Monday, June 1, 2009

Travis on the Train to Tennessee

I thought I was going to go through this whole week without having any conversations to post about. But I was quite wrong.

Yesterday, for the first time, a homeless person came and found me instead of the other way around.

“Am I bothering you?” he asked.

“No.” I answered. But it was not completely true. I was trying to write a sermon in a prayer chapel, looking for some solitude and silence. I figured that if he kept to himself we could both talk to God without any problem.

“Hey, can I ask you a favor?” he asked after a moment of silence, “Can you take me to the nearest train station?”

Travis is from north-eastern Tennessee and is about as good as a good ol’ boy can get. He has red hair with freckles and brown eyes like coffee with just a little too much creamer. He wears dress shoes with his worn-out jeans, a blue “USA Olympics” sweatshirt, and a Boston Red Socks baseball cap with the edges of the bill curled down around his temples.

His southern drawl was more endearing than obnoxious, it brought back my childhood in Mississippi. As we spoke, my own sentences began to slow down uncontrollably. Southern idioms came to my lips without me asking, as well as the memory of very sweet tea.

Travis had come to California by train so that he could enroll in the seminary that I am attending in the fall. He had previously attended Liberty University. A few things struck me as odd, though. First, Travis had made no plans for accommodations while in California. He just hopped on a train and hoped things would work out. He stayed at the train station for his first two nights in LA, then in the school’s lounge for another night before he and I met. He had not been accepted to the seminary yet… He had not even enrolled.

“I just don’t like talking to people through e-mails,” he told me. “I would rather just talk face-to-face, ya’ know?”

Apparently he sat down with an admissions counselor and tried to deliver his application orally, only to find out (to his disappointment) that he was too early. Classes do not begin again until August, so the University could not accept him or find him housing for another several months. He tried his best to execute a plan B and find a job and a place to stay for the summer, but the man only had $380 to his name. That was not nearly enough for rent, and without a car, his prospects for finding a job were slim.

Now he had given up hope and wanted to go home.

I took him to get his belongings out of a Public Storage facility, only to find out that we were there too late. Travis would have to stay another night in LA. I sat with him at a McDonald's while my wife called all of the local homeless shelters to find him a place to stay. It was Saturday night, and they were all full, except for the ones on Skid Row. But there was no way I was taking this guy down there. They would have eaten him alive, and his $380. He talked to me about home and ministry while we waited. Every other sentence was a quotation from the Bible.

While he was very capable of carrying on a lucid conversation, it was also apparent that not everything was well for him mentally. He explained that he had a mental disability that he was currently taking medication for. After he had given me a long tour through his life and worldview, it wasn’t so hard to understand why he had come to LA without much thought or preparation. He was acting in a way that made sense to him.

We put him up in a Motel 6 for the night. In the morning I took him to the train. He’s a good guy, just a little misplaced. Now he’s on a train heading back to Tennessee.

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