Knowing full well where the beach was, I asked the man in the wheelchair, “Is the beach down that way?” He told me it was at the end of the block and said, “You look like a pleasant sort of guy”. I replied, “I am”.
Ronny is from Roanoke, Virginia. He is going through a bad time. He said he didn’t understand how people could give money to someone on the street for alcohol and not give him anything for food. I told him I would help him out. He had been a short order cook in Virginia. I told him that in the early 90’s I used to fly into Roanoke and drive to West Virginia to do conventions at the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs. “Do you know where that is?” I asked. “Oh yeah” he said, “I cooked there for two years. That sure is an espensive place.” I agreed, but told him I was lucky because someone else paid my way.
Ronny’s left leg was amputated below the knee. He had taken a job doing cleanup in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and said that he stepped on a nail one day. Two days later his leg looked “like a rainbow” according to Ronny. “It got gangrene and they had to cut it off.”
I asked him how come he was living on the street. “My wife left me and took all my money. Cleaned me out. The worse thing is, I don’t know where she is. I don’t really hate her. I don’t hold no grudge or anything. I’d just like to see her so she could tell me why she left. She just left, no explanation. Took all my money outta the bank.” I commiserated and agreed that it was always hard to forget about the one who got away. That she took his money was a real pisser.
I told him I wanted to take some shots of him with the people passing by and he said okay. At one point he flagged down a young girl and said, “Let him take my picture with you okay?. She said she was late for work but we persisted and she posed along side him. He was pleased and I told him he picked a real cutie.
Knowing that he probably was, I asked him if he was a god fearing man? He said he was. “So what do you think of all these natural disasters the past couple years…tsunami in Indonesia…earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand, Japan?” Ronny replied that it was the Book of Revelations coming to pass. He quoted a few bible references to corroborate his reply. I told him that I was not really religious but was open minded enough to consider any possibility. Ronny is a big man and I expect was not easy for him to depend on other prople to get by. Yet in spite of his situation, he was not bitter and had a fairly positive outlook which I attributed to his faith.
His bedroll was alongside his wheelchair and I noticed a nasty sandspur stuck in his right sleeve. I asked if the cops hassled him about sleeping on the beach. He said no. But it was hard to find a place to stay when it was raining. There was an abandoned hotel nearby that a black man owned and the man let Ronny stay there when it rained. He was hoping that if he could find his wife and get some of his money back he could get a room somewhere. But neither of us thought that was likely to happen, especially since someone stole his cell phone. I wanted to ask him about the ugly scabs on his good leg…whether people took advantage of him because he was handicapped and homeless. But I decided that I didn’t want to know.
I gave him four bucks, shook his hand and wished him a good day. “God bless ya’ Ronny” I said as I walked away.
Originally posted to Flickr on March 22, 2011