So after I left Chuck and Pete up in Germantown, I caught the 53 bus into north Philly. I got off on Erie and walked over to Broad Street.
I love Broad and Erie because it crackles with all of this kinetic energy and movement. Buses, trains, cars, people, all converge on this intersection, all anxiously seeking to pass through to other points north, south, east and west in this wonderful city.
So Wendell caught my eye because he was sitting on this stoop, calm and peaceful, in his stocking feet. It was a pleasant juxtaposition.
I walked past him toward Germantown Avenue where the 23 bus stops to let off passengers before it crosses Erie Avenue, wondering how I could approach him for a photo.
Well, as I said previously, all things work out the way they are supposed to.
I walked back to the steps where he sat, and he spoke. I greeted him warmly in response. He asked me if I could buy him a soda – a Pepsi.
I said, I would buy him a soda if he would pose for a photo for me.
To my relief, he said yes. He gave me a dollar, and sent me on my way. He called after me to also get him a bag of chips.
I walked around the corner, picked up his rations, and returned to the stoop where he sat. He was putting on his sneakers. I handed him his bag, and he looked inside to review the contents. He asked me how much the soda and chips cost, and I told him, one dollar.
I’ll be honest. I was worried he was going to take off with his chips and soda and story and I was going to be left empty-handed. Boy, I was wrong.
Well, after it was all said and done. I got my photos. And I made a new friend.
He ate his chips, sipped on his Pepsi, and told me his life story.
Wendell, 74 years of age, was from Virginia. After moving to Philly, he met his wife, to whom he was married for 43 years. They had a son and a daughter. His wife passed away 4 years ago from ovarian cancer, which, according to him, could have been prevented if she had just stopped smoking.
He still lived in north Philly and often times walked to Broad and Erie to the nearby donut shop (not Dunkin Donuts, but the mom and pop donut shop on Erie), or just to sit and watch people come and go.
He had a lot to say. For instance:
his eyesight (he was planning to have a cataract removed)
the immorality of drug abuse (drug abusers are the scourge of society and deserved what they got in life)
the anti-social behavior of young black men and women (what happened to the days where black women behaved with more propriety and why do young black men insist on walking around with their pants hanging down)
sex (he used to be a turkey strutting around, looking for women to sleep with, but he’s not longer a turkey and couldn’t care less about sex)
the economy (perhaps it was the reason why people did drugs and committed crimes)
trash on the streets of Philadelphia (what happened to the good old days where people cared about how their neighborhoods look)
and law/order/crime (black men need to learn how to submit to the police’s authority…if you didn’t do anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about).
When it was all said and done, I spent nearly 2 hours chatting and laughing with him. It was akin to having a conversation with an older uncle or grandfather. You know you have a lot of differences, but when it’s all said and done, there’s a lot of wisdom and experience there and you just shut up and listen.
It so happened that his daughter walked up. It was almost like she knew where to find him. Since they were sharing a family moment (she wanted to know if he had been to the doctor to finalize the arrangements for his cataract removal operation), I excused myself and made my way to the H bus for the return trip home, promising him that I would be back and would look for him so that we could chat again real soon.
Sometimes all people want is to have someone to listen to them and show that they care, just a little bit.
That’s my mission.