I saw the white sneakers first. My dog approached them with cautious joy, tail flopping from side to side. Everybody is a potential friend as far as golden retrievers are concerned. The sneakers were attached to denim legs and they did not move. It was a good spot for sleep – by street standards anyway. Celebration Station is a 20 year old playground, with plenty of wooden cubbies for kids to play hide and seek in.
Some call the wooden maze home for several hours each night.
I had a friend ask me recently if “I felt safe,” living in the East End of Charleston. It’s true that my neighborhood is diverse in just about every way. The middle class, a few wealthy folks, and the poor are likely to rub elbows in the Rite Aid near my house. Though I’d say that cigarillos and tallboys of malt liquor are the drugs people pick up most there.
Moxxee Coffee, right across the street, is more of a doctor/young-ish professional hangout. Sitting in front of glowing screens, tapping away, becoming hyper-caffeinated on their drug of choice.
Celebration Station is my dog’s favorite place. He darts around the wooden playground equipment, favorite orange ball clenched in his jaws. His eyes dare me to catch him – I never do. Miles chooses when the game is over and stops; drops the ball and asks for a hug as only dogs can.
The playground is adjacent to the local elementary school, where Miles is a bona-fide celebrity. All the kids know him. “Miles, it’s Miles,” they shout, running up to pet him. Miles sits agreeably among them, soaking in their praise and pats on the head. He often looks at me as if to say: “Yeah, this is good. Of course I deserve it.”
And so, yesterday morning, when he spotted the white sneakers – before I did, of course – it made perfect sense that he would be happy. I wasn’t so sure. Which brings me back to my friend’s question, or rather, my answer.
I told her I wasn’t scared, and I remember being a little offended too. This NYC-area street girl be afraid in little ‘ol Charleston? C’mon. Not me.
But the truth is that I was a little scared in that moment. Not that this person would hurt me, or my dog, necessarily, but then again, I don’t react well to being woken up from a deep sleep. I was scared because this person leads a life very different from mine. I’ve had some tough experiences in my life – but I’ve always had a roof (in a house) over my head.
I was scared because the truth of that person’s life was something I didn’t really want to hear about on a Sunday morning. It might inconvenience me. On the other hand, I imagine what having a cup of coffee and some breakfast with this person would be like. What’s their story? How did they get to this point in their life? What has happened to them?
Perhaps my fear lies in the tension of the choice. I decided that Miles I needed to get back on Quarrier Street. “Let them sleep,” I thought to myself. Yeah, right.
For the rest of the day, I looked at people’s sneakers.