Sunday Bus Ride in Duluth

Sunday Morning. August 19, 2012. West Superior Street in downtown Duluth is full of street junkies and amateur drunks today; paired up with a couple of bag ladies, end-of-the-line hookers and a panhandler (with a working cell phone!). Yay! They’re all getting onto the first eastbound Duluth Transit bus leaving downtown Duluth. The #13 winds through the hospital district and more importantly, the ER for pill-seekers. Good ol Detox is on the way too. A stark contrast and 20 minutes later the 13 goes past the $2 million mansions of the Congdon District and finally UMD (Univ. of MN – Duluth).

A hefty young woman, possibly 20 but easily passable for 40 is in some delusions talking to nobody about shooting meth and too much vodka downtown last night. Another, who I thought was her friend, is carrying on about how fucked up Duluth is because the tourist tricks aren’t paying her, her ‘hookup’ sold her some ‘bad shit’ yesterday and suddenly gets on the phone with someone about a bed at the hospital and ‘I wanna go back to L.A. – please, wire a ticket to the bus depot and I’m fucking leaving.’. Five blocks later the conversation turns to threats of jumping off the Medical Arts Building, Duluth’s tallest, where quite a few people have unfortunately carried through with this. It’s time to start making eye contact with ANYONE who appears somewhat sober but all I see are sundry head cases and the bus driver, who looks ready to phone the cops. This girl’s voice is getting faster, louder, angrier, and I’m sitting there looking at the beauty of Lake Superior while looking at so many people who’ve lost their lives to substances years ago and are now so high I don’t think they know where their stop is. The first one, amped up on meth, immediately recognizes two men on the street and is gone. The screaming one, who is either crashing or was given some very bad heroin, does not look good at all. Red circles around both eyes, her mouth, and hands. She does get off at the hospital before the driver calls anyone. Maybe he just pushes a button. I wonder where she’ll be in a week.

This is the most bizarre time to take the bus in Duluth. Just leaving the ‘Y’ after working out for two hours, I felt the exhilaration of my post-workout accomplishment fizzle as I watched a scene that is getting more dangerous and reminiscent of my life and hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia, with an extremely affluent population living right next to Canada’s poorest postal code, the downtown eastside, home to the highest concentration of HIV+ street addicts in North America. I’m all too familiar with what I’m looking at here in Duluth as I think to myself ‘not here!?’, while thinking what it must be like to watch someone you love go down this road. I’ve done it watching family members’ decades-long struggles with alcohol. But meth, cocaine, heroin, all this injectable shit…it’s a one way ticket to AIDS and a fast death from there.

You don’t have to go to church on Sunday to realize what’s going on around you and ask yourself ‘what can I DO – and have that conversation with yourself on what you can do for people who society has clearly no interest (or continued energy – I realize when some familes have had enough) or ability to care for.

I don’t know what else to say besides don’t even try this shit. I’m willing to bet the majority of these very young men and women once held a lot of promise until ‘that one day’ and everything changed. All of them are trying to either get as high as they were that first time, which never happens, or are going crazy because of what’ll happen if they don’t use.

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