Earlier this week, a well-kempt silver-haired man in a yellow polo shirt sat at a table in Bethesda Cares' Drop-In Center for the homeless. He had a great winter tan, and seemed quite calm. I didn't know him, but I assumed he was helping our clients in some capacity. At least, that's what I assumed until his conversation floated my way:
"Where'd you get the tan, man?" the guy across from him asked.
"Got tired of the weather here," the silver-haired man replied. "Went to Vegas."
"Vegas?" the other guy snorted. "You? You're homeless! Dude! Vegas? You're kidding me, right?"
"No, I'm not kidding," the man said. "This winter was awful! I kept getting sick all the time. Couldn't take it. So I got on a bus, headed out to Vegas. Took two and a half days, but it was really worth it, I got to see parts of America I'd never seen before. Plus, you can sleep on the bus. It's not so bad, really. We stopped in Albuquerque for a few hours, what a great little city!"
A conversation ensued about where the man had gotten the money for a bus, but I couldn't make out the words.
"So what did you do in Vegas?" the first man asked.
"Oh, I just walked the streets," he said, "when it wasn't too hot out. It's not like I had money to gamble, you know? So I stayed in a shelter there, it was great, people were really nice. No bedbugs. Plus, they had a claim-check system, you could leave your stuff, they'd give you a number, you'd just leave your stuff there and go out and do your thing without either hauling your stuff around or worrying that someone will steal it."
The conversation shifted to a kind of Yelp-type review of local and distant shelters, evaluating their safety, cleanliness and the competency of their staffs.
I admit, my mouth was gaping as these conversational snippets drifted past me.
In the past year, I have seen people cope with homelessness in lots of different ways. Many, however, come by our Drop-In Center every day, wanting a familiar cup of coffee, expecting that lunch will be ready at 12:30. What I mean is that I see many of them work to create rhythms and routines for themselves, to attempt to live in a "normal" way under circumstances that are far from that.
I just didn't expect that, for at least one client, his desire to normalize his circumstances rose to the level of wanting a vacation from them. But why not, right? Time to listen to my own rhetoric: there is no us, there is no them.
I guess no matter what you're experiencing in your life, his words speak a truth: "Once in a while, you just have to get away."