Monday, June 13, 2011


I had just finished shooting an event for the Hometown F.D. and was in the area where The Saint That I Am Married To works. I called her and asked if she was available for a cup of foo-foo coffee - an offer that she rarely turns down.

Much to my delight, she was available. I texted her when I parked El Cheepo Jeepo and we met at the front door of her office building. We walked the four blocks to the caffeine dispensary, ordered our poison and sat on the patio, savoring our coffee and the last days of spring.

I spotted him as he walked down the sidewalk, out of place with his dirty jacket and his shuffle. Transients are not strangers to this part of town. Charities, social services, public transportation and a jail are all nearby - all services that many transients use on a regular basis.

I watched as he salvaged a half full cup of coffee that someone had thrown away and as he sampled the remains of a danish that had been left at a table. His basic needs met for the moment, he sat at a table not too far away.

I have been assigned to eleven different stations during my career, all have had a transient population drifting through their districts. Obviously, some stations deal with the homeless more that others, but over the years, I have developed a sense of whether they present a danger to me or not. The reality is that few are dangerous to me while on duty, they know that we have radios and numbers on our side. They also know that we are usually there to help them and that things go easier for them if they keep their cool. Regardless, one always maintains situational awareness when dealing with them as they are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.

Off duty is another matter. Then, I am just another Schmoe, walking around with a back pack over one shoulder and a wallet in my pocket. Predatory transients are rare. When they do victimize someone, it seems to be other transients who are the victims most of the time. Again, you just never know. Sometimes it's just better to avoid contact.

As we shared the patio with the above mentioned  transient, I saw him look at us, then look away as we made contact. I halfway expected him to approach us for money and decided that he and I would work out a deal, should he ask.

The Saint and I continued to enjoy our drinks  as I kept an eye on our accidental companion. To my surprise, he remained seated, enjoying his drink just as we were. I continued to watch him and decided that as he wasn't going to approach us, I would approach him.

I set my camera bag on the table and took my good camera out. I handed my phone to The Saint and told her to call the cops if things went bad. She shot me an incredulous look and asked me what I was going to do.

"I need a photo for my final, I replied. I spent all weekend shooting and came up with nothing. I'm going to offer him a few bucks and see if he'll let me snap a few pictures."

Her reply did not instill confidence, however I figured she pretty much knew what she was getting when she married me and she should expect unusual behavior. I was psychologically committed to my mission.

I approached my potential model. "Hey man" I started, "Look, I'm a photography student and I have a project due on Wednesday. I need to take a picture of an interesting person and I gotta tell ya - you look like an interesting person. You look like you could use a few bucks, I could use you as a subject for my pictures. How about I give you twenty bucks, you let me snap a few pictures. Ten minutes max, you don't even have to get out of your chair."

He sized me up and agreed to the deal. I pulled a chair from the next table and sat down.

I immediately got on the shutter, talking as I shot.

Although he was somewhat elusive, he did share with me that he originally came from Des Moines Iowa and had spent time in Minneapolis before moving with his family to Southern Calif. He said that he hung around the area because a program of some type offers money if he attends a class and checks in on a regular basis.  He also admitted that he had a drug problem, and was/is an addict although he said that he rarely used any more. 

He nodded his head when I asked if meth was his drug of choice, though he didn't want to discuss it any further.

In a display of street wisdom, he admitted that his friends often led him astray and he would be better off staying away from them.

I had a hard time getting him to look me in the eye/camera while I was speaking with him. I suspect he was a little intimidated by the constant clicking of the shutter and my moving around.

After a time, he revealed that he was in his forties and that people called him Rob or Robbie. He didn't tell me that Rob was his name, I suspect that it is not. I felt lucky that he gave me what people call him. I suspect that he didn't fully trust me, as I did not fully trust him. He likely is a registrant who fails to do so or has some other unresolved legal issues, or he could just be evasive by nature.

It appears that Rob is using some of the services available to him, he was relatively clean for someone on the streets. He had a very hard time maintaining a train of thought, through chronic drug abuse, mental issues or a combination of both - there is something going on there.

After 10 minutes or so, he grew tired of answering questions, I grew weary of asking them. I clicked my camera off and paid the man. A deal after all is a deal.

I'll submit the above photos, we'll see how that works out. I hope that the twenty I gave Rob goes to good use, but I have my doubts. What he thinks is good use may be different than my view. Frankly, as far as I'm concerned he earned it, he can do with it what he wants. If he does find a less than ideal use for it, I hope he is discreet about it. I would hate to see the Hometown F.D. boys roll on Rob as a result of the windfall that I gave him.

I hope that somehow Rob can improve his lot in life and not become one of the many homeless people that die in the weeds somewhere, then be cremated and buried with no one knowing or caring. Time will tell on that.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Her reply did not instill confidence,...
    Likely because it wasn't meant to; it was meant as a polite deterrent. As is typical of most of us (men), hints don't work.

    ...however I figured she pretty much knew what she was getting when she married me...
    Surprise! Your new hubby comes with a list of features that your mother never warned you about and that biological science hasn't quite treed. Have fun!

    ...and she should expect unusual behavior...
    'Expect' is one thing; being told to 'put your seat belt on and brace yourself' is something else.

    I was psychologically committed...
    You're committed alright. Just wait until some LEO in upstate New York sees your photos and wants to talk to you about the possible whereabouts of the subject, who turns out to be a violent screw up that makes Charles Manson look like a kindergarten kid.

    The first photo is pretty good. I'd rank the last as a close second. All are solid, technically speaking, which is nice because it allows the viewer to appreciate the subject without the distraction of some kind of artistic parlor trick that didn't quite work out. Rob's grill is a dead giveaway to the meth habit. Too bad.

    Nice job.

  2. Mad Jack - Ahh, a scholar in matrimonial relationships. Where were you 25 years ago when The Saint was a young woman with a small shred of hope still available to her?

    As far as the LEO from NY goes - yeah, I'd dime Rob off. Crazy or not, crime is crime.

    Those two are my favorite as well, although I like the one where he is actually looking at me too. it took a while for that to happen.

    Glad you like the pics, thanks for the comment.

  3. Cap,

    Whatever Rob makes of himself, in those few minutes conversation you treated him with more dignity and respect than he's probably had in a while. And while the odds are long, ridiculously so, that could be all it takes.

    Good on ya.


  4. BGM - You well may be right, it didn't appear that Rob's interpersonal relationship skills were very well practiced. Although we should all hope for a life changing (for the positive) event for Rob, I think he was just very, very happy to get the twenty.

    I must say that I was happy to get the pics!

    Thanks for the comment.