The Night the Lights Went Out On Belmont

belmont-lights

Sometimes Outreach involves deep conversations about painful, personal issues. Other times it really, really doesn’t.

“Samuel” has been hustling in Boystown for years, but this was the first time i had personally had an extended conversation with him. We were talking about our histories and some of the things we like to do, when out of the blue, Samuel informed me that he knows how to shut off the stop lights at Clark and Belmont using his cell phone. Andi, my Outreach partner (and, incidentally, wife), thought that sounded dangerous, because she’s a girl, but Samuel and I were quite taken with the idea. “Besides,” Samuel said, “the lights don’t really go off, they just blink red.” This was something i desperately needed to see.

We walked over to Belmont and stood around waiting for the few people walking around at 1:30 am to clear out. Then we moved to a black box i had walked by a thousand times before and never noticed. Samuel took out his cell phone, set it to flashlight mode, and stuck it under the box. We waited, glancing around and looking highly suspicious while watching the stop lights at the nearby intersection.

Nothing happened. Samuel looked a little embarrassed, and was starting to make excuses. I was beginning to wish i hadn’t insisted we do this. What had started as a little fun release was disintegrating into an awkward moment.

Samuel adjusted his phone. More furtive glances at the stoplights. Rising awkwardness.

TiClunk! The stoplights stayed on, but all the streetlights on our side of the block went out.

I’ll confess i was hoping for that “Near-ear-ear-ear Wok! Wok!” Pac-Man sound, but at that moment, “TiClunk” sounded downright musical. We quickly walked away from the box, giggling like school kids playing with firecrackers. Within a minute the lights started glowing back on, but our night’s work was finished.

Samuel has plenty of heaviness in his life, and we at Emmaus have walked through some of it with him. But a little fun never hurts anyone. Well, okay. Andi’s right; the stoplights going out could have been bad. But it still would have been cool.

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