Lemon Bars, a Homeless Guy, and the Big Questions (An Essay)

Hi! Today, I’m mixing things up and posting this essay that I wrote last year. (Thanks to my writing club friends for some helpful edits!) I’ve been scouring some earlier and unpublished writing since this little blogging experiment is a tad more time-consuming than I thought. I have a fresh post for Friday with one of my FAVORITE time and money-saving tips, so get excited! 


Tuesday, February 7th, 2017, 9:23pm - San Francisco

I’m biking home from working a catering event at a fancy Venture Capital fund in downtown San Francisco. The attendees were sipping wine while debating the future of Artificial Intelligence, discussing questions like: Will AI wipe out the middle class? If robots kill us all, will it be out of blood thirst, or because they think they’re doing it for the greater good? 

I work these kinds of events regularly enough that I shouldn’t be surprised, but the subtle splendor of free food and drink available at many SF offices still amazes me. Among the La Croix and San Pellegrino, there were at least thirty $10-each juices in the office fridge, not to mention beer, wine, protein bars, Philz coffee, and countless snacks filling cabinets upon cabinets.

A seemingly-innate hatred of food waste means I’m carting some leftovers home. They’re all strapped up on the rack of my bike. Tonight I restrained myself and only took a little bit - two containers of veggies, three chocolate chip cookies and six lemon bars. 

As I bike up Sutter street, taking in the surroundings of downtown San Francisco on a Tuesday night, I notice a man on my right who appears to be homeless. He’s sitting on a bench, wrapped in a blanket, and he’s rocking slightly forward and back. The look on his face can only be described as excruciating. I’m not sure if he’s cold or in pain or both or neither. 

Ahhhhh. So sad. Poor guy. I push away my first thought and keep biking. And then I remember I have food - I could actually stop and give him some. Ehhhh, do I really wanna stop? I’m exhausted and kind of just want to go home and I actually do want all the food I took tonight

Sometimes I take food just so it won’t get tossed and I intentionally look for homeless people to give it to, but that wasn’t the case tonight. 

Great - so you’re gonna be another one of those people who just passes by thinking “how sad” and does nothing? How many times have you done that before? 

Then comes the swift safety check - there are other people on the street, and a woman is taking out the trash at a restaurant next door to where the homeless man’s sitting. Just in case he’s crazy I wouldn’t be alone with him. 

I pull over at the corner just past him. I break into my leftovers and consider what to give him, getting my food gift ready to hand over quickly so that I can make a swift exit if needed. I walk my bike over to the man. “Hi! Do you want some food?”

He smiles at me. He has a big gap between his front teeth. He’s smiling so big he almost closes his eyes - an expression drastically different than the one I saw just moments ago in my periphery. He nods - it seems like maybe he can’t speak. 

“Veggies or lemon bars?” I ask. “Or both? How about both?!”

I hand the man a container of veggies. “Here’s your dinner…” I tell him. “And here’s your dessert!I exclaim, handing over the bag of lemon bars. 

He opens the veggies and starts eating, looking at them lovingly. As I fumble around to strap my bag back on my bike, I notice his stench. I am simultaneously grossed out and incredibly pained for him that he lives smelling this way. I also realize that my bike headlight is shining awkwardly in his face. 

“Ok - well, enjoy!” I say, “Sorry about that light!” He looks up from the veggies, his eyes not quite focused on me, as if he’s in a bit of a daze. He’s looking in my direction but kind of gazing off in the distance. He’s still smiling as big as ever.

As I pedal home, a million thoughts pummel me: 

Well, that felt good, right? Good deed for the day?!

Yeah, or a reminder of how many other times you DIDN’T STOP and did nothing. Or of how many other homeless people are out there tonight without food.

It’s crazy that in the span of 10 minutes I went from fancy rich person office to smelly homeless guy on the street and I interacted directly with both. How can such drastically different things coexist in such proximity?

Lately I am plagued with big questions about society. There are so many problems worth caring about. How do I balance caring - and taking action to try to make things better - with living a happy life? Is it even possible to live a happy life while genuinely caring about this stuff? 

In trying to write a conclusion to this story, I realize I don’t have one. I’m sure I will always have these questions, and I will probably never have any answers. I am grateful for whatever made me pullover to give that man some food, because the encounter reminded me of three things:

  1. Above all - recognize my common humanity with everyone I encounter.

  2. A simple smile can make an impact.

  3. Ask the big questions, always. Even if you’ll never have the answers.

PS. You can sign up to get my blog posts in your inbox here. Usually they will be short updates that include food tips, quick recipes, etc. This essay was a special treat :).