This guy has been asking me for change since 1994. That’s almost seventeen years of panhandling dedication. He can usually be found early in the day around Boylston Street, near Finagle-A-Bagel (best bagels in Boston) and across the street at Five Hundred Boylston. The first time I saw him was in May of 1994. I was just finishing up my Freshman year at Brandeis and was elated that the summer was still ahead of me. It was a glorious sunny day in Boston – actually, it was hot – one of those freak May days in the 80’s, when you try to order an Air Conditioner at midnight because you can’t take it anymore at such an early date. I digress…
I was in the midst of taking photos of the street scene, well, mostly myself amid the street scene, and I thought that with all the photos of me posing with friends, it would be neat to include one of this stranger and myself posing like we knew each other. He was shirtless, so I didn’t get too close, and had a floppy hat on, but I told him I’d give him a dollar if I could snap our photo together. He happily obliged. Back then he was younger, and seemed happier, if such a thing can be discerned from a two minute meeting on the street. I still have that photo somewhere – someday I’ll dig it out to compare, but I can see it clearly in my mind, and I recall the broad smiles we mustered for the camera.
Since that first meeting, I’ve seen him countless times in the same vicinity, at all times of the year. Once he was screaming and swearing, so loudly and vehemently that I crossed the street to avoid him. Mostly though, he was quiet and considerate and accepted a simple, “I’m sorry” if you didn’t have any change to spare.
The last time I was in Boston he was back in front of the bagel place, sitting as you see him here. I had my camera with me and said I’d give him a dollar if he would let me take a picture. He gave a slightly quizzical smile and said, “A dollar for a picture? Sure.” I explained that I had taken his photo many years ago, and he just nodded, clearly not remembering. His life was no doubt filled with more interesting and adventurous moments than mine, and there’s no way I would expect him to remember a college kid snapping a quick pic.
There’s something both sad and reassuring about his “work”, and the difference at what I captured then versus now. Back in 1994 it was spring, the world was sunny, and we each had a long life ahead of us. Now, it is winter, the world is windy, and we’ve each spent a good portion of our lives living in what I’m guessing are wildly disparate ways. I don’t dare venture a guess as to who’s had it tougher, or who has found the most meaning in existence, or even who is better off now than then. Those types of answers can never be completely answered. And to be honest, there are many May days when I’d like nothing better than slumming around blissfully on Boylston Street, taking in the height of a Boston Spring, and living off the kindness and generosity of strangers.Back to Blog