October 1, 2009

The Lonesome Streetsweeper of Northern Virginia

Picture Billy Gibbons or Dusty Hill. You know, those long-bearded guys from ZZ Top. Only take away the flashy guitars and sunglasses. Add an old, orange Home Depot shopping cart, a bucket and a vast collection of brooms and brushes. Meet the Lonesome Streetsweeper of Northern Virginia.

On any given day - morning, noon or night - during any season, you can find this old gentleman armed with a broom, a bucket and a dust pan, sweeping the streets and medians all over the area. I'm not sure who he is, where he came from or why he does what he does. But he is nothing if not dedicated.

More than likely, he's homeless but he doesn't look like your typical homeless guy. He ambles around more out of old age than drunkenness. He dresses decently, certainly for the task at hand but doesn't look otherwise shabby. I guess it's just as likely that he's some bohemian throw-back from another era, dropping out of society in the hopes of cleaning it up.

I drive by him a lot. I wonder about him a lot. What's his name? What did he do before he started sweeping the streets? Does he have a family? I'll probably never know the answers to any of these things unless I pull over and ask him. Which I've honestly thought about doing.

I noticed something strange recently. I was in the left hand turn lane, behind a van. To my left was a median and the Streetsweeper was cleaning up beside me. The light turned green and almost as soon as it did, the driver of the van tossed a $20 bill on the median in front of the Streetsweeper. It was obviously intentional but the Streetsweeper didn't seem to notice. I rolled down my window.

"There's a $20 there in front of you. Didn't want you to miss it." I said.
"I know. Thank you, son," he replied.

And I went on my way, watching him pocket the $20 from my side-view mirror as I made the turn. For some strange reason over the next few months, I found myself at more lights beside the streetsweeper and witnessed the same generosity time and time again.

I spend a lot of time bitching about stuff that's wrong with our society - healthcare, the economy, entitlement, intolerance, the death penalty and certain (but not all) Republican administrations - but this is an example of what's right. I mean, here's this guy who's just randomly cleaning up for whatever reason and people are finding some small spot of generosity in their hearts in the face of reasonably uncool economic times.

Share some good news. What goodness is happening in your world?

Posted by Chris at October 1, 2009 7:00 AM

coffee and donuts. that's this mornings goodness, and to be honest, the highlight of the week.

Posted by: bri at October 1, 2009 8:42 AM

Yesterday my Dunkin' Donuts Hot Light Latte cup (full) erupted and sent frothy (hot) coffee all over me, my nice light gray pants, the steering wheel, (I was driving) and the wind shield! Once I pulled over, swearing, I mopped everything off, and as soon as I came into my house, I stripped off my pants, and pre-stained them and washed.

Okay here is the good news...the coffee stains came out!

Posted by: Maribeth at October 1, 2009 9:18 AM

Stopping to talk to him would certainly be worth the time you spend doing it. I'm sure he wouldn't feel "bothered". :)

The goodness I feel in my life right now is due to my community. We share our lives with each other, in time and possessions. We really act like a neighborhood, and it feels great.

Posted by: Brad at October 1, 2009 9:37 AM

Chris! Please stop and talk to him! I want to know more about him. I do! And you seem like just the right person to do it.

Posted by: k8 at October 1, 2009 9:43 AM

"Interview with a street sweeper" would be an awesome blog post.

Posted by: COD at October 1, 2009 9:51 AM

I'm with K8 (seeing her comments always makes me think of Jon & Kate Plus 8), talk to him. I'm sure he'd be thrilled that someone was interested in his life and you might find out some very cool stuff.

Posted by: js at October 1, 2009 9:53 AM

http://tomatonation.com/ The Donors Choose 2009 Challenge is up at Tomato Nation. Every October I participate and every October I think it won't make me weepy with pride and of course every October I am wrong! It's a phenomenal way to make a REAL difference in kids lives with the change out of my change jar. I love it every year. :)

Also YES stop and talk to him. I'd love to hear about this interesting man. :)

Posted by: tulip at October 1, 2009 10:04 AM

I won a contest from a website newsletter I get, nothing too special but I was excited since I never win a dang thing.

The homeless is something that really bothers me, a lot of them are Veterans and many are mentally ill. It makes me very sad that they are living on the street.

Posted by: Dee at October 1, 2009 10:05 AM

A personal great thing that put a smile on my face happened yesterday. My husband and I were asking for driving directions and my husband was in his wheelchair. The woman giving us the directions asked which one of us would be driving. People usually assume (incorrectly) that my husband cannot drive, so just talk to me. Just that simple question really made my husband happy.
America putting our differences aside to root for the IOC choosing Chicago really makes me happy. Seeing so many people root for America is something I haven't seen in a while.

Posted by: Tess at October 1, 2009 10:16 AM

Watching my son share his beloved flashy orange soccer cleats with his twin sister, whose cleats had a blowout made my day yesterday. They fight like typical siblings and get on each other's nerves, but then they do something like that for each other and I realize that they look out for each other.

Posted by: Carolyn at October 1, 2009 10:35 AM

Wow! Great story. I also vote that you stop and talk to him. We (your devoted public) want to know more about this gentleman.

A new teacher at my school, lost her grandmother and could not afford the plane ticket, and the minister of the church that rents the cafeteria on Sundays, stepped in and donated $100 towards the ticket.

Posted by: debb at October 1, 2009 10:56 AM

I'm with k8 and COD, interview with a streetsweeper is a great idea!
Can you imagine how great he'd feel to know someone was interested in him!
As for goodness, it's always around, everywhere - it's all in your attitude and how you choose to see things. When bad things happen, look for the lesson. lessons are a good thing, they enable you to grow as a person. We should all look for the goodness every day. Ugh, sounds so Pollyannaish, but it really is true.

Posted by: LaineyDid at October 1, 2009 11:37 AM

My life is kind of a steaming pile right now, but your post about the Streetsweeper's goodness kinda brightened my day a bit. Will meditate on LaineyDid's "lessons to be learned" thought. I certainly hope there is a purpose to what I'm dealing with.

Posted by: Brooke at October 1, 2009 11:50 AM

This story happened a couple of years ago, just before the economy really took a dive, but you were starting to see waves of panhandlers appearing.

For various unimportant reasons, I happened to have come into quite a bit of cash that was basically going to be going straight from my hands into bills, but I had just a bit more than I needed. As I was driving, I came to a stop light, and saw a panhandler dressed very well ( looked like he probably did home construction before the bubble burst ). I felt oddly compelled, and called him over and gave him a hundred dollar bill.

He took it, thanked me, and started to walk away before looking at it. I watched him look down and pause, as the denomination sunk in. Then he smiled a quirky kind of smile, and shared this with me. He said when he was younger, he had been driving along, and had given a panhandler a hundred dollar bill. Then he really smiled to himself, and said "God Bless You" in such a way as I have never heard it said, in that it felt totally sincere.

I think that in that moment he saw that God was watching out for him, and that his kindness all those years ago was repayed to him in his time of need.

Posted by: metawizard at October 1, 2009 1:19 PM

When I was in the ER with hubs last week (he'd spent the night there) and we were both exhausted, stressed, and coffee deprived, Jake's best friends Dad stopped to say hello.

He then went on a coffee run (he works at the hospital) and brought us each back a giant cup of coffee.

Totally made my day. I almost cried with gratitude.

Posted by: Scattered Mom at October 1, 2009 1:28 PM

We bought baby chickens which are now juvenile chickens. We have built a coop and a run and we pet and cuddle them. All to prove that eggs don't 'grow' at the supermarket.

Posted by: Angelica at October 1, 2009 2:06 PM

I spent my morning buying desserts to serve tomorrow night at our volunteer appreciation dinner, where we will eat and give out awards and then play bingo with about one hundred people who spend hours and hours of their time every year (most of them retirees) helping us do what we do. That is a happy happy thing. :)

And I vote for "stop and talk", too!

Posted by: Sara at October 1, 2009 3:04 PM

your post, and metawizard's comments both made me happy after a long day's work. thanks :)

my two year old taking a nap right now and the boy in my belly kicking are the goodness that's happening in my life...

Posted by: kati at October 1, 2009 8:14 PM

So much goodness, that I had to post about it.

(Not doing the whole "COME READ MY POST" thing (that I hate)). Just stating that there has been a lot of happy going on in my wee life.

On top of all of that? Fall is cold, but it means that I've stocked up on Bailey's. Yum.

Posted by: Angella at October 1, 2009 9:13 PM

This reminds me of a story I heard from my Mother years ago. She grew up in Honesdale, PA - it was a sleepy little town back in the 50's and it still is.... She said they had a little old man who swept main street everyday. Well apparently when he died his kids found a burlap bag in his closet where he used to toss all the loose change he found though the years. It was so heavy they couldn't lift it. Apparently it was worth thousands of dollars!

As far as goodness in my world....
Just try to pay it forward when I can.
I try to help people when I can. Being out of
work for a while I tell them I don't have money to help, but the one thing I do have is time, so I've been helping people in my spare time lately...
As far as other people... a guy in front of me stopped for a squirrel today, does that count? LOL!

Posted by: Rose Winters at October 1, 2009 10:09 PM

Huh. Inneresting. When I was a kid living in Massachusetts, we had a street sweeper too. We used to call him 'Mud Man', because he was so filthy looking. Always with the sweeping. I oftentimes wondered about him too. Where did he come from? What is his history? WHO is this man? I had got it in my head that I was going to take him for coffee one cold morning and just talk to him and ask.

I never got the chance. I noticed he had not been around for a few days, and someone that I knew who worked in a local mill said that he had been found dead a few nights before. He had made his home on a fire escape of a nearby abandoned mill. He froze to death in his sleep, apparently.

There was no obituary that I was aware of. I never even knew his name.

Posted by: Jen at October 1, 2009 10:48 PM

It's a small spot of generosity, and it's surrounded by drama, but recently we realized that our guild name in World of Warcraft meant something less than favorable. We are/were the Guardian Council. Which, if you don't know what that is (I'm sure you do, though, because you're a smart, smart man and do a lot of reading), they are an appointed and constitutionally-mandated 12-member council that wields considerable power and influence in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

We brought it up a few weeks ago to part of the guild saying that it wasn't cool because of some of our jobs. That it could be putting us at unnecessary risks. Only one girl spoke up and said, no it's going to cause too much drama if we try and change the name. Two nights ago, we brought it up to the guild leader because, low and behold, someone who use to work in security here strongly recommended I changed our name, and the guild leader petitioned to have our name changed. (It's not too easy to do that.) And Blizzard is letting us. Almost everyone understands. Except that one girl and her fiance. They seem to think we're lying, and are trying to take over the guild, and push our own agenda. But! It's nice to see that everyone else in the group is understanding, and wants to help us out, and are being actual friends, instead of jerks. =) (Sorry for the book, lol)

Posted by: secha at October 2, 2009 8:43 AM

I stopped on my morning walk two Sundays ago to clean a bunch of dumped trash out of the woods- but that isn't the cool part-
the cool part is the car that backed up and stopped just to thank me for picking up trash. That rocked :-)

Posted by: Karen at November 6, 2009 8:16 PM