Thursday, March 22, 2007


Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Earplugs and traffic cones: Two essentials for making it through the night and into the morning at the homeless shelter.

Earplugs are to shut out the snoring of strangers in close proximity; the traffic cone sits on the floor at the end of your sleeping pad -- the number correlates to the sign-in sheet upstairs where I or somebody like me (the volunteers who say, when you walk in the door and present your ID card: "hi -- how you doing -- overnight and a hot meal? bag lunch for tomorrow? and would you like an early wake up too?") the folks who write down your call time when you asked for 4.30 -- because "early" around here is any time before 6.30, when the lights come on and everybody else has to get up and out the door within the hour.

It's usually the folks with jobs who ask for the early wake up. They're the ones whose cones we find in the dark and then gently shake awake so they can head out into the pre-dawn and start the long peregrination by bus or train or foot to the minimum wage job that's not even barely keeping them fed or else we wouldn't see them back here tomorrow night.

Another essential, and harder to come by, as I learned when I scoured the office looking for one for a dear woman my mother's age, neatly dressed, whose poverty shows most acutely in the teeth that went missing long ago -- is a phone book.

Handy for tracking down businesses, handy for planning your next step, if you're not one of the ones lucky enough to need that early wake up call, and you're just trying to find yourself a job, so you can get out of this place and get yourself a home of your own -- where the only thing to shatter the snore free blissful silence is an alarm clock that you set your own damn self.

Phone books have the advantage of not requiring electricity, not requiring hardware and software, not requiring an Internet connection. And phonebooks, increasingly, are getting tossed in the trash bin because folks with all of the above can get the listings they need online.

While my friend on the other side of the desk, with none of the above, cannot.

Full disclosure: In my day job I'm one of the people who build those sites, so and I'm not advocating against them. It's just that I'm reminded every month when I work here that the digital divide is no myth. And it keeps getting wider.

Posting from the shelter.


enyasi said...

WOW! Counting my blessings as always and totally enlightened to the plight of phone books. I broke down and bought a cell phone last year when the nice man at the exhibition hall informed me that all pay phones had been removed, because everyone had cell phones... Not Everyone.... I guess it was only a matter of time before phone books followed…The digital divide is more like a gaping canyon.

narthex said...

i like this musing dayna. it is ironic cause i'm in the same business as you but i won't give up my moleskine dayplanner for a pda and i won't pick up a rollerball over my fountain pen. moreover, i have found that so many people don't know how to use a fountain pen that you can walk out of a meeting you really don't want to be in, leave your note book and fountain pen there as if you are going to return, forget them and come back a day or two later and the pen is still sitting there. pretty nifty eh? ;p

btw, i took the liberty of listing 'detritus' on my blog as a link. hope you don't mind...

suttonhoo said...

Narthex, thank you: I'm honored to be blogrolled in such tremendous company. and so true about ftn pens and paper planners -- there's something about the handwritten notes in a paper planner that make time more real for me.

re payphones, enyasi -- ain't in the truth -- dawned on me when I spotted one on the UofC campus recently and realized it had been a while. increasingly meaningful interactions and important information resources are moving online -- with the assumption that we can all get at them.

wrong assumption.

the online space is an invisible world to the folks who can't logon: something's happening out here that they only hear about, but rarely, if ever, experience.

MGL said...

Phone books: YES, and phone BOOTHs, as well. When your cell-phone cuts out, or if you should happen to get poor and not pay the bill, you have to jump through hoops of increasing magnitude in order to call someone. And that's when you realise what a sizeable percentage of your daily grind gets 500% easier when it gets done by phone or email.

Lolabola said...

Yes, I'm not a cell phone owner but pretty dependant on the internet. I was so angry when they took away the phone number for time and weather because not everyone can look it up on the internet and the phone was sooo convenient.

B's mom has a theory that if email was invented before the phone then people would talk about the revolution that is the telephone like they now talk about the internet.

suttonhoo said...

thanks for the great comments, you guys.

to add to surreality of the evening, just before I went on the phone book hunt, I saw that I had missed a call on my cell phone -- it was a Seattle area code so I hit "call back" without checking voicemail, thinking it was a call that I was expecting -- and instead got a friend of mine in Shanghai, who had just called me on his voip line.

the proximity of the two experiences -- and the chasm of their divide -- made my head spin.

Related Posts with Thumbnails