A closer look at a few overlooked souls
If you told me back in January that I would be conversing with the homeless at some
point during my summer vacation, I would have laughed in your face. I had planned to
intern at Marvel Comics, but when those plans fell through, I agreed to participate in the
Associated Collegiate Press Summer Workshop Series in Minneapolis as part of The
Vector’s staff training. Expecting the workshops to be indoors, I was surprised when our
photojournalism instructor let us know we were going out into the field. Instructor and
Gainesville Sun photographer Matt Stamey led us to Dinkytown with one instruction:
“tell a story through your photos.” While my classmates opted for shadowing the local
business owners, I took an unexpected decision to get to know some of the interesting
characters found on the main avenue. Here are their stories.
This is Nathaniel, or as his friends call him, Tank. Why Tank? “Because I’m big and I
cost the taxpayers money.” If you cannot tell by the double entendre of his sign, Tank
does not take his situation as seriously as we might. His lighthearted attitude made him
easy to approach.
This is Earl. He is an unemployed English teacher who likes to read and play guitar.
When asked about his dog, he began to smile. It is his faithful companion. He told me he
calls the dog Death Row. Why is that so? “Because that’s where I got him,” Earl replies
with a grin, and takes another drag from his cigarette.
As seen in the case of Earl and Tank, most homeless folk did not have friends with them.
The fact these three were together drew my attention. When the woman on the left and
the man in the middle figured I was not going to give them money, they lost interest in
talking to me. The gentleman in the white was different. I asked him how his dog was. He
said she was fine, “but she has allergies so she’s tired.” He scratched her head, provoking
her to wag her tail. I asked what her name was and he said “Freya.” Recognizing the
name I said, “OH! Like the Norse goddess of love.” That is when he explained that he has
been an Odinist for 20 years and the named inspired him. Freya was a gift from one of his
daughters. In fact, he referred to her as his baby; Freya is his daughter. He explained to
me the group’s situation: they were nomadic Americans, freight train riders. The three
had already been in documentaries about freight train hopping, which is an illegal
We parted ways with a handshake. Yes, a handshake. In that moment, I did not care about
germs. This man earned my respect. Not once did he ask me for money. He simply
wanted to talk. To tell me a little about himself sufficed. This experience was truly
humbling. I recommend everyone to do the same. Take two minutes out of your day to
get to know your neighborhood “travelin’ folk”.
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