In line at Starbucks this morning, a homeless guy came up and asked if I’d buy him a cup of coffee. He’s in his late 20’s probably. Long dark hair, hands and face grey with dust, bright blue eyes, and relatively well put together. He’s articulate and sort of charming. His eyes are a little wild, shooting glances everywhere. He’s clearly dealing with some mental challenges, but I didn’t get the feeling that his demeanor was a symptom of drug use.
So he walks up and asks if I’d buy him a cup of coffee. “Of course,” I said. But then one of the employees thought he was bothering me so they gently walked him out. They were nice about it and he didn’t mind. As he went out the door, he looked back at me and said “I’ll be right outside.”
After he left, the people around me in line said things like “Wow that was awkward,” and “He sure was bold.” I didn’t quite get it. I said “No it’s cool. He seemed nice.”
I got to the register and ordered two cups of coffee. As the woman at the register started ringing up the order, the guy who escorted the fella out started filling the two cups. He said to me “Is this for who I think it’s for?” and held up one of the cups. “Yeah.” And he told the woman at the register, “Just charge him for one. This one’s on the house.” I was grateful. It was a very nice gesture on his part.
I paid for my coffee and brought the cups outside. The fella greeted me with a huge smile and asked if he could walk with me. (See! I didn’t really do anything. Just handed a homeless dude a free cup of coffee.)
I have to admit, I got a little nervous. People can be unpredictable. So I didn’t get too close and I stayed alert just in case. But yeah, I walked with him. We shook hands and exchanged first names. Over the next couple of blocks, he asked about what I did for a living and I told him. And I asked about him and he told me. He was upbeat and optimistic. Genuinely looking at the positive things in his life. I’ll share his side of the conversation.
“I live in a tent under Chestnut Street at the Schuylkill River. It’s really not bad. The tent keeps the cold wind out and I sleep pretty well. I set up the tent at night and take it down in the morning. I have a whole routine. Oh! And guess what? I had a job interview yesterday! Delivering food on a bike. I looked a lot cleaner than I do right now… I think it went well. I’m feeling optimistic about it. Oh! And guess what else? I have a girlfriend! She lives with me in the tent. She’s at Barnes and Noble now, warming up a little.”
He really was that articulate and energetic. A really nice guy. He reminded me of some of the characters that Sal Paradise stumbles across in On the Road. I wished him luck on his job prospect and we parted ways. Maybe I could have done more? He didn’t ask for anything and he seemed to be on a pretty good path. I’ll let you know if I bump into him again. I have a feeling he might keep an eye out for me.
(Note: That’s not him in the picture. It’s an old shot I took long ago, but it fits the gist of the story.)