Sleeping in ‘Bandos

“Hookers! Please leave the area. This is not your job site!”

The police officer’s voice crashed over the loudspeaker. She and her partner sat in a squad car parked in front of a Burger King. The headlamps and spotlight of the vehicle were on high beams, shining stark white onto the steps of the First Kensington bank. For the people gathered on the steps, it felt like the sun had just come up, even though it was just an hour before midnight.

This wasn’t the first time that Mack had seen the police try to clear the area of working girls, dealers, and other forgotten people. It seemed like a pointless game to him. Everyone knew more or less when the cops would come, and they also knew the cops would do little more than sit in their cars and yell at them through a loudspeaker. The crowd would disband, temporarily scampering off of the steps and into the smaller side streets, or move further down under the elevated train tracks away from the main intersection.

On the opposite corner from the bank, other groups of people gathered. Polish women who worked as cleaners in the office buildings in center city, young men who worked in those offices as low-level management, and a few young girls who were smart enough to go to the magnet school in town. They assembled next to a newsstand, perceiving safety in numbers as they waited for the 60 bus to arrive.

Nearby, on the steps to the train station, a smaller group of mostly men and a few women clung together. Many of them  so far over, it looked as if they defied gravity, the oxycontin affecting their sense of balance so much that they were barely able to stand or sit up easily.

One of the men from the group on the steps approached the group waiting for the bus. He wore a dark brown leather Avirex jacket and Air Maxs, both surprisingly in good shape despite his financial situation. He approached everyone indiscriminately, asking for a cigarette or any spare change. His clothing didn’t help elicit any sympathy. The Poles pretended not to understand, others politely shook their heads or simply looked the other way. As he walked back to the steps, he caught the glance of Mack.

Mack himself never asked for food, cigarettes, or money. He had survived over 27 years on this corner. He slept in ‘bandos in the winter, or up on the Lehigh tracks in the warmer weather. He’d been there so long, even the cops knew him by name.

This is an excerpt from my book Good For One Fare. Send me an email if you are interested in a copy.