?" he asked, incredulous.
"Well, sort of," I replied.
"You should give me half what you are paid!" he jousted back at me.
"Really, what do you do at your work?" he pressed me.
"Well, I'm the leader, I guess you could say," I told him.
"Oh, so it's like 'undercover boss' that's going on here! Do they know you're out here watching 'em?" he asked.
"No, it's not like that. I'm not watching them. I'm watching you!" I explained.
"Why are you watching me?" he asked, a bit concerned.
"Well, we are building the new center and I don't like moving into a neighborhood where I don't have any friends. So, I'm here to make friends, to listen and to get to know you!" I tried to explain.
"So, we gonna hang out, you and me, is that what you are sayin, man?" he asked.
"That would be good in my opinion," I replied.
Less laughed and laughed. He seemed to understand.
We stood up and talked together for a long time, including others who passed by in our conversation. He told me that he could take me to "some places." I told him that I expected that he could do that. He reported that some I'd like and some I wouldn't. Again, I agreed.
As he walked away, I felt some sense of hope that comes from knowing there will be many more conversations with Les and others who'll come by "the corner."
I also felt gripped by the obvious fact that getting to know people like Les will be essential if our community is to do better by its poorest citizens. It's not that complicated. It feels like friendship could take us a long, long way toward the outcomes we all seem to desire.
I'm committed to listening for as long as it takes.