I can't say I was nervous. The day had been hectic, trying to figure out plans for a warm Saturday night in mid-October. Yet there was that delicious lingering summer smell in the air that leaves you excited for something to come. You're not sure what... but you're thrilled for the unknown.
So I wasn't nervous when a friend asked if I would like to eat dinner with some homeless people underneath an overpass in downtown Newport News. Nervous just isn't the word. Maybe it was the weather... but I was "thrilled."
Under the bridge with Abe.
David's been doing his thing for almost four years now: He drives downtown every Tuesday and passes out breakfast. Every Thursday he brings several men and women back for a worship service on campus and dinner. Later that evening, they will hang out with us students at bonfires, or even watch episodes ofThe Office.
Some of them are quiet, some loud. Some are content, others restless and scrambling for a job. Some are upbeat, others more mellow. But one thing is the same... no matter how well the they do or don't fit in at CNU, they must always return to where they came from: the streets.
I can't imagine how hard it is for David to drop them off each week. Still, his relationships with that community have only strengthened through the years. And it certainly is a community - if anything that was illustrated Saturday night.
"So I fired the gardener," Alicia says as we parked under the bridge. I laughed, looking around the grassy plot of land, not quite sure if I was supposed to joke about the situation. "Yeah... he was gettin' too expensive," she continued with a smile.
Well that was one way to break the ice.
My friend Kelsey and I were meeting David, two friends from school, and the usual Thursday night crew of homeless men and women... but this time they were sharing their home with us. Their home just happens to be under an overpass. The river is close by, and a parking garage borders the right side of their space.
Kelsey talking with Will.
"We've got all sorts of pets... some 'coons, some opossums, some deer... in the Spring you'll see them... some stray cats," Alicia told us as we waited for our meals. "Usually they don't come into camp. Not if we throw our scraps right over there, ya see?" And like a perfect tour guide, she pointed her finger towards the garage.
Someone's car had been parked under the overpass with the lights on so we could see our dinners. A red grill held pieces of meat that Alicia's husband, Greg, seasoned and cooked. The warm summer air mixed well with the chicken and country sausage sizzling on the fire.
Cooking some dinner...
"Brit, you gotta check out Alicia's bed!" David yelled over to me. Their little "camp" was divided up into platforms made by crates and boxes. Each "bed" was elevated with boards and blankets on the top. I plopped down on Alicia's mat and let my feet dangle off the bed while my head rested comfortably.
I looked up and saw the rusty beams of the overpass. It was beginning to mist, so swirls of little dew drops danced down from the sky, illuminated by street lamps and the car's headlights. It made me sad looking at the rusty bridge; the beams overlapping, creating a binding image. Alicia had to feel so bound. Stuck under this bridge, under the beams, and the rain, and society.
Yet she smiled that lovely smile and pranced around camp, with such hop in her step. I slid off her bed and walked back over to the warm grill.