It was only when it was my turn and, getting a closer look at the pile of rubbish, I realised that the hub around which the bags and boxes where arranged was a man - fast asleep and with a snore that competed with the train passing overhead.
I have been in Washington DC only a few days. It is a beautiful city. I have walked the National Mall along Constitution Avenue past the Capitol, the Monuments and the Museums – I am in, perhaps, one of the most influential cities of the world, home to some of the most brilliant and powerful people: “Bones” in the Smithsonian, “Olivia” amongst the skeletons of DC’s rich and famous and “Jack Ryan” saving the President. Not forgetting President Obama, (and “Cyrus Beene”), in the big House.
Yet with all this power, smarts and influence – there is a man sleeping rough under a bridge. “Any change sir”, says another man holding out a used Starbucks Grande mug. Men and women stake claims and pitch brightly coloured nylon tents under alongside a highway and under a vehicle overpass. And the world, including me, pass by. (I did offload some coins onto one woman, but I hate coins in my pocket – so was I doing me, or her, a favour?)
I know that Washington DC is not unique and that in my home city of Melbourne there are many seeping rough in similar locations. But this week, in DC, I am struck by the contrast. Coming here from a Country that is defined as “less developed”, where I saw no people sleeping rough, (not saying there aren’t any, but I saw none) to this “developed” city I am caused to wonder: who in are the developed?
(I am not suggesting that there are no people homeless and begging on the streets of Asia or Latin America – I’ve seen plenty.) I am thinking aloud, this is not researched analysis, (or America, or DC bashing), it is merely an observation – because it initially shocked me, don’t know why it should, that here in this city, seat of so much enlightenment and power, in the shadow of Lincoln (“…all men are created equal”), Washington and Luther King, there are still people pushing their world in a trolley on the streets; people who have no place.
As I passed by another “Starbucks Grande”, checking my increasingly trashed tourist map for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that this guy probably knew as much if not more of the city and her monuments than most of the official tourist guides that I saw advertised along the Mall. (Probably knew some places they didn’t in fact.) What if, instead of paying for a well-researched ‘uniform’ I paid the same amount to this ‘homeless’ guy to show me around? It was just a thought and by the time it had formed in my mind I had moved on into China Town on my back up H Street.
(To my American friends: I am seriously not having a go at America or Washington DC, it is just that I came to DC from Quito, and these were my initial impressions.)