This is Obie
This is Obie. He is a homeless man in Nashville, Tennessee. I met him one night as I was walking to a downtown convenience store to purchase a lottery ticket. As I was walking down the street, he came up to me and asked if he could have a dollar to get a coffee, as it was cold and about to snow. I explained to him that I didn’t have any more cash than the dollar that I was going to spend on a lottery ticket, so I said that if he would come to the convenience store with me I would purchase a coffee for him. I gave him a cigarette and we walked toward the store, chatting as we smoked. After arriving at the corner where the store is located, I asked him if he wanted a nip of whiskey to put in his coffee, but he declined; he opted for a banana instead, to which I cheerfully agreed. I went into the convenience store, ordered him a cappuccino (the coffee they had on tap was cold according to the guy behind the counter), and bought my ticket. The first three numbers of the ticket (a Mega Millions ticket) were 11, 22, and 33 by completely random chance. I poured in a bunch of sugar as per Obie’s request, and said goodbye to the proprietor. Handing him the coffee, I said goodbye, and we parted ways. On the way back to my condo, I was stopped by a young man who had seen me buy Obie the coffee. He said how people seldom do things like that for strangers and was impressed by my generosity. He inquired about my pea coat, which was nearly identical to the one he was wearing, as he had been on active duty in the Navy and was wondering if I had been as well. I answered in the negative, and explained to him how I had moved here to pursue my love of photography. Before we parted ways, I gave him my contact information and bid him adieu.
The next day I decided to go out and take photos as I am wont to do from time to time, and I ended up walking down 5th Avenue toward Union Street. I took a couple of shots, and upon noticing a deranged man yelling at himself across the street decided to cross and take his picture. I lost the nerve to do so, and then turned around, seeing Obie waving to me from the crosswalk. I said hello to him, and he asked me if I could get him something to eat. I explained to him that I had but 80 dollars to my name at the moment, and though I would gladly get him another coffee, I couldn’t give him cash, as I didn’t have any on me. He thanked me for the offer, saying that he was not cold today but merely hungry. Two corporate types passed by us, completely underdressed for the weather in their short sleeve button-down shirts and slacks and walked up the set of stairs next to us. Obie asked them for help, but they didn’t respond. At this moment, I said “Fuck it.”
“Obie, here is the deal. You tell me your story, and I will buy you a sandwich over at that Subway.”
He responded in the affirmative, and we walked into the sandwich shop.
Due to my lack of funds, I originally agreed to split a sandwich with him, but while we were in the shop I decided that would not be correct so I told him to get whatever 5 dollar footlong he wanted. He ended up getting the same as I had, a footlong tuna with a ton of veggies, two chocolate chip cookies, and a drink. After getting the sandwiches, he was about to walk out of the door to go and eat outside, and I said “You don’t have to eat outside. Come sit down.”
We sat there and I asked him his story and he asked me mine. He told me that he had been a longshoreman in Gulfport, Mississippi. The job had enticed him from a young age, as he was making 9 dollars an hour as a high school student in the summer of 1969, which translates into a purchasing power of around 52 dollars today. The work wasn’t easy, and it was incredibly dangerous. He would unload 110-pound sacks of sugar and fertilizer from huge palates that were often swung from the ship onto the dock. Any mistake could result in death from being struck by a mass of several tons swinging at high speed. Obie also explained that he spent 21 years living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania before returning to the Gulf Coast to work again on the docks. All of this changed in 2005.
Immediately following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, Obie and all of his coworkers were suddenly out of a job. Even the foremen were suddenly jobless, having received no indication that they would be not working after the clean-up was complete. Desperate, he moved away from the Gulf Coast and eventually to Nashville, where he is homeless to this day.
Of the things that struck me about Obie, none were as striking as his hands. His hands spoke the truth of his story. You could see the years of hard work etched both without and within them, their crackled surface telling a tale of hardship, their immense size a fable of strength. I am gracious to the world to have had the ability to meet him so that I may help to tell that story so that one day his world might change.