[Hpn] Seattle, WA - Webheads safe at home after dumb experiment - Seattle Post Intelligencer - July 16, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <icanamerica@bellsouth.net
Tue, 16 Jul 2002 23:54:48 -0500

Webheads safe at home after dumb experiment
somewhere out there lies a broader, truer story about the homeless
By Robert L. Jamieson - Seattle Post Intelligencer - July 16, 2002

After a recent stunt, Derrick Clark and Scotty Weeks deserve new names.

Mr. Dumb and Mr. Dumber.

The two Seattle Web designers embarked on an experiment to see what it's like to
be homeless for a week.

What was supposed to be a gritty, firsthand look at life on Seattle's mean
streets turned out to be this:

A shallow exercise in narcissistic voyeurism, the snooty traipse of well-off
youths trying to walk among the poor.

Homeless for a week?

Try being homeless for the other 51 weeks of the year, without real options or a
way out.

Now that would be something to talk about.

It's clear why smart, twenty-something men would choose such a brief foray.

Who wants to be away too long from home-brewed espresso? The treadmill at the
gym? "Sportscenter" on ESPN?

For just a week, Derrick and Scotty donned thrift-store duds and headed into the
foreboding "urban wilderness" of downtown Seattle, "where the winds and fumes
take us," they wrote.

No money or credit cards. No Jetta car keys. No C-notes from Uncle Bruno.

They had only their backpacks and cameras, which were used to post their
"findings" on a Web-site diary.

What the heck were they thinking?

"Part of the American dream is to start out in one class and end in a better
one," the two explained on a Web-site posting.

"We both have careers, secure roofs over our heads, loved ones, cars and money.
... We wonder what it's like to lose everything."

Gotta love those bouts of youthful curiosity!

"We want to get as far away from our regular lives as possible ... we need a

Oh, a wee bit bored, too? And I thought kids these days got away to Mazatlan.

"We want to see life through someone else's eyes and experience what it's like
to be something entirely different than ourselves.

We want to see what could very well be our lives with a couple of twists of

Puhleeze. Save the weepy speak for Oprah.

Here's a snapshot of the wisdom they gleaned from the streets:

Scotty: Being able (to urinate) in an alleyway is ... a very poor substitute for
a warm bed and a hot cup of super-premium coffee.

Derrick: Both of our feet are aching like fire ... but to get anywhere, we have
to do some walking.

Scotty: Thirty-six hours into this and I haven't slept yet. Time to catch some
zzzz's. ...

Derrick: We have NO blankets at this point, we took about 50 free newspapers out
of a box and tried to cover ourselves.

Scotty: I'll tell you one thing, that bottle of sickly sweet wine filled my
belly with precious calories and warmed me up more than blankets. I bought a
hamburger last time but this time around we're drinking a bottle of T-Bird,
thank you very much. ..."

Such deft insight. Such heartfelt empathy. Such understanding.

Such ... an insult.

"Most homeless people are not out panhandling every day or drinking Thunderbird
before noon," said Tim Harris, executive director of Real Change, a newspaper
that focuses on homeless issues and is staffed by some homeless people.

When he was contacted last week, Harris had "more generous feelings" about what
Derrick and Scotty were up to. The project, he thought, could have some
educational value.

But Harris had second thoughts, especially after he read what Scotty and Derrick
were quoted as saying in a front-page story in yesterday's Seattle

They spoke about swigging fortified wines, making signs to dupe unsuspecting
people into giving them money, and about how difficult it was to talk with real,
live homeless folks.

"We ran into some people who just weren't really fired up there," Derrick said.
"It's kind of hard. I don't really know how to drop myself down."

The smugness says it all.

"They related so poorly with other homeless people. They brought their
stereotypes with them -- and it shows," Harris said. "It renders their
experiment silly."

If things had gotten really hairy in the urban jungle, I'm sure Derrick and
Scotty would have high-tailed it home faster than swallows headed to Capistrano.

Of course, somewhere out there lies a broader, truer story about the homeless --
a somber story about families who can't obtain affordable housing, about street
people suffering from mental illness, about the homeless issue being ignored on
the national agenda.

But walking in someone else shoes -- and tripping -- simply doesn't cut it; bad
empathy is worse than no empathy at all.

Scotty and Derrick's sociological "fieldwork" would make an expert in the study
of human behavior scream.

Forget Margaret Mead. Call it Margaret Mediocre.

And now that the two webheads are home, safe and sound,
they should do this with their homeless Web project:

Ctrl Alt Delete.

Join Robert L. Jamieson Jr. in a LIVE Internet chat at
Thursday night, July 18, at 7 p.m. Pacific time.
P-I columnist Robert L. Jamieson Jr. can be reached at 206-448-8125 or
source page:  http://makeashorterlink.com/?F43625841

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