Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fremont Street Experiences

by Lori Gebbie

Robert and I were asked to help out a friend with her business. She runs a “spotter” company, watching a parking lot and having vehicles towed that park there without permits. It was an interesting experience, sitting in that cold parking lot throughout the night, watching the neon burn until morning. I was glad we were able to do it together; it allowed us to sleep in shifts and still capture a slice of life that one normally would not see.

Tourists park on this lot, for a fee, and walk across to the hub attraction area of Fremont, the Experience. They see the fancy lights, hear the barkers calling for them to enter their casinos for a “sure win” or a “safe bet”, the street vendors and the street performers with hats in front, collecting donations for their performances, the old neon signs from old Las Vegas, revamped with a new life here in this small museum area. But if you ask me, they are missing the real experience, the true to life experience, of the broken, the scared, the hungry, the homeless. This is where the real story is at. This is the true hustle and grind of the city, where the “real” people are at, the “bad” side of town. And for all that we are warned to keep away from here, to not be around the vagrancy, the crime, the poor and pitiful, we see a huge slice of humanity, as the homeless stop and offer a good word to each other, often sharing their meager possessions with those who are more in need than they are. A clean tissue, a sip of water, a smile. Once in a while, one will be fortunate enough to afford a cup of steaming hot coffee, and they eagerly approach their friends and everyone gets a sip. A shred of warmth, of kindness, reminding themselves that they are still human and have dignity. This is the part that is hardest for us to watch, as we put ourselves in their place, and wonder where our life would be if we were forced into such circumstances. How would we be faring, in a cold city, living on the streets, under a pile of newspapers we were fortunate enough to find? Where would we find the strength to continue going, to keep moving for warmth, to hope that, one day, we would once again be able to live like “real people” again?

I can only wonder at how they got here, got to this dismal place in their lives, where they lost their way in “normal” society and had to take to the streets. What drove them from leading productive lives into the madness of street wandering and scrounging for a slice of the sanity they once knew? In this city, it is easy to imagine a few of them took a chance in the casinos and gambled away their lives, pushing themselves into an unrecoverable amount of debt, fourth and fifth mortgages on their homes, pushing their families and loved ones aside as they risked it all in hopes of hitting the jackpot, pawning and selling pieces of their lives to finance their next parlay, their next hand at the table, that last quarter into the machine. And one day, they look around them and realize they’ve lost their jobs, their families, and all they have left are the clothes on their backs as they are left to wander the streets aimlessly. But some were put here for other reasons. Some are returned veterans, so disturbed by the combat and stresses they endured while fighting for our Country, that they can no longer fit into a normal society, having seen too much and lived too hard. Night terrors, horrid flashes of the realities they faced while in the service, disconnected from the fa├žade that most of us live our lives in. Misunderstood, they have snapped and found solace in their own little worlds, where they can create their own boundaries, yet still chained to the nightmares they endured. Some have also been hit by hard economic times, the rising levels of layoffs and spiraling interest rates. Credit cards offered like candy with huge ballooning interest rates, forcing a level of debt upon them that could never be caught up to.

We live in a very twisted society right now. There are so many people who feel they are owed things, and so they live that way, always taking but never returning. They run up their credit cards to the maximum limits, then apply for another to feel like they have money again, never worrying about the consequences they are forcing themselves into, always imagining they deserve to have the latest and greatest out on the market.

I wonder where people are going to land in the next few years, as our Nation continues to struggle and grow under the recession we are in. But, this is part of living, our experiences giving us hope and direction, if we keep focused. For most, these are just stories to be read and acknowledged, but for others, there is no way to go but up. We wish everyone well in their own personal journey, and hope we all come out of it on top.

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