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June 26th, 2005
The Traveler

I was driving through the city today and noticed that there was a panhandler on nearly every major intersection. They all had various creative cardboard signs. Everything from “Will work for food” to “I need a beer – God bless.”

I decided to investigate. I wanted to talk with one of these individuals. Find out their story. I’m about to drop my wife off.

As I’m driving home I stop at the first intersection. I roll down my window and explain that if he’s hungry to hop in and I’ll buy him some food. He looks surprised. I’m not just going to give him some money? He starts to stammer and I can smell the Jim Beam. Great, the car behind me is honking. The light has changed. He explains that he can’t he’s waiting for a friend. And I thought this was going to be easy.

I stop to get gas. Just my luck. I see a man walk past me to the street corner and pull out his sign.

I approach the man and I asked him if I can buy him lunch. At first he’s taken aback. Really? He asks. Sure I said, but I want you to tell me your story. I extend my hand and introduce myself. “Herman’s my name” he exclaims. Herman’s hands look dirty. (Note to self: wash hands soon.) Herman is clearly drunk off his ass. That’s ok. He’s talking with me – progress.

“Well there’s a gas station right there” he exclaims. I explain that there’s a nice malt shop right down the way but he’s not interested. “Hey, you don’t happen to drink beer do you?” Sorry Herman, I’m not buying you alcohol. “Well, can you buy me some cigarettes?” Sure I say.

I get Herman a sandwich a drink and some cigarettes. Moments later he’s telling me his life story. He was born here in the city in one of the nicer suburbs. His parents split. His Dad is a technical writer. They don’t like him hanging around when he drinks.

He tells me what it’s like to live on the street. He’s going to San Diego for the winter this year. “Winters here are a bitch!” he exclaims. I can’t even imagine. He explains how he puts on 3 coats and 3 hats and tries to find a place where they can make a fire. It often gets as much as 20 below or more here (without the wind-chill). Sometimes he can find a shelter but those fill up too. “That’s where the bums go” he says. “I’m not a bum though, I’m a traveler.” And then there are the cops. “They’re always harassing us to move along. If you get into the nicer suburbs the housewives freak out and they ship us back down here.”

Sometimes he explains they’ll commit crimes just so they can land in jail. (He doesn’t admit that he does that but read between the lines).

“You ever going to give up drinking?” I ask. “Oh yeah, someday” he says.

I stop. Somewhere between the sandwich and the stories he’s accumulated a giant green booger on his mustache. Do I say something? The green booger is staring at me.

“Herman” I say. I lower my voice. “You have a booger on your mustache. You don’t want to hurt your chances on the corner.” “Thanks Dude!” He blows his nose and wipes it. Good he took it well.

Herman continues. He was in the Army. He enlisted after high school. Spent some time in Germany. He’s been doing manual labor ever since he got out. It’s hard to have a steady job when you drink.

“Were you ever married?” I ask. “No but I got a girlfriend in the suburbs!” He explains that she lives with her parents and they don’t like him hanging around.

Herman finishes the last of his sandwich. “Well Dude, got to get me back to the corner!”

He thanks me profusely for everything and hurries back to capture peak panhandling time.

Herman, I dedicate this Blog posting to you. Happy travels and Godspeed.

posted in: crazy escapades,guest musings — @ 5:19 pm


  1. So the guest is just a little bit on the crazy side, apparently. Sure, feeding a homeless guy is nice… but putting him in your car? Seriously, he could’ve been dangerous.. he could’ve hit you on the side of the head, stolen your car, possibly eaten you as a side dish with a nice Chianti… ;)

    In other words, we’d like the guest to live.

    Don’t get yourself killed—or eaten.

    Comment by the insider — Sunday.June.26.2005 @ 5:42 pm

  2. OK…

    First of all, I didn’t let him him in my car.

    Second, I don’t recommend anyone else routinely talk to strangers or homeless people. (kids, don’t try this at home)

    Do I realize the risk involved with talking with someone like herman? sure I do.

    Maybe I was just sick of wondering who the person was behind the cardboard sign.

    every day, herman stands at the corner with his sign where people pass him by trying not to look. Once in a while someone will feel pity and give him some money – probably praying that he won’t use it to buy booze.

    it saddens me that herman really can’t be helped. He doesn’t want to be helped. He realizes that he’s where he is because he drinks. he’s gone through programs before.

    today I met person named Herman.

    P.s. herman, thanks for not bashing my head in and eating me with a side of fava beans.

    Comment by the guest — Sunday.June.26.2005 @ 6:55 pm

  3. Yeah, yeah… you can take care of yourself. :P

    About two years ago I took this trip, drove around the country. Before I left, my dad lectured me on being out after dark and talking to strangers. He provided me with a taser, a CB radio and a bootknife. I don’t think it occurred to him that he needed to warn me about picking up hitchhikers—he probably assumed that the whole “talking to strangers” bit covered a lot of ground.

    The first person I picked up was a biker in the mountains of Idaho. There was massive construction on the road, so the line of cars (it was a little two-lane highway) had been stopped for awhile. Finally, after about an hour, the workers brought back the lead truck to crawl us through 14 miles of broken road. Before we even started out, the workers told Jesse, the biker, that he should bag it and go a different way—or hitch a ride. I was the closest vehicle, so I offered him a ride. Highly entertaining, he had me laughing the entire 45 minutes it took to traverse those 14 miles.

    As the weeks progressed on my trip, I picked up a hitchhiker here and there, and was always better for it.

    I’m glad you made a new friend… even if it was in an unconventional way.

    Comment by the insider — Sunday.June.26.2005 @ 8:32 pm

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