I knew the address, 1012 South Myrtle Street, was strange, saying to myself "what the hell could that be?'" And what it turned out to be was the new, improved version of the homeless camp dubbed "Nickelsville," named not so affectionately after a recent mayor, he being the same individual who gave away the local NBA franchise, and as popular myth has it, plowed his West Seattle street while leaving the rest of Seattle to struggle through a rare heavy snow fall. Approaching the place, I saw someone who had to be my passenger, and "Isn't that someone I know?" and indeed it was, being none other but Maria, a customer I ran across over 20 years ago, and here she was exiting a homeless camp.
I first encountered Maria when she worked at a local Circle K convenience store while attempting to finish her schooling at the University of Washington. What always made her stand out, in addition to perhaps being 125 pounds overweight, was her clear persona of a recovered (or recovering) mentally ill person who had somehow overcome enough of her disability to more-or-less function normally. That she supported herself and went to school seemed to me a major, not minor miracle, an accomplishment beyond all normal expectations.
Perpetually cheerful, Maria is like an adult child, someone, in the terms of the therapeutic modality, Transactional Analysis, permanently residing in her "Child" ego state, rarely leaving what is clearly a comfortable and settling mental environment. I see people like Maria as similar to cars operating with a malfunctioning transmission, immutably stuck in a particular gear allowing movement at one prescribed speed and no faster. That she cruises along as she does, avoiding serious collisions is something remarkable, and rare, an achievement unusual amongst a particular afflicted group or category, Maria boldly defying accepted categorization.
So while pleased to see Maria again, and this time accompanied by a new a companion, a spaniel mix named Raffles, I was distressed to see her homeless as previously I have always dropped her off at various rooming houses in Seattle's University District. But what Maria has found, like so many others, that Seattle's economic boom left her behind, shoving her out of permanent housing and onto the street minus real options other than a tent or an organized encampment like "Nickelsville." The positive for Maria and other folks like her is that this camp is organized into individual tiny houses where she has "her own television," a medium somehow keeping her linked to a society and culture that is simultaneously throwing her away.
I gave her my card and hopes she calls me again, always glad to meet an amazing survivor of what has been many wrong turns down our human highway. "I should have studied harder when my father was paying my tuition," she responded when asked whether she had finished her degree, "because back then it was $165.00 a quarter." Yes, all of us can say that to some degree, if only, if only but too often, decisions made are decisions later regretted. That I once rejected a fully paid scholarship to Maria's same U of Washington is something I oft think about. Should I have accepted it when offered 44 years ago?
I think the verdict is still pending but I do doubt I would have ever driven a cab, an occupation I usually despise, having told myself it is only temporary, a means to a better end. But in the meanwhile I continue on down the road, meeting Maria and others like her, adding to mind and soul, adding to an ongoing narrative you both read and hopefully enjoy, somehow making all my crazy taxi miles just a little bit more satisfactory than just putting dollars into the pocket. If it wasn't for folks like Maria I truly would be nuts, making the taxi moments just a little better, and dare I say, saner.