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As we got in the truck to head back to the Greyhound bus station, I handed my phone to the 14-year-old sitting on his father’s lap in the front seat next to me.
Well, I say he was 14, but his mom told me he was 13 until he quickly corrected her. The way she rolled her eyes told me she didn’t misspeak at all, but rather had teens just like my own. When their birthday is within a couple months they magically start rounding up and get mad whenever us moms make statements that are completely factually accurate, but not to their liking. They’re always in such a rush to grow up.
The teen… we’ll just leave it at that… lit up when he saw my phone was opened to Spotify.
“Musica?” he asked me.
“Si, si, you choose,” I responded, to his delight.
I’d been playing Christmas music for days, thinking it might lift everyone’s spirits, but honestly there’s only so much Bing Crosby and George Michael can do in situations like this. I figured perhaps it was time to change it up.
The young boy of course put on ‘Bad Bunny,’ and instantly the cab of the truck was transformed into a karaoke party as I pulled onto the freeway. The little kids, middle kids, and even adults - all packed in and piled up - started bopping their heads and singing along.
I turned the volume up as well as the heat… wishing they could absorb as much as possible to store for later, because I knew in just a few short songs we’d be back at that chilly Greyhound station where we’d picked them up the previous night.
As we pulled into the station, we saw rows of freezing bodies, still there… still huddled under thin blankets. They lined the walls of the Greyhound as well as other adjacent buildings. I’ll be honest, I was relieved not to see any ambulances, and also somewhat shocked that everyone who’d been out there all night had survived the bitter cold.
A handful of activists had been making multiple trips out each night to find women, children, elderly people, and those with disabilities to house. They can’t offer much, just four walls and some mattresses and blankets… but these modest shelters are the Ritz compared to those frigid sidewalks.
We‘d been able to pick up four family units of asylum seekers. Two went to shelters, and two more to inexpensive hotels that still had availabilities at 11pm when they were dropped off to wait for buses that were days out.
One of the families had a 3 month old baby in tow. Earlier in the evening, the baby’s mother had desperately handed the infant over to a stranger (at least a stranger to her, although we knew the volunteer and thankfully she was safe). She didn’t have room for anyone else at her already overcrowded space, but she wasn’t going to leave a baby outside to brave those harsh elements.
When Karina heard this, she said we needed to keep the mother and baby together. A volunteer drove the tiny infant back and by midnight they were reunited in a cozy hotel room. We ran to get some formula from a 24-hour Walgreens and when Karina ran back to drop it off she said the mother told her she was so happy because her baby was sweating… sweating so much they had to take some of the blankets off of him… a problem they hadn’t had in awhile.
They were the second group we picked up the next morning to return to the Greyhound. They came to the truck and gave us all hugs. A good night’s sleep had renewed their spirits and they seemed like an entirely different group of people. As soon as they got into the backseat I tried my luck with ‘Bad Bunny’ again, and once more the cab was filled with Karaoke.
The days ahead will be consumed by even more hardships for these families, but for just a brief moment our time together was musica to all our ears.