I went grocery shopping today. Partially because I am hungry and partially because this is the only time during the weekdays that I can go. As I have no car and the distance from home to WalMart is not an ideally walkable distance due to headwinds both ways (which is a legitimate thing here), I take the thing that has been deemed "public transit" in this town, which is a bus that runs to several different stops once an hour that will leave you stranded if you are not precisely on time to the stop.
I'm sitting at the bus stop outside of WalMart, when this guy rolls up on a beat up black mountain bike and says, "Hey, you waiting for the bus?" I said yes, because I am. He replies with, "Cool, I'm waiting for my own ride. It's the train. I'm heading to LA."
On his bike's handlebars, he had a bunch of his possessions balanced between them in a sack. His clothes were ruffed and he looked like he hadn't showered in a while. He was overtanned, as if he'd been biking for months. A tooth was missing and had been replaced with a silver one. Based on his slight stumbling, he also appeared to be a bit tipsy. This man was clearly homeless, which put me on the slight defense.
Oregon alone has one of the highest numbers of the homeless in the nation. Being from Portland, I've grown up seeing homeless people wandering the streets with their belongings piled into shopping carts, standing on the freeway offramps with signs asking for money or food, or sitting downtown with a sign that says "I have to be honest, all I want is a beer". It's a kind of sad reality of life. The town my college is in has trains running through it all day, so it becomes a sort of pit stop for vagabonds to stop in, get some food and rest, and then head on their way.
This particular man was....something else. Usually, in my (thankfully positive) experiences with the homeless, they ask for any spare change or food you may have, accept your (often likely) rejection, and go on their way to ask the next person (though, Pat and I had a great experience with one homeless man who we shared the overflow of fries with we had gotten from a food vendor. He politely asked us for ketchup several times, thanked us for the food, and left). This one, however, did not seem to want food or money, he just wanted to talk. He said that he'd started out in Florida and had been going from place and was heading down to LA to see his two year old granddaughter for the first time. He asked me if I'd ever been to LA, and I told him I had been a few times and that it had been very nice. The train he'd be taking was going through San Fransisco, so he asked me if I recommended stopping and checking out the area there. I said that I'd also been there a few times, and it had been very nice.
Then he asked me my name.
"Maddison", I said.
"Maddison? That's nice" he said. "My name is Paul, but you can call me..."
He then pulled up his sweatshirt to show me the tattoo arching across his stomach.
This wasn't just a d.y.i. tattoo someone would do in their bathroom with a bottle of ink and a sewing needle. This was a legitimate, went to a tattoo parlor, got a nice font for the letters, and slapped a considerable amount of money down tattoo. Paul, who I shall refer to as Railroad as he requested, asked where I was from. I said Portland, and he became very interested, as his train would be going through Portland as well! Would it be a good place to stop and check out? I said that I highly recommended stopping there, as it was an extremely interesting place.
At that point, Paul said goodbye and was about to depart to bike over to catch his train, when he noticed the large truck parked on the street. A man was selling apples from it. Railroad turned around to ask me if it was the taco truck he'd heard about in La Grande. I said it wasn't and that I thought it was located on the other side of town. Railroad suddenly asked "have you ever eaten sesos?" I said that I hadn't and that I didn't know what that was.
"Well, sesos is cow brain! I eat cow brain tacos all the time. They're so good and they really fill you up. I can eat one and I'll be set for the entire day. Not like those tacos they have at Taco Bell where you'll eat five of them and still be hungry."
Just around this time, the bus pulled up. I said goodbye to Railroad, and we went our separate ways.
And that was my afternoon shopping adventure. Have a safe trip getting to LA, Railroad.