24 Jun

Sadly, this is not a reference to Star Wars, it is meant as a cautionary tale to anyone who has read my accounts and wants to follow in my footsteps.

So far in my posts of I have described all the positive impressions I have gained during my travels.

Unfortunately, I have to be honest with my audience and state that while much of what I saw will stay with me forever for positive reasons, there are some memories which either frightened or distressed me to such an extent that I feel I have to share them here now.

First off, we have all heard of the American Dream, the promise of a life of opportunity and untold riches in this vast land. However, for an increasing number of people, the dream has become a nightmare. The clearest indication of this is homelessness.

I can honestly say that there was not one city I visited on my travels where I did not either see, encounter or interact with a homeless person. These poor wretches live in such desperate conditions that even now, it brings tears to my eyes writing this account. In both New Orleans and Memphis, I encountered people sleeping rough on the steps of public buildings like libraries or city hall. In Los Angeles, I saw row upon row of homeless people, keeping out of the sun or the rain by covering themselves with a dirty blanket or discarded newspapers. However, it was the experiences I made in Seattle and Vancouver which first shocked and then scared me.

It is important to remember that there are different categories of homeless people. Some have simply fallen on hard times and through the cracks of the housing and benefits safety net. Others are homeless due to mental health issues or drug addiction and it is these last two groups I am going to focus on.

Now I encountered people who were clearly homeless acting “strangely” in every place I went to, but in Seattle I came across one man who appeared to be engaged in a fistfight with an invisible opponent resulting in what I can only describe as a TKO by way of a vicious upper cut. At least the motion he made when his body was lifted backwards off the ground certainly gave it the appearance that this is what had happened. Now this happened in broad daylight on a busy Seattle street. Yet no one intervened or came to the man”s rescue. I was on the other side of a four lane highway and did not know what to think or do. Luckily for the hapless pugilist, a Seattle police car came by and the officers attended the man to make sure he was all right.

However, what was worse than seeing homeless people talking to or arguing with their creator or an imaginary friend was the number of those I saw either taking drugs or coming down from a bad trip. Now I said that Vancouver was definitely worth a visit and I stand by that. I will caveat this now though by stating that there are certain areas you should not walk around alone and even if you are in a group that you should not venture into after it gets dark. These include Vancouver’s ChinaTown area. 

On the day I went on the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus tour through the Downtown area, my last stop in ChinaTown was rerouted as the area had been cordoned off by police as there had been a serious criminal incident earlier that day. I do not know if it was an assault or something more serious but judging from the size of the police presence - I counted 4 cruisers and a mobile response unit - it certainly felt like more than just a mugging. 

From this time on I avoided going through ChinaTown completely, choosing a longer, alternate route to get to my destination. I also did not do what I usually did and walk to the Amtrak station as this would have taken me through the heart of the area where the incident had occurred.

Folks, if you visit the U.S.A., expect to be amazed, entertained and enthralled by what you see there. However, keep your eyes and ears open and your wits about you and listen to your gut -if an area looks unsafe for whatever reason, take a different route. As an old Arabic proverb goes “Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel!”

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