It was a quiet evening on a leafy section of the bike path Tuesday. The cool, overcast weather had kept the usual crowds of biking kids and families with strollers at home, but three middle aged men were gathered at what remained of a stone bench, drinking cans of beer and smoking cigarettes. Someone had torn the seat off of the bench, but two of the guys sat on the remaining supports while the other leaned on a bicycle.
The first thing they wanted to know when I approached them was whether I carry a badge. Cops bug them sometimes, since drinking on the trail is forbidden.
“I am an American,” said one of the guys—he said I can call him Kermit. “I do have my rights. We’re not hurting anybody. I pick my trash up.”
They said the problem is really the heroin and crack addicts that make the police presence necessary. Especially at night, they said, too many kids are hanging around, high on something and trying to cause problems. “Stu Bomb,” a small, thin man wearing a baseball cap, said he got beaten by a man with a police baton one night as he was leaving his apartment to buy cigarettes.
The three of them said they hang out on the bike path to avoid the people they’d have to deal with around their homes. Kermit is temporarily staying at a motel while he saves money, and the other two live with roommates on streets where apartments are crowded together.
They have a jokey rapport, frequently interrupting each other to tease or to clarify a story. At one point, Kermit said he didn’t think it was right for authorities to be able to bother guys like them—“Americans, white men.” Immediately, Stu cut him off asking, “So how would it be any different…” And Kermit replied that, no, it wouldn’t be different—that wasn’t really his point.
All three of them said the economy’s been tough on them, but Kermit said he thinks it’s getting better. He’s working pretty consistently, except on rainy days, he said, painting houses and doing whatever other jobs he can get from a contractor friend.
Stu Bomb gets disability payments from Social Security.
“I got mine because I was in the nuthouse twice,” he said. He’s better now, but he still can’t really work. “My knees are shot," he said. "My shoulder’s shot.”
The third guy, the one with the bike, who said I could call him Red Rooster, laughed ruefully. “I don’t have a job,” he said. “I went to drinking,”
Rooster used to drive a tractor trailer. He lost the job a couple of years ago because of the economy, and since then heart problems have kept him entirely out of work. Of course his doctor says he shouldn’t be drinking either, he admitted.
He seems embarrassed admitting he’s getting benefits, and Kermit chimes in that he shouldn’t feel bad. After all, he paid into the system for 20 years.
“I don’t look at it that way,” Rooster replied. “I don’t like being on welfare.”
Photo credit: Flickr/macronix