Streets of New York and Breakfast with a Homeless

When I went to New York City a couple of years ago, I had taken gloves, mittens, scarves, and a lot of good will to meet up with the poor of New York. Being my first trip to New York, I was not aware that there aren’t many beggars in Manhattan.

But I got lucky the very first morning, standing at the roadside in front of our hotel at 5:30 in the morning. The pick-up trucks had made their noise, the sirens kept going, lights kept flashing and throwing shadows in the room, and then jet lag did the rest to get me out of bed. On the steps of the hotel outside, I watched the dumpster guys pick up the trash, saw flashy young New Yorkers returning from their night out, took in the air, and stood there, bracing myself against this November cold.

So, on that morning, as I took in the New York City air, smell, sounds, and lights, this guy approached me. He only asked for a cigarette, but I actually was looking for a place to get a cup of coffee that early. So I ended up inviting him to breakfast and he had to lead the way. His name was Charly. While we had breakfast at a little place around the corner, I felt the staff eying us.

Charly told me he never travels without surgical gloves as there are so many diseases about. He took his apple juice with a slice of chewing gum which served as a non-existent tooth brush and paste combined.

He showed me his mobile phone and told me most of his kind do carry one as life on the roads is too dangerous without one. He then asked me for my mobile phone number and I couldn’t give him one, because I don’t have a mobile phone. He probably found this hard to believe. Then I asked him if I could take his photo and he declined. Nevertheless, our conversation was very engaging and lively and he struck me as someone you and I would meet anywhere while having a cup of coffee.

On the way out, I asked him if he wanted anything else and he chose a couple more low-cost things from the menu. I learned a lot from him in those 30 minutes. He had dignity, he took care of himself in his own way, he knew when to say no, and he was gentle. I do not know if living on the streets was his choice. He was too young to be a Vietnam veteran, he was too old to be a hippie of some kind.

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I have always liked this song by Ralph McTell.

So whether you are in New York City, London, or Frankfurt, you might find an interesting street person to talk to. Just give them and yourself the chance – they are usually grateful for any interest you show in their life. Wouldn’t you be?

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