A few summers ago I had the privilege of breaking bread with a wonderful couple who resided at the time in the Pittsburgh area. I’ve seen Rick and Carol on occasion but only in passing from the parking garage to my office building which was just a few yards in between. 

Neither one of us really paid much attention to the other before, but that was until one day when Rick shouted something from across the street that caught this old retired Marine’s attention.

“Semper Fi!” Rick hollered at me from a street corner along North Shore Drive. I believe it was my olive drab drop bag emblazoned with a large embroidered eagle, globe, and anchor that may have given me away.  

Nonetheless, I instinctively turned my head and eyes in his direction and to my amusement I witnessed this highly motivated American patriot standing at attention in the middle of Pittsburgh while rendering a salute! I grinned and I knew that my day was about to get interesting.

Rick and I exchanged some pleasantries and it wasn’t long before I found out that he too was a veteran. An Army brat as he calls himself, but nonetheless a fellow comrade-in-arms. I opened up my bag and offered my new compatriot part of my daily rations - two cold bottles of water I had stuffed inside a plastic Wal-Mart bag posing as a makeshift lunch box. 

I watched as he knocked back one of the bottles as if he hadn't drunk in days and then remembered just how precious clean drinking water was to a person who is homeless, something I take for granted each and every day. Rick and his wife Carole had been living out on the streets of Pittsburgh for two years after a series of unfortunate events had led them to become indigent. 

“Life out here ain’t no joke, man! It’s not what people think.” 

Rick reminded me of this several more times throughout our conversation while also mentioning how strongly this message needs to be heard by other people. Presumably to help others avoid becoming homeless themselves. And that gave me an idea. What if I could share Rick’s story with others through my writing? What sort of things would I learn or even convey about the plight of the down-and-out?

“What are you doing later on today Rick?”  I asked.

“I’ll be over at Gateway today.”  He replied

“Do you want to have lunch?”  I blurted.

Rick’s expression was that of someone who was taken totally by surprise. I guess he wasn’t expecting someone to ask him that today. He wasn’t the only one. I couldn't even believe what I had said either.

“OK,”  Rick cautiously but graciously accepted my invitation.

My heart began to race since this is so uncharacteristic of my typical anti-social behavior. I mean, I have trouble enough eating lunch with my co-workers in the breakroom for fear of what I may or may not say and now I’ve invited a homeless man to lunch! 

“Great,” I nervously replied. “Let’s meet here at 12 o’clock.” 

I confirmed our meeting as I pointed towards the rallying point, a friendly little pub which stood just a few feet away from where we were. Rick smiled and we went on about our daily work – me in my cubicle hustling word docs and spreadsheets for corporate execs while Rick and his wife panhandled passersby for spare change at the Gateway Center downtown.

Back at the office, I recruited a good friend and fellow co-worker to come join us for lunch because as my sales pitch to Susan had indicated it would be best if there were someone else to round out my meeting with Rick and Carole. 

Twelve o’clock came and Susan and I entered the pub only to discover we had inadvertently walked right by Rick and his lovely wife who happened to be sitting on the bench just outside! After sincerely apologizing for having overlooked them, I introduced Rick and Carol to my co-worker Susan. We then made our way inside the restaurant where we were seated by the hostess. 

“I’ll have an orange juice,”  Rick responded to the friendly waitress’s inquiry. 

“That sounds good, I think I’ll have an orange juice too,”  I added.

Carol enjoyed a cup of coffee, black, while Susan asked for some water, hold the lemon.

After looking over the menu I remember Rick ordered the Buffalo Chicken salad, Carol a cheeseburger and fries, Susan had the shrimp bucket, while I had a simple salad.

Before we ate I asked if we could take a moment to pray over our meal together. Everyone obliged and I thanked God not only for the food we were about to eat but also for the new friends He had brought into my life.

A few minutes into our meal I noticed Rick had stopped eating. Looking me dead in my eyes Rick asked with great curiosity, “If you are going to share my story then when you are you gonna start writing stuff down?”

One thing I quickly learned about Rick was that he doesn't miss a beat. He isn’t afraid to call something out into question. A bit embarrassed I began to take out the mini notepad from inside my trouser pocket which I had every intention of bringing it out earlier but didn’t want to appear rude. 

Nonetheless, I was beginning to realize just how important writing this story was to Rick. And after noticing the black tear drop shaped tattoo under his left eye I began to wonder what I was getting myself into.

Did I bite off more than I could chew by taking this assignment? Do I dare ask Rick about the meaning behind his facial tattoo? Was I about to get more than I bargained for?

These questions and more would soon be answered but it was their responses and reactions during this interview that would leave a lasting impression upon me.

To be continued...  

 

Published by Dennis Miranda