City Streets: Selfies with David

We’re in Chicago, and on our way to a Whole Foods. My brother and I have been traveling around the city with our whole family, so it’s a relief for it to be just the two of us. All I want is a salad bar.

On our way in we pass two men sitting about fifty feet apart, both requesting help of any kind. The second one spoke to us.

“Can you help?”

“I don’t have anything.”

“You can get something in there.”

“What do you want?”

“A hot breakfast sandwich and some juice? It’s hard, because I can’t chew.”

Once inside we realize that, since it’s 2pm, a hot breakfast sandwich will be hard to find. We put together two bags, each with a fortified juice, hot chicken, and some watermelon.

We hand a bag to the man who spoke to us, then head down the block to where the second man sits.

“Would you like some food?”

“Oh thank you!”

“May I sit with you?”

In only a few minutes, Duncan and I will cross the street, and stand on the corner of State and Huron, looking at a map on my phone to see where to go next, and I’ll regret not sitting with David longer. We have no plans to rush off to. I’ll regret not stopping to talk to the first man. But in this moment I sit with David, and try to make small talk.

photo (4)

“You’re the most dapper man on the street that I’ve ever seen!”

He tells me about a man who bought clothes for him: four shirts, two suit jackets, and matching pants.

“And there was another man, he was on his way out of town, rolling his suitcase behind him, and he didn’t have any cash. But he gave me his shoes and they fit perfectly!” He straightens his legs, showing us the clean loafers on his feet.

I thank him for his time, and stand up.

“God bless you, both of you.”

We smile and say the same.



City Streets: Selfies w/Pedro

I’d just finished a Zumba class at the 24 Hour Fitness on Van Ness, and I navigated the sunny streets with long strides, eager to get out of my sweaty clothes and take a shower. He was sitting on a corner, under an umbrella attached to his wheelchair. Masking tape held up the hand written signs on his table, proclaiming the good news about Jesus. As I crossed the street, he waved me over.

“Spare change?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t have anything.”

“Come sit down, I want to talk to you,” he gestured me over.

I perched beside him, on a low plastic stool in the shade.

Pedro and Me

Pedro and Me

“How old are you?”

“I’m twenty-two.”

“I was twenty-three when I came to this country. Now I’m seventy-seven. It was 1962 when I left Cuba. How many years ago was that?”

He waited for my response, and I tapped the numbers out on my fingers, because doing math in your head is hard. “52?”

He’s pleased with my answer.

“Now tell me, what are your goals– what are your life goals? Do you know what you want to do?”

I gave him the same spiel I’ve been giving to family and friends for the past few months: just graduated from college, currently focusing on traveling and writing, and starting massage school in the fall.

He asked me again, “What are your life goals? What do you want to do with your life?”

This time I didn’t hesitate, and gave him the purpose for my life, the one I carry deep down inside me, the one that guides my dreams:

“To make the world a more beautiful place, through love.”

At this, he smiled deeply. “There you go! Now we’re getting somewhere.”

“Your hair smells good.” He reached a hand out, and when I nodded, he touched my ponytail. “It’s beautiful.”

“Can I touch your hair?” I reach up and pat the poof of white hair on the crown of his head. It felt like cotton and clouds, all softness and air.

Pedro's Card

He grabbed a stack of index cards from his table and handed me one. In shaky all caps was written the information for a local church: address, directions, schedule, even radio station. He then wrote his phone number and his apartment number down for me, and had me read the numbers back to him, so that he knew it was legible. “I am your big brother now. I’ll look out for you. You call me if you need anything. And come to the church.”

He took my hands between his, rough and warm, and he prayed over me, first in English, and then in Spanish. As I left, he asked me again for change, and I showed him my hands, empty save for my phone and my hostel key card.

“I came from the gym, remember? I don’t even have a purse.”