118 total vehicles were parked today along South Skinker Blvd from Oakland Avenue, the south border of the park to Lindell Blvd, the north border of the park. Of these vehicles, 52 were pickup trucks. That’s a lot of pickup trucks! I see them every day as I drive north on Skinker toward Studio 858 where I teach photography classes and do commercial, corporate and portrait photography. Why so many trucks? This is America, my friend, and this is also where the workers on Washington University’s latest construction project park their vehicles.
If you drive there in the afternoon about 3:30, you will see the construction workers clad in overalls walking back to their steeds, helmets on their heads and lunch pails in their hands. Today I walked the western side of the park, counting the cars and trucks that I saw there (when I told this to Rebecca, upon picking her up from school at the end of the day, she said, “Who does that?” to which I replied, “I do, weren’t you listening just now?”).
The parking spaces ended at Lagoon Drive, one of the main entrances to the park, but I continued my walk and went as far as the Northwest corner of the park, where Lindell meets Skinker. I was expecting to find Sherry there, an older woman (she looks like she’s 70, but she is younger than I) who frequently begs on that corner, standing by her walker and holding the standard cardboard sign informing the world that she is homeless. Instead I found Jamar.
“How is this corner working out for you?” I asked.
“Not very good.” he replied. “I get a few dollars from people, enough for lunch and sometimes supper.”
And that is how the conversation started. He was, he told me, a former student at Mizzou, there on a baseball scholarship when he became injured. Rather than waiting out the injury and staying there at Mizzou, he was tempted by an agent’s offer of $5000 to go pro with a farm team for Detroit, and work a 10 game renewable contract.
“For a college kid,” he informed me, “$5000 is like a million; it’s a lot of money.” Unfortunately, he suffered more injuries and was told “nicely” that the team couldn’t use him anymore.
“I don’t blame them.” he said. “They can’t pay people who can’t work.”
Then he was on for 10 years at Sprint, but on a company trip to Kansas City was injured in an auto accident. The company required a drug test at the hospital and he tested positive for marijuana.
“I never came to work high or nothing like that, but I did smoke occasionally. But now, the only place I ever had a real job fired me for failing a drug test, and no one wants to hire me because of that.”
I thought about all the people I know who do smoke occasionally and what would happen to them if the same stringent standards were applied at their workplaces.
“Little by little I sold every thing I had. I sold my car and my motorcycle, I worked temp jobs to try to make a living, but I was used to living a certain way and it was hard to adjust. So now I’m homeless and Saint Louis is a terrible place to be homeless. Larry Rice’s (New Life Evangelistic Center) was the only place you could sleep inside on a cold night, and now that it’s gone, there are only 2 shelters for men in the whole city.”
Being familiar with the homeless situation in Saint Louis, I knew he was telling the truth, and I felt for him. He’s 31 years old in apparent good health, willing to work and having a tough time. He’s also lonely, which is not surprising. I gave him my card and a small amount of cash, wished him the best and after we shook hands and he thanked me for listening to him, I went back to my studio to get some work done.