“Sunshine” and Jeffrey

With my book under my arm, and the clock heading towards midnight, I went to the back of Walgreens and quickly rounded up some food for just four food gifts. I had a bit of a skip in my walk, still smiling from the sweet Indian prayer and the enjoyment I had chatting with my “non- coffee” drinking new friends. It took me just a block until the bus stop after Lincoln on Collins when spontaneously and briskly, I passed a very familiar woman on the bench and dropped a bag in her lap and said cheerfully “Here, This is for you”. She was familiar because she stood out, and it was easy to recognize her from the last couple of years in South Beach. She was glittered up from her clothes to her costume jewelry, make up in place. She would not strike you as homeless per-se, but that she wore the same clothes each day, was a clue that she didn’t have. As I continued to walk she shouted out to me to wait. “Hey, how much did this cost???” were her first words. Her next was “I have jewelry. Let me give you something. Please, is there anything I can do” I walked and smiled as she spoke and said no as I crossed the street. With a second thought I turned and walked back. I asked her if I could take her picture or have a quick video. She said yes. I started my video in seconds and she still was insisting on knowing how much it cost so she could give me something of hers in return. It took no more than a few seconds and I told her it cost me nothing…”I stole it” I told her and she gasped and said “You did WHAT?”, within a millisecond with a wink and a smile I told her I was just kidding. She laughed and still begged to give me a piece of jewelry when I told her to never give anything away. It was a gift with nothing expected in return. When she realized I was done and walking off, even happier that before, she said “Hey, what about the video?” I told her I got it, and showed it to her. Classic. She was truly classic. A bubbly, light in the night. And here she is, my Ms. Sunshine

I headed out to find “my” big man on the corner by the Hotel but he was still not there. Disappointed, I moved on and  passed an older lady in a covered bus stop across from the W and gave her one of the bags. A timid Lady. I did not speak with her, I somehow felt accepting food already put her at her threshold. Still two bags left, and I saw nobody around.

I walked a few streets up when I saw a man on the ground. He was sitting up against his backpack. I asked him if he was hungry. He said he had eaten a bit earlier but not much and it would be a couple of days until he got his next ration of food stamps.

His name was Jeffrey.

He told me that he has withered to nothing since being on the street, that he must have lost 50 lbs. It is hard to guess, but I would think he was somewhere close to 40. I asked if I could film his story but stopped within seconds of him talking.  His home was foreclosed on back in 2007. He came to Florida just 14 months ago. His Family had given up on him and he no longer could take the cold. He is trying to get into a “safe” shelter. It all seems to be a common story. I had originally thought about making a small documentary about the people I met but then, felt as if helping them, it would turn out to be more of an exploitation as they shared their private downfall with me.

Jeffrey saw my book and asked if I read. “Yea, I read”, “I read too!” he told me. He took out his wallet from his jeans pocket and showed me an old College ID. He spoke of how people look down on him like he is stupid. How people don’t treat him as nothing but dumb. He was very proud to show me and did it as a way of confirmation, that I would believe he was once something.. He said that he had a book too. As he reached to his backpack to take it out he said jokingly “Don’t worry. I don’t have a gun or anything, it really is just my book” At that second I think I froze. You see, I never in my wildest dreams thought about sitting (at this point I was sitting on the ground with him) with a stranger and being in danger. My breath most certainly stopped for a second and out came the book. Jeffrey reads mysteries…I prefer the love stories. That lent to a nice smile. The time had passed and I said my good-byes.  He told me as he opened the bag that the sandwich is okay but he appreciates fruit because “Fruit is REAL food”.  I I left him with the half pack of cigarettes I had on me which was beyond real for him. “European cigarettes! Nobody has them here on the street!”   I already had a plan in mind for our Jeff.

With one bag left and getting late, I walked the long way around to the Hotel hoping to find someone out to give the food to. No luck. I was tired and decided to call it a night.

Back to the Hotel and the Girls where behind me within minutes. They came in the room tired and asked if all was ok. They told me they were hungry. I asked why they didn’t eat. Out shopping on Lincoln and with a multitude of places to eat. They said they shopped but at the end passed by a couple of old homeless men and went and bought  a “bunch of stuff “for them and gave them the last of their dollars.

“Lucky for you. I still have a sandwich and fruit left from tonight.”

Appropriate way to close out our evening eating the food that we give to others. Although they were fortunate to“dine” on beds, not the street.

Miami to Cuba, The First Part of My 15,000 Mile Journey

How it all begins…
It is most usual for my girls and myself to fly over to Miami for a couple of weeks during the summer vacation.
It is not usual that we’d go instead in the Fall and exceptional that the day after I arrived back in Zürich, I’d fly off to Cuba with my Partner for 3 weeks. Hence all the miles.

Our first trip into South Beach, Miami was when my twins and older daughter were 10 and 14. The immediate jump to the beach left them with the expected enthusiasm that they have had for the beach since they were fresh out of diapers. It was the first evening that brought about how they suddenly felt about this place that they saw as paradise.

We were going to dinner down Washington Avenue and being that it wasn’t all too humid, we decided to walk from our near Lincoln Road on Collins Hotel. It didn’t take more than a block until we came across the first homeless person laying in the corner entrance of a closed building, and from there after the homeless were present and visible with each block. By the time we reached the restaurant my children were rather distraught. Living here in Switzerland and the prior vacations to the west coast of Florida, this was a very new sight for them. They turned afraid of what they had witnessed. They were afraid of the homeless. Speaking with them during the meal, they came to see that they were most saddened and shocked, and I sensed that they would prefer a taxi back as their young, naïve eyes had had enough to digest for one day.

Before we left the restaurant, I had told the girls that a way to feel better about what they had seen, was to help. That we would go to the store and each get a bag of water, fruit and a sandwich and they could choose someone to help that night. They were still frightened of the idea of approaching a homeless person but the idea of helping clearly won.
We taxied up to Lummus Park Ocean Ave after buying food packed in separate, ready to give bags. At this time the Park, quite unlike the years before, was more or less filled at night with seasoned and seemingly “new” homeless, that after speaking with them I learned they had lost their job and then house during the crash. My daughters shyly and carefully looked at all the people as we walked. Finally, I accompanied them to the person they chose.

When we got back to the Hotel room, they were so invigorated with pride and happiness that they were able to help someone, that they now could not wait for the next night to do it again. But this time not just one person.

And that is how it all began. And that is how it has remained the years after, have dinner and shop for the homeless.

My oldest and Twins are now 22 and 18 respectively.

We decided that for our first night this Fall in SOBE we would walk over to Lincoln Road, and for me, to get their Lincoln pleads to go there out of the way. We crossed the street from the 1 Hotel that we were very fortunate to be able to stay at, walked just one block and found a very large man lying on newspaper appearing to be asleep. We turned around and looked at each other and decided to walk a block back to the Walgreens across the street from our Hotel and get him some food. Corn Bread, large sandwich, a banana and large bottle of water. When we came back, he opened his eyes as if half in fear (maybe thinking it was the police telling him to move on?) His eyes red, he accepted. As we turned away, he was sat up and furiously chowing down the corn bread. Needless to say, we went to him on our second night as well.

The third night my Daughters asked to go back to Lincoln. I had had enough of window shopping there and felt secure enough with their 18 years and knowledge of the Town to let them venture out on their own if they wanted. They took me up on it.

The result of how they spent their evening warmed my heart, as I hope it will yours…..tomorrow.

Till then, travel a sweet dream,