NEW YORK — I spent a little time and a fair amount of money in New York City last week. I got out just as the crazy people who come to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the vast metropolitan canyon called Times Square, were coming into town.
I thought about the millions of people who will brave dangerously cold temperatures to stand for about 18 hours to watch a crystal ball slide down a pole and declare that 2017 is over. Do they resolve to brave this crowd again, or is this a one-time adventure?
I’ve never been one who shied away from a conversation and I spoke with a few people in New York as I wandered about.
I met a man from Orange, Texas, who had come to visit his son, who is in graduate school at New York University. Orange is a city of 18,000 people. Maybe that should be was a city of 18,000 people. It was right in the path of Hurricane Harvey, which struck the region around Houston in August. The man told me that while his house was not harmed, about 1 out of 3 people in his church have homes that are unlivable. There isn’t a hotel room in the area, because they are filled with people who were forced out by the storm damage.
I decided to grab a fast-food burger in Penn Station, where I rode in on a commuter train. A pleasant woman in her 50s came up to me.
“Would you buy me something to eat?” she asked. When I went to order a burger, I ordered two, one for her and one for me. She didn’t ask for money, just something to eat. There are a lot of panhandlers in New York; I fear that if I give them money I’m funding a drinking or drug habit. This woman was just hungry.
A man from Tanzania had come to New York with his wife and family. He was working as a security guard at a retail store on Lexington Avenue. He seemed to be happy to have a job that provided for his family, but said his family longs to go back to Africa. Despite limited opportunities in their homeland, it is just that, home.
Last week, my daughter was here on a mission trip. She was helping adults find a winter coat in a church basement. There are all sorts of crusades to give coats to kids, but not so much for grown-ups. For a person who lives on the street, a coat becomes their house for the next few months. It is what keeps them somewhat warm, provides cover for sleeping and a place to store their belongings.
There was a picture of her helping a man try on a coat. They both were smiling. I wondered if it was enough to get him through the last few days, when wind-chill readings were in the single digits. People who live on the street find warmth on city steam grates and near huge dryer vents in alleys behind hotels.
I cringed as I got on an airplane to come home. Yes, the airlines continue to shoehorn people into as small of a space as possible. But I was warm, had a little snack and eventually got into a warm car to come home.
It made me think: How do you make New Year’s resolutions when your resolve has been flooded, crumpled or dented over the past year or more?
There are a lot of people who could use a little help. I am resolved to do that more in 2018.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.