Smiles from Strangers

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Every day I try and make a conscious effort to plant a smile – even a small one – on my face. Sometimes it is hard. Sometimes the smile doesn’t want to appear. Sometimes its right there, almost touching my lips and I just need some catalyst to bring it forward.

It can be anything. A short conversations with my cousin on the train ride which usually results in us making strange faces at each other while crammed into the Muni car or a shared moment with a stranger when someone in San Francisco does something particularly unique.

This morning, it was a smile from a stranger. A cute stranger. I was plodding along from the Powell station to work, and I glanced up and snapped out of my pre-coffee trance just in time to lock eyes with him. He gave me a huge smile and I smiled back and we continued on our way. The smile didn’t leave my face, though. I tried to pass it on to someone, anyone else. I greeted a friendly door man at a store along my route. Hopefully he passed it to someone else. Everyone in the world is playing a game of smile tag.

Last night, I was walking from my Monday night trivia spot to the bus stop to catch my bus. I live in an awkward area in SF, so its a bit hard to get to and if I missed that bus, I would have a 30 minute wait, so I was in a bit of a hurry.

If you’ve lived or visited just about any large city in the U.S. you’ve experienced the many homeless. It’s very sad, but you learn that you can’t give $1 to everyone. You also gain the ability to tell who is on drugs or a junkie and who isn’t. Most of those I’ve experienced asking for money here in SF have been on a great many drugs and kind of scare me. Some of them just want to get home. I made friends with a guy from Pittsburgh, PA. We had a mutual friend. I gave him 3 bottles of water and $5. I definitely couldn’t spare that $5, but I figured he needed it more than I did plus anyone trying to go to Pittsburgh is OK in my book.

Back to last night. I was walking to the bus, and I hear “Excuse me ma’am, can you spare any parts of $1.?” I looked to my right and there is a guy, pretty close to my age, snuggled into a stack of blankets outside of a shop door under the overhang. I say my usual “I’m sorry, I don’t have any cash on me” bit and start to walk away. I then realized that he is the cleanest and nicest homeless dude I’ve met since moving here and clearly something is up. His clothes aren’t that terrible, he was wearing a giants hat. He didn’t have a sign, he had a backpack with him. He looked so desperate; so sad.

We all know how I am financially right now. Still waiting on moneys to get back to where they should be. I coin-starred it earlier that evening so that I could get a beer. I was that desperate for some cash or maybe that desperate for an ice cold PBR. I had $6 left to last me until whenever things were righted. So I handed him $1 and told him to stay warm and that I was really sorry, that was all I could afford.

I spent the next 1/2 hr texting my friend in Pittsburgh about how terrible I felt. How I wish I could have done more. How I wish I could have given him enough for a night in a hostel and a hot meal. It wasn’t too long ago where I was very close to where he was. I wish I could have invited him to sleep on my couch. I wish it wasn’t so dangerous to consider inviting a stranger over for a meal, a hot shower, and a night on a couch.  I wish I wasn’t in such a hurry to catch my bus; I would have sat with him and gotten his story.

I feel extremely selfish. I know that I shouldn’t, but I do. I know there are people out there way better off than I am financially right now who don’t even tip their waiter or waitress. I know there are people out there, celebrities, politicians or sports figures, who own several cars worth millions of dollars and won’t donate a penny to charity or don’t even pay their taxes.

I could sit here and talk about how awful I felt and things I woulda/shoulda/coulda done. But in the end, I didn’t do them and I can’t do anything really about my situation.

Hopefully that dollar helped him like that smile this morning helped me get through my day.


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