Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Busy Bums

Oh, I guess that title is no longer politically correct. They're homeless people after all. I know that, but Busy Bums works for me, so I'm sticking with it. I could refer to then as Vagrant Mendicants (in fact I just did — is that better?), but I'll keep my title just the same. In point of fact, much of this post will show that they are not really beggars but workers of a different sort, but I'll also keep using the phrase, Vagrant Mendicants, because I like that one too.

Cuppa and I are not city dwellers, so encountering the many Busy Bums or Vagrant Mendicants of Vancouver took me aback for a while. I do feel sorry for people who have fallen into this condition. Some say that they have a choice, and I suppose they do at some level, but I also suppose that they don't at some other level. They are the misfits who, for whatever reasons, do not get along in the world that is normal for the rest of us. So, I try to look kindly upon these folk and don't mind putting my hand in my pocket for them every now and then.

I must also confess that in some odd way, I grew to rather admire at least some of them. I speak of those who worked, or so it seemed to me, all the livelong day, pushing their carts, checking out the bins, and collecting containers. It really was work! Many of them were at their jobs for much of the day. I was impressed because I couldn't endure the hours of walking and pushing the cart that they put in. Most of them never even bothered to ask for a handout.

Taking The Girls' lead, however, we did what we could. We rigorously recycle containers here in Ontario, but they're refundable in Vancouver. Rather than returns bottles and cans themselves, The Girls always place them strategically for the Vagrant Mendicants to find, and we were more than happy to follow their lead.

In fact, one morning, when Cuppa and I partook of our morning trudge to Starbucks for the expensive swill that they call coffee (sorry fans, I just can't dig their brand, and you have to admit that it is expensive), we stopped to place our offering of returnable containers in our usual spot next to dumpsters that were sure to be checked regularly. It was not what one would normally call a pleasant morning, for it was raining (what else would it do in Vancouver?), but there was an industrious and Busy Bum already up there sifting through the refuse. Believe it or not, he was singing. How impressive: singing on a dreary morning when his only job was to sift through dumpsters to try to earn a few measly dollars to get him through another day and night.

I'd say that there's something impressive about that man in particular as well as the many who diligently pushed their carts to and fro all day long. As the saying goes, "There but for the grace ... go I." Except I wouldn't have the determination and stamina to do what they do. No, I don't have the strength to survive as a Busy Bum ... or Vagrant Mendicant.


KGMom said...

Most interesting observation (whatever you want to call them)--in many big cities around the world there are such people. They scavange.
When my daughter lived in Washington DC, she had her favorite "bums"--she would give money to some, and not others. I always found that amusing.
And I agree--Starbucks is expen$ive!

KGMom said...

Grrrrr--make that "scavEnge"--I hate it when I make a spelling error!

&*(%@* keyboard with its itty bitty keys.

Ginger said...

What a fascinating post. I haven't been to Vancouver for some time, although it's only an 8-hour drive away. However, when I go over to Seattle, I always see the folk who hang out at freeway off-ramps with little signs asking for a handout. I really wonder what their lives are about. I suppose if I looked around a bit I'd see some article written by a journalist who has investigated it.

I like the picture you painted of the person who was singing as he went about his scavenging work.

mreddie said...

To set out the cans and bottles for them is the charitable thing to do. And I agree with the statement "There but for the grace of God go I". ec

Anonymous said...


I've read your article about bums and I was so impressed that I've posted it to WritersClub. You can visit the link and discuss it here:;msg453;boardseen#new


Ginnie said...

I used to think that all street "bums" were druggies or alcoholics...but a NY City friend of mine says that it's a whole sub culture and that many of them are perfectly happy to live day by day. She actually is friendly with two of them and they will refuse to take a handout from her if they have received enough that day to cover their needs for the next 24 hrs.

Cathy said...

Interesting post, AC. One of the ladies in my book club has a son who Dumpster Dives for sustenance. I was so impressed that she could reveal that with no apparent embarrassment - in fact - she was proud.

I agree - Starbucks is awful.

Dale said...

Environmentally conscious bums. Cool! Only in Vancouver, eh AC? Seems everybody comes out a winner in your scenario.

And yeah. Starbux sux. Tim's rules!