8:30am, corner of 7th and 34th in Manhattan – I’m waiting for my favorite (and let’s not forget cheap) mode of transportation between D.C. and New York, the famous, heart-stopping Chinatown bus. These things fly on the Jersey turnpike at full speed, weaving in and out of traffic more like a minivan than a bus. If you’re an adrenaline junkie like me and don’t mind a bit of discomfort, I highly recommend them.
I always like these last few minutes just before leaving New York. I get to stand and watch the river of humanity go by. Once I got into a sad yet amusing conversation with an Ethiopian man who said he hated all black men! He thought they should be all wiped out. He wasn’t running on all his pistons.
Today, there is a large, short man across from me, manning a water bottle decorated with the picture of a dirty-faced, little girl. He’s collecting money for charity, or so he claims. He’s probably telling the truth, but then who knows, it’s New York! I can’t make out all that he’s yelling at the crowd of passers-by, but at the end of every little chunk of verbal inducement, he adds a raspy “HAVE A HEART.” He’s got that blues voice, but he has very few takers. The crowd moves on without taking much notice of him. It’s warm and sunny, and in this crowd, beautiful women are peppered everywhere, dressed in bright spring dresses and equipped with the standard Starbucks Mochaccino. They stand out in the background of the less fashionable folks, like ripe fruit fallen in the undergrowth.
The trashcan at the corner of the street has been thoroughly searched by three people in the thirty minutes that I’ve been waiting. The person who fished out the coveted glass bottles and aluminum cans was an old Indian man. I could tell that this was his regular route, because I had seen him there on many mornings before.
Seven years ago in Tehran, I had passed by a ‘sandoghe sadagheh’ (charity collection box) with one of my cousins. My cousin made a comment about how those things have become a common feature and a way for the government to milk more money out of people. I replied that it’s not all that different in US either. Now, I would have to make a correction. It’s worse here. The corruption and theft are probably comparable, although certainly more in Iran. But, it’s far more embarrassing and sick to see this level of social inequality and division of wealth in world’s richest and most developed economy.
Where the hell does all the wealth that they steal from the rest of the world go? If over a million Iraqis had to be murdered, shouldn’t at least some of stolen war booty go to fix these kinds of problems? If Haitians had to yet again be robbed of their democracy in 2004, shouldn’t the fruit of their slave labor at least go into the pockets of someone other than the fat cats? So much stolen, so many killed, for what?
A woman speaking Hebrew on her phone stops in front of me. After a while, she turns to me and asks where the PATH train is. I say it’s down the street in Penn Station, and add the only sentence I know in Hebrew: “ma shlomkha?” (How are you?) She smiles and replies something back, which I gather means “fine and you?” I shoot back “me’a akhuz” (100 percent, good) and I explain that we have reached the end of my Hebrew. She says the correct way of addressing a woman is “ma shlomehk?”
I have learned something new. We have a short conversation, and she parts just as my bus arrives. I empty whatever coins I have in the blues singer’s water bottle and get on the bus. Another pretty girl in a lemon dress, with her Mochaccino walks by the bus window. Another disheveled crack-head dives into the trashcan and comes up with a half-eaten something. And another raspy cannonade of “HAVE A HEART” beseeches the human river. No hearts left my friend, not so close to the heart of capitalism.