It's been a while since I've gone out seeking to meet a stranger to photograph and get to know. Well truth be told I have gone out on the town to snap pictures of people, for one reason or the other I just haven't felt compelled to approach anyone. When walking through Fountain Square today I walked past this gentleman in the wheelchair and nearly missed the opportunity to meet someone new. Upon passing him I did a double take and turned around to ask how his day was going. No surprise he answered, "I'm alright but burning up." The heat and humidity have been miserable this week and not only was Ron in the heat, he was completely exposed to the sun and had beads of sweat pouring through the lines upon his face . I tossed a dollar in his bucket and began a conversation with him.
Ron shared with me he climbed and cut trees for living from the age of 14. At that age he cleaned up the ground around the trees "but there is no money in that, guys think since you're young $20, a bologna sandwich, and a can of pop was good pay for 10 hours of work on a Saturday." At 16 is when he began to climb trees and the ranks of others who were paid more handsomely. Then last year in a horrible turn of events he lost a limb to a tree falling upon and crushing his leg. "I'm only out here getting a few bucks to help feed me and my wife until the government approves my disability." He then looked at me and then down at his leg..."I think it should get approved."
Through our conversation I learned Ron's wife had a modest income that covers their rent and his goal was to make $10 a day to cover expenses for food. "Usually at this time of day (which was 11am) I am heading home with my $10 but it is too damn hot and everyone is anxious to back into the AC." With everyone walking past him he had only managed to collect a couple of quarters and a comb to go along with the dollar I tossed in the three hours he'd been out there.
As we neared the end of our conversation I asked him a question I've asked others, do people acknowledge you? "Nope, it's like I don't even exist. It's frustrating cause there are some out here who are able bodied just collecting a buck...I worked for a long time and would still be working if it weren't for this accident. I can tell you, if I had two legs I wouldn't be here." I understand walking past the homeless, it can be scary, and sometimes it can be unsafe to do so. Yet the lugubrious expressions on the faces of those who share they feel forgotten or invisible tears me up.
Noticing how much he was sweating and that he had nothing to drink I went to a nearby restaurant and purchased him a lemonade and tossed my change from the purchase in his bucket. It seemed a meager gesture for someone in his position but he thanked me all the same. I thanked him too, for the picture and the conversation, definitely the conversation.