It’s not uncommon to encounter homeless people sleeping in the grass beside the bike path that parallels the railroad tracks but something about this fellow seems different.
Laying facedown in a fetal position, a gnarled hand resting over a soft guitar case, his backpack is open and his head is on the path.
I double back and get off my bike to investigate.
“Hey, man—are you alright. Do you need help? Are you alive?” No answer.
I touch his hand. It’s stone cold. He doesn’t move.
I place my hand on his back and nudge his body, which rocks stiffly like a mannequin stuck in the mud. He doesn’t seem to be breathing.
I call 911 and it’s not the first time I’ve made this call. There was that dead guy in Eugene circa 1986 and another guy in New York City in 1993.
“I think I found a dead homeless guy on the bike path,” I say to the dispatcher. Suddenly, his shoulder circles slowly.
“Oh shit,” I say into the phone. “False alarm. He’s alive. I think.”
“Does he need medical attention?”
He raises his head like he’s come out of a state of suspended animation and glares at me with a feral look.
“Do you need medical attention?” No answer. “He’s not responding,” I say.
“What are you doing here,” the man growls angrily.
“Just checking to see if you’re alright. Do you need help?”
“I’m trying to get away from people,” he says rising. “People like you!”
“Okay,” I say, laughing as I beat a hasty retreat. “Take care, man.”
“Hey, HEY,” he yells.
Chuckling with relief, I tell the dispatcher that he’s on his feet and coming after me but not to worry as I’m on my bike and riding away.
“Try to do something nice and that’s what you get,” she says. “You should buy a lottery ticket.”
I end the call, wishing I lived in a world where I could exchange good karma points for cold hard cash.