I wrote this blog quite quickly, so I apologize for any errors. I wanted to share my experience...
For those of you who are not aware, the state of Utah has a light rail system called "TRAX", which serves as transportation for the public. For only $3.00, someone can ride from Provo to Salt Lake City, making the state accessible to almost anyone. Generally, the TRAX is a very effective system, but have you ever taken the last train of the evening?
This past Saturday evening, after participating in a handmade goods showcase in SLC, I had the idea to ride the TRAX back into Provo. As the show went relatively late into the evening, the last train was my only option. After the show, I started walking to the station from downtown.
On the walk itself I was a bit surprised to come across so many homeless people. I knew that this was a problem across America, but I didn't know exactly how large of a problem it was right here in my own state. In my 10 minute walk I undoubtably passed 100's of homeless people who were camping out for the evening.
When I got to the station, the situation was no different. I saw hardly any commuters, particularly because it was a Saturday evening. My train was delayed, so I had at least 20 minutes until I could begin my ride back to Provo. Across the platform I saw a young man (about my age) with straight long hair and multiple face piercings sitting alone near a group of benches. I went over and grabbed a seat near him. After a few minutes, we started talking.
We'll call the man Johnny for the purpose of this blog; Johnny was heading home from work. Johnny's parents were divorced and his mother had been out of work for the past 9 months. Although Johnny said he wished that he was going to college, he instead worked two jobs from early in the morning to late in the evening to provide for his mother and pay the rent. He worked six days a week and took the TRAX to SLC and back in order to work his jobs. Not only did he ride the TRAX for 35 minutes to get to work, he also walked 30 minutes from his home to the station. He explained to me how the walk home was in the complete pitch black. As Johnny told me about his situation, he didn't complain at all, but just said it as it was. He was actually quite positive and cheerful.
While we were sitting on the platform, another young man came and sat by us, apparently him and Johnny were acquaintances. We'll call him Peter in this blog.
Peter was a 19 year old man with a lot of potential and a really sad situation. He was good looking, athletic and I could tell he was really good with people. I'll get to his story later...
As the train arrived, the three of us got on and sat together. As we were chatting about life, I started to notice that there was a particularly rough crowd who rode the TRAX at this time of night. Other than Johnny and myself, I don't think most of them had bought tickets, in fact a few of them had bragged about how they hadn't. Peter explained to me how people would ride the TRAX back and forth in the evening to give them a nice seat to rest on and an opportunity to travel to different areas in Utah.
After a few minutes of riding, a particularly sketched out fellow came and sat by the four of us. By his behavior, I realized the man must have been on Meth or something related. He snarled a bit, looking overly pissed off at the world, and pulled out a 6 inch KA-BAR knife. I have to say this startled me a little bit and I definitely kept both eyes on him as he started talking about his frequent drug usage and shifted the knife in and out of its sheath. It wasn't the most promising thing when he said he would "kill someone for $10". Peter was smooth and spoke to the newcomer like he was his best friend, as if he didn't even notice the knife. Soon, the man thought we were his best friends...
Eventually Johnny got off on his stop and then our "friend" with the knife did as well, leaving Peter and I to chat.
Peter went on to tell me how he was addicted to heroine. He said that he was first introduced to the drug when he was 16 by his own sisters. Although he had been to rehab numerous times, he always had relapsed, which had left him on the street at his current age of 19. His parents may have been decent enough, but for some reason (probably due to the drugs) they had all had a fallout and he was left on his own.
When we got to Provo we walked most of the way home together and discussed life some more. Even though I truly felt for Peter and saw the potential in him, eventually we had to part ways. It was tough as I knew he didn't have anywhere to sleep. I gave him my phone number and told him to give me a call anytime. I thought that was the least I could do.
You may be asking yourselves why I took the time to write a 1,200 word blog post about my experiences on the TRAX last Saturday evening, but for me personally I feel that it was a very important experience. I'll share a few of my thoughts on the lessons I learned, but will leave the final interpretation up to yourself.
(1) Be grateful! We often complain of our own situations (myself included), but we are generally a lot more blessed than we know. When you go to complain, stop thinking of yourself and start thinking of others.
(2) Give back. Along with being grateful, I need to do a better job of helping others around me. I don't necessarily believe giving money to Peter would have been the best solution as I wouldn't want to give him a way to get drugs, but there are surely different rehab centers I can donate to or volunteer at.
(3) I believe that the Utah government should do more. I'm no government official, but I believe that there is more they can do to help with this situation. If they went on the TRAX at this time of evening, they would probably find 30+ people who were riding without a ticket and in possession of/or using drugs. Something needs to be done to help these people (particularly the young ones like Peter) and keep the community safe.
Interesting evening. I wish all three of those guys I met the best.