Downtown was quiet, and not because the Cardinals have now lost eight of their last ten games. Rather, our first taste of fall teased us ever so gracefully. With the sun dropping sooner with each passing day now, the city of St. Louis, and the midwest as a whole, glimmers its chilly beauty through the echoes of silence. With my day being relatively quiet and straightforward, I decided to spend my break at work off the steps of the plaza of my building, sitting on a bench, looking at my phone.
The security a simple light jacket brings me is indescribable. Autumn is far and beyond my favorite time of the year, and getting to dress up in warmer clothing brings me an odd sense of excitement. It’s not because the clothes themselves bring me joy, but the past years I have attached to new and clothes alike create a sense of urgency, the good kind, for time to hurry up so I can drive through all the gorgeous scenery. (And most importantly, a Red October to cheer on.)
So, there I am, legs crossed and eyes focused, sitting in this empty plaza, when I hear the echoes of a man shouting at no one but himself. He’s walking with a cane, and makes eye contact with me. I nod politely, and he nods back, still shouting at the sky (or maybe the government building, I dunno). He throws his stuff down and lays on his back along the steps leading up to where I am. I couldn’t see him when he was lying down, so I pretended like I didn’t know anyone was there.
“FUCK STAN KROENKE! Man, just fuck ’em. We don’t need the goddamn Rams here. It’s too expensive, goddamn.”
(I’m not even going to try and explain the ongoing situation with St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, so here, read this.)
“Do I leave?” I asked myself over and over. Honestly though, what would be the point in that? I wasn’t scared of the guy, and I wasn’t uncomfortable. The weather dictated my decision making, like it always does during cold weather, and I went about my business while he went on a nice tangent about his hatred for the Rams and Stan Kroenke.
At one point, he stops shouting and stands back up to face me, grabbing all of his belongings. The man looks me right in the face and says, “FUCK Stan Kroenke, yeah?” and the only thing I could say was, “Yeah! He sucks.” Instead of an, “Amen brother,” it was a, “Kroenke is just an ugly white bastard.” (I couldn’t and don’t disagree, so I laughed.) Now, I could lie to you and be all like, “You know what? This man was definitely sober and had a clear thought process.” And if you want me to, I’ll tell you that, you know what? I bet this man was definitely sober and had a clear thought process, but was just a bit angry.
But I won’t.
There’s a stigma against the homeless, especially ones of color, and though I understand why people are hesitant of some, it truly does bum me out to see just how poorly treated the vast majority are looked down upon. Even in St. Louis, where our economy is generally pretty poor (in the city, at least!) and the homeless population takes up a good part of our downtown, you’d think the ones who work downtown are used to them by this point. Sadly, they aren’t, and even the homeless who don’t want to bother anyone still get looked at like circus freaks. It’s because of this I find an odd sense of joy talking to them, or really anyone who isn’t threatening or otherwise dangerous, because frankly how many people will they come across in a day or a week that gives them the time of day? Sure, I don’t doubt whoever this man was was speaking sporadically with the help of something else, but he was still himself and was kind enough to let me talk once I let him talk.
His cane looked old and beaten, using that for balance rather than the railing on the steps for the entirety of our talk. I could look into that specifically a million different ways, but I won’t because he clearly trusts that wooden cane over something that is solidified into the ground. If he were closer, I probably would have helped him from falling over as many times as he got close to doing so.
According to him, his brother helped build Anheuser Busch, Busch Stadium (the current Cardinals ballpark), Scottrade Center (home of our infamously unlucky NHL team, the Blues) and countless other local landmarks. His shouts were so loud that the echoes ending up echoing themselves, so I genuinely had no idea what he was getting at during this rabbit trail, but he didn’t either so it’s okay.
Right before he left and called it a night, his voice quivered with a mix of anger and sadness, and said, “No one cares about St. Louis anymore. Man, nobody cares about St. Louis anymore.” Again, I could look into this a million different ways, but I won’t because it’s useless. The past 365 days in this area have been essentially a rebirth of social issues and a regurgitation of everything wrong over the past fifty years. My first response to him saying that was, “He’s right, we don’t care about St. Louis anymore.” Opinion is subjective, and if any city pretends to know that more than others, it’s certainly St. Louis, Missouri. Despite his situation, he knows the struggles of our city. We all do, and we all have, but much like everything else in life, it takes the boiling point to create movement.
I did not catch his name, but I know he’s 57 years-old, and homeless since he was 53 years-old. His cane is his support, his obvious comfortability on the streets shines through, and his sense of humor gives him an edge over others who live the same life he does. Hell, his promptness to ask me if I was a reporter so I could give all his thoughts “to the press” was enough to make smile. I do feel bad for the man, but clearly, this man knows the in and outs of himself and his life.
The sun had set for the day, and it was time for me to go back to work. I never once tried to hurry the situation, but his schedule and my schedule apparently intertwined. I told him I wrote down all he said and will give it to my editor, he thanked me and then stopped in his tracks, facing the opposite direction, and cried to himself, loudly, for a few seconds before trying to hide his tears. I told him goodnight, he told me the same, and just like the twenty minutes before, his only interaction was from a rising echo from around the corner.
People are intricate, aren’t we?