I have been writing on the bus lines in Muskegon according to a plan. I begin writing as soon as I sit down in my bus seat. I can write about any material the bus ride, with a focus on writing about the ride itself, the people sharing the ride or the drama of going from point A to point B. When the ride ends, just before I stand up to step off, I hit the send button. The Harvey route can be a long one, and so I hit send when I hit Meijers by the Lakes Mall.
At the Lakes Mall, two men bundled up against the cold boarded the bus, each paying the fare in coins. I saw each had a folded cardboard sign in their gloved hands. I asked each to allow me to take a picture, and we struck up a conversation. The two men met about two months ago, and decided to join forces and become a team. The manager at the Lakes Mall McDonalds treated them with respect, so during the day of collecting alms, the two could duck inside to warm up, take care of daily needs and order burgers or fries to eat. Luckily, even children had felt moved to help them, and one pair of children presented them with two McDonald's gift cards and an inspirational hand written note.
People have become used to seeing the pair around the Lakes Mall area, and so have begun bringing items of aid in double quantities: two pairs of gloves, two knit caps, two blankets. I noticed the men had decent gloves, warm headgear and an assortment of hoodies and coats, several layers. I also noticed that the two men each had a blue ballpoint inkpen tattoo on the top of his right hand, although the ink didn't look fresh on either hand. The older of the two gave me his age as forty-five years old. The younger gave his age as thirty-five. The two were not encumbered by their blankets and wardrobe because they had managed to raise enough to keep the room while making a trip to the mall to raise alms. Today, a woman had heard their story, and she promised to come right back. Often, the two have heard that as the brush off. Today, she drove back from the ATM, and gave them two twenties, enough for another room night, with five dollars to spare.
The two have been faced with intolerance and shaming. They protested that they had looked for work, and even had followed up on phone numbers given to them that had led to a dead end. One woman and her child had driven up to them in a luxurious car, and the daughter had thrown the change, scattered it across the ground as the two laughed. Many had challenged them to find a job. But for the most part, the two were moved by the support and kindness granted them by the people they had encountered.
The Harvey bus not only goes out to the mall, it also returns by a big loop to the Bel Air again. Two minutes after my stop, the pair would be opening their temporary, shared quarters with a brass key that the younger man had kept in his camouflage coat pocket, a fleece that struck me as not warm enough, even with layers. The older man has felt compelled to stay in the area despite the cold because he has three children who live with their mother, a family he lived with before a divorce. The oldest of the three has turned 18 years of age, and have made their father a grandfather. They understood and loved their father, although homeless. The younger man knows that their alliance will end in time. The older man has applied for assistance at Community Mental Health, and he's twenty-eighth on a waiting list for shelter. The younger man would not be allowed to stay with him.
Muskegon has a new men's shelter with forty-five beds, and only half of them are occupied. The shelter only allows me to stay for a two month period, once a year. Rules are strict, and many are the violations that can result in eviction to the street. Every one understands the need for structure and for a set of rules to assist the recovery process. I have to wonder what was the story of the man found this week, deceased, between Lake Muskegon and the Coles Garlic Bread factory.
The two men shook my hands when my stop arrived, good strong hand shakes, and thanked me for listening.