What an odd day yesterday was. I could barely sleep the night before because I knew I had to be up early. I was booked on a 6:30am flight, luckily domestic. Still, that meant I had to be at the airport by 5:30. As I hate driving to or even near our international airport, I take the Fly-Away. It’s fabulous to not have to drive but it does add time to the trip – fifteen minutes driving in the wrong direction to get to the bus depot, fifteen minutes to park and walk to the bus departure area and to be safe, I always aim to arrive fifteen minutes before the bus is due to depart, just in case. You add that all up and it meant I was pulling out of my driveway at 4:15am up and out of bed at 3:45am!
The Fly-Away leaves from the back of Union Station. The parking is in the front of Union Station. That meant that at 4:50am I was walking the considerable length of the station. None of the kiosks were open. The restaurant wasn’t open. Even Starbucks, sadly, wasn’t open. There were no passengers occupying the rows and rows of low backed, square chairs which were in keeping with the Deco style of the building. The seats were not empty – at least most of them weren’t. Had I ever wondered where the homeless went on cold nights, I would have had my answer. Huddled beneath stained blankets, layers of discarded coats and in some cases, plastic bags, the homeless slept in the passenger area. I was glad that they had someplace to go out of the cold and the threatened rain. I was surprised to learn it was Union Station.
My flight took me up north. It was a short flight but I had business to do first thing in the morning and then a late morning appointment. Fortunately my morning business took little time, unfortunately it meant I had time to kill in a city I’m not very familiar with. I had planned to just sit at the office of my second appointment but they weren’t thrilled for me to loiter there for two hours. Evicted, I was forced to wander. The area I was in was right on the border of the “good” neighborhood and the “bad” neighborhood. The juxtaposition was bizarre. Bloomingdales, Juicy Couture, Svarovski, and many other high end stores lined the streets. Outside these stores, on the street, homeless beggars. Every where I looked, homeless with their hands out “spare change?” was the refrain I heard again and again.
Earlier in the morning, a young man had his credit card refused when he attempted to purchase the $7.00 airport bus ticket. He appeared to be a nice young man but I bristled and said no when he asked if I could give him the money. As I watched him pacing and worrying, I felt bad that I had said no. I could easily afford $7.00 – not that I would spend it on myself for a fancy coffee or anything but I’m not so hard up that I couldn’t give it to him. So I purchased a ticket and handed it to him, but the mother in me insisted he learn a lesson. “Next time, plan ahead,” I told him as I handed him the ticket. His appreciation was out of proportion to the money I’d spent. I was glad I’d helped him out. But it did make me feel that I’d done my share so I just shook my head at all the men and women asking me for spare change and kept walking.
Coming home at 8pm on that same day, I once again walked the length of Union Station reversing my path. This time, the seating area was filled with travelers. Young people with back-packs and iPhones, middle aged and older sitting with their suitcases, looking at maps and guidebooks – clearly planning ahead. I could only imagine how they’d feel if they’d known who had been sleeping there that morning.