Sunday, August 19, 2007

On the Street

I don't know his name, but I see him regularly, standing outside of the stores on a street near my house. He's African-American, at least 6 feet 3 inches tall, thin but muscular, and I'd estimate he's at least 65 years old. He asks passersby for money and his opening lines goes something like this:

"Hello sir (or ma'am), whatever you can spare without hurting yourself."

Over the months, I'd stop, give him a few bucks, and we'd chat. Most people who give him money don't want to talk to him: They just want to drop the money in his cup and get the hell away. I figure he's a human being living on the street, he must be pretty lonely. There's a big gulf between us, but I talk to him and I think he appreciates feeling respected as a human being.

One day I stopped to give him a dollar and he asked me what I did. At the time I was flying freight, so I simply told him I was a pilot.

"A pi-lot?" he said, astonished. "Up in the air?"

"Yes, a pilot" I answered.

"You fly jets way up there in the sky?" he asked in disbelief.

"No, not jets" was my answer. "I fly something a bit smaller, for FedEx."

"Up in the AIR?" he asked again.

"Yes."

"Even in storms and rain?"

"Yes, even in storms and rain."

From that point on, he started referring to me as "flying man." I just call him "sir," which seems appropriate since he is several years my senior.

I eventually learned that he is a veteran, that he became addicted to drugs, at some point he broke the law in a fairly serious way, and that he survived several years in the infamous Pelican Bay prison.

"I hated prison, but I'm scared to death of flying" he confessed, still in disbelief that someone would actually choose to fly for a living.

At the conclusion of our conversations, he always says the same thing. In fact, he says this to each and every person who gives him money.

"May God bless you and richly reward you and your family. Peace be unto you. I've got you included in my prayers and I wish you continued success in your everyday program."

He says it with a kind of conviction that I seldom hear. Next time I'm going to ask him his name.

1 comment:

Greybeard said...

Been there, done that.
I used to stop at a gas station that had fuel a couple cents cheaper than other stations.
The downside was, it was in a scary neighborhood and now and then I'd be accosted by panhandlers, negating any savings on fuel.
I began to realize if I gave these guys cash, the money ended up in a syringe, or in their belly in the form of Mad-Dog somethingerother.
There was a burger joint across the street. When approached I'd just ask, "how do you like your burger? Wait right here, I'll be back."
I'd grab a bagful of burgers and share two or three with my new friend.
They didn't like not having the money to spend as they pleased, but I sure felt better knowing they had some protein in their diet.