“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 Pt. 2

I accompanied my girls to the Hotel door and wished them a fun evening and ventured over to the lobby bar of the 1 Hotel with my book “A Thousand Splendid Suns” as my wine and cheese dinner companion. I am sure less than an hour went by when I decided rather than sit and drink SOBE overpriced wine, I’d head over to Lummus Park via the Boardwalk. My book still in hand and off I went. I passed the life filled outdoor club of the W Hotel and all its glamour of cars with price tags of a minimum of $150,000, took a right on the boardwalk for the ocean side glimpse of the splendor of people dining on the patio of The Ritz. The Four Seasons was still filled with more drinking than eating as the 3 piece band entertained.
Within steps, I was there, the foot of the park outside Starbucks. I was wished a nice evening by two men sitting on the retaining wall. I asked them how they were doing and if they would like something to eat. They said they had had something already so I suggested perhaps a coffee (I learned that the homeless appreciate coffee and will tell you why in a later post) One of the men replied so fast with perfect honesty and told me “Ma’am, Thank you but we don’t want coffee, we’re alcoholics!” With that he and I had a good laugh. The three of us got to talking and  one, an American Apache Indian of decent, told me he had had a house up in Massachusetts. I asked where because I lived there as well before I moved to Switzerland. It turned out we were almost in neighboring villages near Peabody. I have come to learn that this a familiar story, people losing their homes and in time, the desperation moves them to the warmth of dream filled Miami where their dreams don’t seem to come true but their bodies at least, are not cold. I thoroughly enjoyed these two, their humor, their laughter and mostly their honesty with me.
At the end of our time together, the American Indian asked me if I had bus money for him to get to the Hospital in the morning. His wrist still wore his information bracelet from when he was released from the Hospital the day before. He had fallen, admittedly after drinking, and hurt himself. I do not give money, but I made the exception and gave him the exact $3.00 he asked for the fare. With that, as we said good-bye, he left me with an Apache prayer to which at the end, we danced to shake up that prayer to get it “activated”

Note Bene: A large percentage of homeless I have met have told me that they started to abuse alcohol since being on the street. It is not something that I condone, but in all fairness, it is something I can understand.

I am now off to hit the Walgreens on the corner of Collins and Lincoln. And the girls you ask? They’re still out, the night is young. There are a few more travels until I meet them back at the Hotel so it won’t be just yet that I can tell you about their night as I had planned ;).
Till then, travel a sweet dream,

my upload skills are not up to par…obviously 😉