The following is an excerpt reproduced here from Mike Yankoski’s book, Under The Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America.
Sam and I sat next to each other in the hot, humid air, leaning against the wall of a two-story restaurant. The sun had set an hour ago, but the buildings and sidewalks still radiated heat. The bricks behind our backs burned like an oven. The street in front of us was filled with thick fumes and the roar of traffic. My head throbbed with what was probably a dehydration headache.
I reached into my pack and pulled out the water bottle, grateful for the last drops of warm water. Every now and then the door to the restaurant behind us would swing open and let out a gust of air-conditioned coolness seasoned with the inviting aromas of Italian cooking and the sounds of friendly conversation.
Sam and I started talking in a dazed sort of way about cool restaurants, tasty Italian food, and tall iced drinks. But every time a bus rumbled by, we stopped. When you’re tired, hungry, hot and thirsty, every word takes effort.
Occasionally a passerby glanced down at us. Mostly though, they just stared straight ahead, trying hard to pretend we weren’t there. A cluster of teenage girls walked past. Then they turned and came back to the door of the restaurant to read the menu.
While they laughed and traded opinions among themselves, one of the girls leaned in toward the menu. Silently she mouthed “Chicken Parmesan,” and “Linguine Alfredo.” But then she frowned, spun around, and pushed her way past her friends. “Nothing looks good,” she declared in a high whine.
“Yeah, it all looks bad!” chimed in two of her friends as they hurried to join her, and the cluster moved away down the sidewalk.
I turned to look at Sam, my mouth hanging open. Then we both laughed, shrugged our shoulders, and went back to staring silently into the hot street.
Fifteen minutes later, I asked. “Are you hungry?”
“Yeah,” said Sam. “More thirsty though. You?”
“Same.” I agreed. “We should go play the guitar somewhere soon.”
But finding the energy to move seemed impossible. “I want to eat” no longer meant just walking to the refrigerator or ordering off a menu. Every sandwich demanded hours of sitting on the hot cement, playing and singing, trying to be heard above the noise of the street. And on this afternoon, exhaustion from walking everywhere, the dehydration of living outside, and the lack of sleep from being constantly moved by the police and security guards had taken a toll. So we just sat, half-aware, watching people ignore us.
It seemed like the perfect pastime.
Suddenly a young family came into view. The dad – dressed in T-shirt, shorts, and a baseball cap – walked in front, but he was looking down, evidently listening to his wife. She came along behind pushing the stroller. As they rolled up to us, a small boy in the stroller looked out at me.
When you’re sitting on a sidewalk, you’re at eye level with babies and kids. It’s a different world down there. As toddlers stumble past holding their parent’s hand, they lock you in their unashamed gazes or they peek curiously out from their strollers. They haven’t yet learned to ignore what they see, so they can actually take the world in as it is. While kids might pretend people who don’t exist do, it’s the parents who pretend that unwanted people who do exist don’t.
I held the boy’s gaze for a while and gave him a smile, which he immediately returned. From high above him, his mother said something that caught my attention. “We have to be about the gift of giving and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit,” she said.
I looked up quickly, wondering what those words might mean, what with us sprawled on the sidewalk not five feet from her. But when I caught her eye, she looked away and quickened her pace.
Now the family was well past us. But the boy in the stroller still looked straight at me. the further away they got, the further he leaned out, looking back, fixing me with his grin and a steady gaze.
That seemed like the gift of giving to me.
We sat for another couple of minutes, trying to gather the strength to get up and earn our meal for the evening. Suddenly the restaurant door burst open, bringing the familiar smells and sounds. But then a large man wearing a tuxedo stood in front of us. “You’ve got to leave now, guys,” he announced. “You’re killing our business. With you out here, no one wants to come in.”
“No problem,” I said. I knew it would happen sometime, it always did.
“No problem,” Sam echoed in a monotone. “You got it.”
Without another word the man marched back inside, mission accomplished, taking the aroma of dinner and the laughter of friends with him.
We struggled to our feet and reached for our packs. “That’s okay,” I said, groaning under the unwelcome weight. “We need to go play anyway.”
“Yeah,” said Sam. “And besides, my back is starting to cook.”
We picked up our guitars and set off down the sidewalk. “Do you like Chicken Parmesan?” I asked.
“No. Not really.”
(excerpt taken from pages 64-67)