I walked over and started talking to this guy at the train station near the Lake Worth flea market. He was obviously homeless. He said he had just gotten out of 30 days in jail for panhandling. He told me that he had a thousand dollar prepaid Visa card when he went in, but didn’t when they let him out. The cops had hassled him over it when they booked him suggesting that he had stolen someone else’s card despite him pointing out, “see, it says ‘Gift Card’ on it!”. You never know what is truth and what is fiction and I try not to decide. I just listen.
He said he had lived in the area most of his life, went to LW High School. Tossed out a local address where he said his house was. Now he slept at Dreher Park most nights. He said he was a brick mason and could build a house from the ground up. Among other professions, he had also been a pilot smuggling marijuana out of Colombia in the early 80’s. He said he didn’t do any drugs and I believed him. “I’m a beer and cigarette man” he said as he took a drag on the stub of a hand rolled cigarette. “I’ll smoke a little weed if sombody offers it” he added.
I asked him his name and he told me it was Greg. The irony of that coincidence brought the uncertainty of life closer to home. We all walk a very fine line between comfort and discomfort. A simple incident can change our lives forever.
I didn’t ask why he was on the street, but I wondered what kept these people, who live such a hard life, going. Like Ronny who I photographed in Miami Beach, Greg was hoping to get back together with his wife who now lived in North Carolina. He had a cell phone but it didn’t work so I wondered how that was going to happen. He told me that he still attended the church in town that he always had and that the pastor invited him for Christmas dinner a couple years ago. I told him he was lucky to know someone so thoughtful. It was evident that faith, hope and charity were important to his survival.
For a 51-year old, the years of life on the street made him look older. He rolled up his sleeve to show me what looked like old scars from days when he might have been able to pay for them. “I’ve got skin cancer. That’s why I wear a long sleeve shirt. Each one of these cost me $2800 to laser off…I never had any insurance. I know I’m dyin’. I just want to build a house on five acres of land in North Carolina and spend the rest of my life fishin’ and huntin’.”