This is Mike.
I saw him across the street as I was locking up my bike at the coffee shop this morning. His sign caught my attention, and as I glanced over at him he looked back at me. So after locking my bike I walked over to him.
After introducing myself and shaking hands I asked him straight out, “So what’s your story? How is it that you find yourself out here asking for help.” And then I apologized for being so forward. No need to apologize, he said, and then he told me his story. And while he did—while we talked and I asked him questions—people rushed past us.
He’s from Buffalo, the Old First Ward, born and raised. But he wanted to travel and a few years ago he landed a job as a dock worker in Hawaii. He loved it, and the pay was good. But it’s because of this job that he finds himself standing on the corner. While working he fell through a dock. He broke his back, messed up his head (showed me the massive scare on his head), and was in a coma for six months.
I couldn’t help but notice the large lump under his sock. A police monitoring device, no doubt. So I asked hi straight out about it. And he had no problem talking about it. It monitors alcohol consumption, and it is rated at zero tolerance. It also costs him $220 a month. “It’s a weird thing,” he told me, “waking up from a coma. Sometimes I still don’t know whether I am awake or dreaming.” He then went on to tell me that between the physical pain, the effects of the coma, and depression, he developed a drinking problem and “got into some trouble.” We didn’t talk about that too much. But, he added, that he hasn’t had a drink in 6 months and is getting himself together.
After offering him a couple dollars, he shook my hand and said, while looking me in the eye, “Thank you brother, and God bless you.” I asked if he minded if I took his photo, and before I took out my phone he struck a pose, which made me smile. He even asked if the lighting was ok, if he was positioned correctly with the sun.
But the same question(s) you the reader may have asked yourself in the past is/are floating in the air again...is this guy’s story for real? And is Joe just being a sucker again? I don’t know if he was telling the truth, I would like to think that at least some or most of it was true. But I’m not stupid, some of his story doesn’t add up. Such as if he was injured so terribly while on the job wouldn’t he be taken care of financially? And that bracelet on his ankle was very real. But, on the other hand, his limp was also real, so was the massive scar on his head, and so was the look on his face when he grimaced in pain at one point. Who am I to judge? We are all part of the same human race. But some of us have had better breaks and/or have made better decisions and choices than others. We all deserve respect.
We talked for about 5 minutes. When I parted we shook hands again. And as I was walking away Mike thanked me and said it was really nice talking to me, I bid him the same. And then he smiled and simply said, “Peace Joe.”