It was early, and the thickness of the Southern heat prompted a slow diaspora for the inhabitants of the park. The large grassy square was their semi-permanent homeland. They wandered, scooted, rode and limped their way to shelter under the canopy of large trees and covered bus stops. I found the stop I needed, and began to make my way across the park. I was relieved to find shelter, and took a look around to find a seat. The man seemed to gaze off into the abyss. His yellow eyes blinking at a sun that he could not seen. As I sat down on a cluttered bench to wait for my bus, I heard him fumble loudly through his ramshackle cart. He pulled out an 2-liter bottle with a worn label and began to drink. He carefully screwed the cap back on and placed the bottle next to him on the bench. As I fumbled with the contents of my large bag, I noticed his eyes, slowly wandering. Just when I was about to say good morning, my phone rang. I spoke to my father about my upcoming appointment with my doctor, the importance of universal healthcare, and the weather. Mundane ramblings. After putting my cell phone back in my bag, I sat for twenty minutes, thinking about everything.
The rumble of the bus broke my train of thought. I hastily pulled five dollars from my pocket, knowing full well that it would be another fifteen minutes before the bus departed. Why was I in such a hurry? The old man clearly wasn’t rushing to get anywhere. He sat with his bare feet crossed, appearing to be in a trance. I was sure it was the early morning dose of alcohol making its way through his system. still, he looked content. My eyes wandered to his belongings. I marveled at his attempt to camouflage his cart. Torn trash bags intertwined with various pieces of cloth, evoking an impressive piece of art. I wanted to share with him that I thought green would make a nice touch, but he couldn’t see the color green.
As I stood up and placed my bag around my shoulder, the man spoke. “I hope you get to where you is going,” he said.
I didn’t say anything for a while. I pondered what he had said and thought about the dozens of bus rides I had been on in my life. Many of my travels had been while I was young, and trying to get to somewhere. Even in the most difficult of situations, I had the advantage of being able to see. Here was an old man who had seen much more than me, even in his drunken haze.
“Thanks…I believe this particular route is a long one. I am going all the way out to the hospital.”
He mumbled, looking towards the sound of the bus.”Sho is a long ride.”
“Yeah, it sure is.” I replied, smiling. “These buses aren’t so bad,” I said. He didn’t reply. We sat in silence for a few more minutes. I got up and walked over to the man and gently placed a five dollar bill in his calloused hand. His fingers didn’t wrap around the worn paper. I thought it might fall away to the ground. He thanked me and I said it was nothing. I asked him if it would be alright if I took his picture. I didn’t tell him it was because I found him compelling or that I had seen him around town for years and wanted to write about him. He was compelling. The thing is, I always feel cheap in these situations, taking photographs of homeless folks. I had been homeless in my youth, and knew what it felt like to be photographed by strangers. A circus sideshow. He said he didn’t mind if I took his picture. I thanked him and took one before boarding the bus for a long ride.