I’ve been riding on a trail between my house and downtown Portland for about six months now. I usually see a group of people sitting at the picnic tables. I know they live by the trail because it’s the same people each time, not like downtown where the faces are different every time. I’ve seen folks gathered around one man in particular cooking dinner or hanging out with his dog. He also has this bike with a trailer, so I figured he’s their mayor.
I tend to like people on bikes, so I wanted to say hello. One day I almost did but chickened out at the last minute. I hadn’t really thought about what I wanted to say other than that I noticed him and his group and… yeah, I don’t know and what.
Three friends flew to Portland to make the drive to Burning Man with me this year. I hadn’t thought about the fact that all of the leftovers would become mine to deal with. It’s all stuff I won’t use, so I was going to put it out on the street and let people take what they wanted (that happens here in Portland). But then I remembered the people on the bike trail. I hopped on my bike, rode down to find that guy and ask him if they could use our extra supplies.
It was important to me that I ask if they wanted them rather than assume my discards were automatically of use. I rode up and introduced myself to Mark and explained the situation. He said they would make use of anything I could give them. I asked where he’d be the following morning (Saturday) and he said, “Just down here. There’s not much to do down here on the weekends.” I laugh along with him because I know what he’s saying—the bike trail’s different on the weekends.
Saturday morning I woke up and started packing. It was my birthday, and I was on a mission. I loaded up my rainbows-and-unicorns backpack with our extra Burning Man food. There were the opened packages of baby wipes, hand sanitizer and other personal comforts. An extra flashlight, some antibiotic ointment, leftover dog treats. Then I found a pound of coffee and thought, I bet no one ever brings coffee. I’m always waiting for it at Burning Man, always happy for it in everyday life, and I’m guilty of hoarding even bad coffee for those times of emergency. And since it’s my birthday, some whiskey.
I rode down and Mark wasn’t up yet. I made my normal loop through downtown to the beaver and back and started back home. On my way back I stopped and made the delivery. As I went through the inventory he was appreciative of everything, but especially excited about the coffee. He thanked me, we shook hands again, and I told him that we’d see each other on the trail. I wave every time I ride by now. I don’t know if Mark sees me or not, but I definitely see him.
This experience has brought home something very important to me: that I think every one of us is entitled to enjoyment in life. I feel society pays attention to the mechanics of need—providing the most calories or the warmest clothing or whatever provides a measurable result—and ignores that the recipients are people. People like you and me, for whom even a small token of care, of honest concern, a gift given truly with nothing expected in return, means the world.
As we enter the cold months I encourage everyone to do whatever they can for those who aren’t as fortunate as you, even if it’s just an acknowledgment that you see them and don’t quite know what to make of it.