By Warren B. Smith
(A story from Watering the Greyhound Garden)
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. —1 Corinthians 13:13
It was a chilly Christmas Eve as I made my way up Market Street towards the Greyhound. Last minute shoppers boarded a Market Street trolley as local panhandlers made their final appeal for seasonal spare change. At the corner of Golden Gate and Market, a Salvation Army band did a nostalgic ooom-pah-pah version of “Silent Night” in front of the Hibernia Bank. I stopped a moment and joined the crowd that had gathered. Hearing the familiar carol evoked a flood of memories from childhood Christmases past; the holiday pageants at school, the Christmas Eve service at our New England Congregational Church, and my mother reading the Christmas story before we opened our presents. When the band went on to play “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” many of us sang along:
God rest ye merry gentleman, let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day,
To save us all from Satan’s power, when we were gone astray.
O Tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O Tidings of comfort and joy.
As I continued on to the bus station, I hoped Travelers Aid would extend some of that same “comfort and joy” to those needing help this night before Christmas. Entering the Greyhound and looking around the lobby, I couldn’t imagine a more appropriate place to be on Christmas Eve. Travelers arriving in time for their Christmas visits to local friends and family hurried through the lobby with their suitcases and presents. Outside, the cabs were doing a brisk business getting everyone to where they needed to go; inside, some of the Greyhound regulars had already arrived. They preferred to spend Christmas Eve in the busy bus station rather than their lonely hotel rooms.
Shortly after I opened the Travelers Aid booth, a young woman approached me sobbing hysterically. She’d arrived on a bus from Chicago, only to learn that her boyfriend had left town the day before with all of their money. She was totally distraught because she had sent him her entire savings to put down on the apartment they were planning on renting together in San Francisco. Devastated, she was now stranded at the Greyhound with no boyfriend, no money, and no place to live.
With her permission, I called Raphael House and made arrangements for her to stay at their women’s shelter throughout the holidays. I also gave her a referral to talk with one of our daytime social workers. Travelers Aid would try to assist her any way we could. If she wanted to return to Illinois, we would try to help her get back home. If she wanted to stay in San Francisco, we could help with that too. After talking with her and providing some emotional support, I put her in a cab to Raphael House. One of their workers said the young woman would arrive just in time for their Christmas party. And while she might not feel particularly festive, at least she wouldn’t be stranded at the Greyhound on Christmas Eve.
For the rest of the evening, there was a steady stream of clients asking for various types of assistance. Some needed food and lodging; others simply wanted to talk. In one involved case, I worked with the Canadian Embassy to help two stranded Canadians return to Vancouver, British Columbia for a late Christmas with their families.
Before closing, a reporter from the San Francisco Examiner interviewed me for a story they were doing about people who were working on Christmas Eve. Without disclosing their identities, I described some of the people I had seen at our Travelers Aid booth. The next day—Christmas day—the Examiner ran the Christmas Eve article as a featured front-page story. Under the banner headline “Sniper eludes MPs in Presidio shootout” was the reporter’s article about some of us who worked Christmas Eve. He described how the Christmas holiday might give the city some “much-needed time for warmth and relaxation” after “one of the most violent periods in San Francisco’s history.” Prior to the pre-dawn shootout at the Presidio military base, the reporter wrote how the streets had been quiet and for people who had to work, business was also for the most part “quiet.”
He then described my busy evening at the Greyhound. He followed that with his account of others who had worked Christmas Eve, including a waitress at Henry Africa’s restaurant, the night auditor at the Fairmont Hotel, and a doorman at a North Beach strip club.
Scattered throughout this Christmas edition of the Examiner were other holiday stories. One was about a thoroughbred horse named Santa Claus who won the third race at the New Orleans Fairgrounds the day before Christmas. Another article highlighted the pop music scene over the past year and featured a photo of Bob Dylan singing at the Winterland Ballroom. He had been a special guest at The Band’s heavily publicized farewell concert, made famous in Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Waltz.” Dylan’s short set included his song “Forever Young.” And as I thought about it, the opening lines of that song perfectly expressed how I felt working at the Greyhound on Christmas Eve:
May God bless and keep you always
May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
(Warren B. Smith (B.A. University of Pennsylvania; M.S.W. Tulane University)—A veteran who worked at the White House Communications Agency and later became a community social worker, serving as a program coordinator for people with special needs, directing several homeless programs, and working as a Hospice social worker in New Orleans and on the California coast. After leaving the New Age movement and becoming a Christian, he began writing extensively on the subject of spiritual deception. He has written six books and numerous booklets and has spoken on radio, television, and at seminars and conferences for the last twenty-five years. For more information, visit www.warrenbsmith.com.)