I used to write more about observations of mine, and less bitching and moaning. More about the things I see and wonder, less about pain.
I’ll try and do more of that. I promise.
For those of you who don’t know this, my commute from my lovely little South Jersey town into Center City Philly takes about an hour to an hour and ten minutes each way. After two years of this, I’ve gotten pretty used to this. I take NJ Transit to scenic downtown Camden, NJ and then switch over to the PATCO train into Philly.
Typically, I have my headphones on, with some myriad mix of songs blaring into my skull, today Killswitch Engage, and I stand and watch the things that pass by me with interest. Those of you who know me well, know that there is nothing that entertains me more than people watching. Watching the human animal go about its daily activities beats anything you could ever see on Animal Planet or the Discovery Channel.
For example, I have been watching the spread of this homeless tent community in Camden. It sits right by the train tracks, little more than 20 yards away, and is clearly visible through the windows as we pass by. At first thinking, “There, but for the grace of God, go I”, I am now struck by how innovative they are, and the strong tribal indicators I see daily. These folks, destitute as they are, have taken over a small wooded triangle wedged between two highway ramps and the train tracks that pass under those ramps. They made this tiny little urban valley their own.
While of course, not nearly as good as having real modern shelter, they have cobbled together all manner of flotsam and jetsam from the surrounding city and create a world of their own. Blue construction tarps and hunks of rope have come together the form tents among the trees, and they even found a section of that orange netting used in construction and landscaping [example] and are using it to keep the trash OUT of their camp.
Still, there are the little things, the things that will never make sense to anyone who isn’t part of this little community. The stuffed Elmo doll that someone hung (complete with noose) over the entrance to their area, with what looks like a child’s halloween costume strung among the branches just across from it. In warmer months, when the trees are full of leaves, this is all you see, aside from a bit of movement or color in the bare patches of foliage. But, in winter months like now, when you can peer through the bare branches and see the 15 or so tents beyond, and you see a battered child’s toy serving as a “Welcome to (?)….Population: Transient” sign, it takes on an eerie, almost horrific quality.
Recently, in the distance, across the highway, I see a new tent has started to spring up. In my mind, I imagine the resident as having been exiled from the remainder of the tribe for some transgression. And having gone off and decided to start a community of his own, Pilgrim like. And I noticed today, that he has added a door to his tent, made of what appears to be a combination of blue tarp, plastic sheeting, trash bags and duct tape….and this big blue door. It looks pretty ornate from a distance, and probably, judging by its size belonged to the front of one of the crumbling homes in the surrounding area. But, I envision this man….for some reason, I always see him as male…this man, walking down the street, proudly dragging this door. And knowing, just knowing that it will be the best addition, the final touch, that will make his little ersatz abode a HOME. His door faces across the highway towards the other community, almost in defiance.
There, but for the grace of God, go I.