Ned parks the homeless shelter’s mobile soup kitchen across from the overpass. Tents, along with suspended tarps and blankets crowd under the overpass, stretch as far as the eye can see, until the concrete structure curves up and over the highway.
What have we done to our city. Mingan wonders, not for the first time.
“All right, gorgeous,” Ned says, turning around. “Why don’t you start filling some bowls of soup to take out.”
“I was going to take the sandwiches.” Mingan says with a wide smile.
Trudy rolls her eyes. “I’ll stay in the bus.”
Mingan starts to argue, but Ned says, “Sure.” He turns the key to keep the heater and radio on. He opens the large side window. “Pass out the food from here.”
They gather up the bagged sandwiches and fruit, along with trays of soup in little bowls with lids. “Spoons!” They look at each other. “Aw, shit,” Ned says.
“They can drink from the bowl,” Trudy says.
Ned and Mingan exchange a look. “The vegetables?” They think of the chopped broccoli in the mixed about-to-turn-bad vegetable puree.
“What?” Trudy demands. “It won’t kill them.” Then, when nobody says anything, “it’s free.”
“Hey man.” Mingan nods to Roger-Dodger, a de facto security guard for this section of The Jungle. “How’s the night so far?” Mingan passes him a sandwich bag and bowl of soup, which he passes to a guy behind him, who in turn passes them on.
“One O.D., a couple fights, a missing sleeping bag…” he thinks. “That’s it. Not a bad night.”
“The O.D.?” Mingan asks.
“Oh, fine.” Roger-Dodger says. “Fire medics were here pronto.”
“Sorry there’s no spoons.” Mingan hands him the last of the soup and sandwiches.
“Thanks for coming out.” Roger-Dodger says and Mingan shrugs. “It’s harder with the colder temperatures, you know. And the rain.”
Mingan does know.
“Going to get more food,” Mingan says. “Back in a minute.”
Roger-Dodger looks around at everyone who has something to eat. “We’re good in this quad. Maybe start over there.” He thumbs an area across makeshift walkways that section the encampment.
“Yeah okay.” Mingan says, and they fist-bump. “Later, man.”
“Don’t you have anything better to do!” Trudy yells.
Mingan sees a uniformed man with a hand-held device, peering into the bus. Uh-oh. He sprints over.
“Hello, I’m Mingan.” Mingan says, extending his hand. “I’m a volunteer with the homeless shelter and this is the licensed vehicle we use to distribute donations to the homeless.”
“As I explained to your friend here.” Says the officer, frowning. “You need a permit for the food.”
“Can you believe this asshole?” Trudy yells.
“And now I’m writing a violation ticket.” The officer continues.
“Sir.” Mingan cuts in. “I apologize for her. She’s a new volunteer.” He gives her a warning glare. “And she was just leaving.” Trudy, finally, walks away to find Ned.
“We didn’t know about a permit,” Mingan continues. “I know that’s no excuse, but could you please explain what’s required and we’ll see to it as soon as possible.”
The officer hands him some paperwork. “Contact the office if you have any questions.”
“Thank you. How much is the ticket?” Mingan asks, with a twinge of panic.
“Cancelled,” the officer says. “But you might want to keep an eye on your friend. She’s not helping your cause.”
“You don’t know the half of it.”
“Self-control, Trudy, self-control.” Mingan is saying while Trudy stares out the window.
“Okay,” Ned says, eager to change the subject and move on. “This section of The Jungle is good. How about the sugar factory?” He turns on to the road leading to the abandoned building.
“Yeah,” says Mingan. “I noticed more tents there last week.”
“They’re squatting on private property?” Trudy asks.
“Well,” Ned says. “It hasn’t been used since the operation shut down.”
Trudy starts to say something else, but Ned leans over to turn up the radio instead.
“Sing it!” Ned hollers, jubilant.
“Left a good job down in the city!” Mingan joins in, just as loud.
Trudy crosses her arms, staring out the window again.
“Sing it sister!” Ned hollers. Trudy ignores him. “Sing or walk, gorgeous.” He says in a low voice and Trudy laughs.
Ned signals and pulls onto the shoulder of the road. Trudy stares at him in surprise. “Your choice….” He’s smiling but not kidding.
Trudy sighs in resignation. “Workin’ for the man!” She belts out.
“Every night and day!” They all join in, as Ned steers back onto the road and speeds up.
“Never lost one minute of sleepin’ worryin’ about the way things might have been!” Ned bangs on the steering wheel. “Big wheel keep on turnin’, Proud Mary keep on burnin’!”
“All together now!” Ned hollers. “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ on the river!” Mingan baritones a bass line.
“Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis!” Mingan bangs on the pots.
“Pumped a lot of tanks down in New Orleans!” Trudy hollers into a roll of paper towels.
“But I never saw the good side of the city, ’til I hitched a ride on the river boat Queen! Big wheel keep on turnin’! Proud Mary keep on burnin’! And we’re rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ on the river!” They laugh, losing themselves and the bus just about vibrates in time.
“The Sugar Shack!” Mingan hollers when the song ends.
“Oh, you know what’s coming!” Ned hollers back, triumphant. He hands Trudy a CD case.
“There will be no love shacking, Romeo!” Trudy says, laughing, but Mingan is already pounding out the “Love Shack” beat.
[Song and lyrics in italics: “Proud Mary,” written by John Fogerty, 1969. Performed here by Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969.]
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