We were cruising downtown in the Outreach minivan, looking for "our" kids in the dim glow of streetlights, or under the fluorescents of the bus stops. I was getting better at spotting them, although it was my first night out. Something about the stance, the wariness, just jumped out at me after a while. It reminded me of the way you can sometimes tell a dancer just by the way they place their feet when they walk.
I lost track of how many kids I talked to, but I remember thinking at one point that I hadn't realized how hard it would be: I mean, I'm just walking around and hanging out, right? But I know it's going to take me weeks to get used to knowing what's really going on in the streets when all the "good kids" are home watching tv and doing homework. Knowing that the shy 15 year old girl with the sweet smile wasn't pushing her little sister in that baby carriage; knowing that the nervous 14 year old boy was packing heat because you can see the bulge under his jacket, but he can't get rid of it because he needs it for his job running drugs; knowing that the ones who take one panicked look at our Covenant House jackets and beat feet the other way are the ones who need help the worst and will probably not get it in time; knowing that the predators will get too many of these kids in the next month.
And yet, it was the best night I'd had in years. For every kid that took off when they saw us for fear of their pimp, there was a bunch who knew us and said hi. For all the kids that we can't get to in time, at least we can get to some. It feels like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon, but hell, if we don't start bailing now, it's sure never going to get emptier.
I think I'm going to like my new job.