Almost every day for four years, I’ve driven the same route to work. Almost every day I’ve driven that route, I’ve seen him.
He’s a middle-aged African American man with dread locks. He always looks weary. Sometimes he smokes a cigarette. He carries a worn fatigue green duffel bag and wears two coats.
Every time I see him, he is sitting on the same concrete bench on State Street in downtown Dover, Delaware.
He may come from the homeless shelter when they let everyone out in the morning. He may sleep somewhere else at night. I don’t know.
All I know is just before 8 a.m., he turns up on the concrete bench, and that is where he sits until the Dover Public Library opens. I know this; I’ve seen him there when I’ve stopped in to return books on my lunch break.
He couldn’t have picked a better place. I might have picked it, too. From his vantage point, he can see most of State Street both north and south, as well as east looking down Loockerman Street (pronounced lock-er-man) toward the library.
That particular area is lined with gorgeous trees. They may be elm, or maple.
One morning, I was a bit early, and I saw him, trundling along, his duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He was headed to his usual place on the bench.
Then he stopped at one of the tallest trees, just in front of his bench.
There was trash at the base of the tree. A soggy white paper bag — a fast food bag, perhaps — was caught in the metal grate above the roots of the tree.
Without a word, he bent to pick it up. A wrought-iron trash can was just a few steps away. By this time, I was passing him, and I saw him shake his head and throw the garbage away.
Then, in my rear view mirror, I saw the look of disappointment (frustration, maybe?) on his face before he headed to his bench.
As I drove on, I caught my own thoughtful expression in the rear view mirror.
It occurred to me later that the bench is the homeless man’s couch.
The brick sidewalk is his floor.
The metal grate is his rug.
The tree canopy is his ceiling.
The street is his home.
And some jerk threw a wet paper bag right in the middle of his living room.