I can remember one year ago around this same time of the year. I remember it as a point in time where I began wanting to more things as an individual outside of my comfort zone. I followed through with these feeling by excluding myself from my family’s annual desert camping trip. We have been doing this consistently for as long as I can remember. I have recently grown tired if this and since my dirt bike I usually ride with others has been sold (with my consent) I have little interest in going. I know all I do when I get there is just get fat and remain idle like a sloth.
Instead I decided to feed the homeless in downtown Los Angeles in a place people commonly refer to as, “skid-row.” This radical change of pace is exactly what I needed. A holiday alone, amongst complete strangers who I had little to no common ground with. I remember quickly establishing myself with an organization that played a big part in providing for the less fortunate. I volunteered as a group leader and began to grow excited for the big event. When they were explaining the way things worked, and what they stood for, I was able to respect their choices, and still be able to follow through. There would be two shifts, one from 8-12 noon, the other from 1-5. The group leaders needed to be there for both gifts which I had no problem doing. I had a basic idea of those I would be in charge of, and the plan ahead. They did mention how they would accept walk-in volunteers on the day of; this turned out to be a big mistake.
On the day of, I got my things: a nice change of clothes, and snacks and rode my bike into our location. It was really neat to watch the sunrise from the L.A river path. The streets were very empty and I got a sense of the city waking up with my presence. I finally checked in and got a lot more volunteers than I expected. I had a flexible plan that accounted for this influx. The food would not be given out until around 10-11 so once everything was set up, there was an introduction ceremony with live music and speeches from the officials and local representatives like our mayor.
There was a large crowd of “guests” and what seemed to be an even bigger crowd of volunteers. As I began scanning the area, I began to realize who decided to show up. It seemed to me like a lot of people had notion to give back to the less fortunate. Maybe they did something really terrible they were not too proud of and wanted to repent, maybe they were just kind people. Nearly everyone wanted to be that person to physically had the guests their plate and see the look of happiness on their faces. This is a very rewarding feeling, but is very unrealistic. There were simply too many volunteers to accommodate the same role. When I began assigning roles to everyone, there was a sense if disappointment and people wanting to switch roles with others because they wanted the glory that came with handing a stranger a meal someone else cooked. The cynic in me began to show.
The guests came in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most surprising to me was seeing the single mothers with her kids in line. I guess whenever I pictured a transient, I imagine a single male. It was a very humbling experience to see the closest thing to a third-world country here in the city. I really felt for them and tried not go get choked up in the midst of things. The world is a pretty sad place if you look in the right locations. We cannot let ourselves be consumed by the lowest lows or we will fail and become victims.
Getting back to the volunteers, they kept entering and entering and wearing out the elasticity in my plan I had spent so much time on. Another interesting thing I noticed was that 90% of my help left during the first shift. Apparently everyone wanted to help feed the transient, but still wanted to indulgence in their own glutinous feasts. I got the vibe like I was in a petting zoo. I began to feel disconnected with those around me. There were a few people who decided to stay both shifts and clean up with me towards the end. I really felt a sense of connectivity because they were peers.
I ended up not having a solid meal for over twelve hours. I became famished on my ride home, and to my naive surprise, every restaurant and liquor store was closed. I can remember when I used to work at a grocery store and them being open for these holidays. Von’s ended up saving me in the long run. I enjoyed my thanksgiving with pizza, beer, and a new perspective on those I surround myself with.
This year, I’ve decided to work, and not feed the transient again. In my search for self discovery, I continue to do the things I normally would question and not feel the most comfortable with. Happy holidays everyone.