Project 50/50: Savannah Streets

“Do you smoke crack?” he asked me as he lifted himself onto his toes to inspect the inside of my truck from the other side of the passenger door. I was shocked by the assertive tone he used when asking the question. I looked around and then at Michael, hoping that someone would explain. Michael just stared at me, waiting for an answer. I was intimidated by his dark skinned, broad shouldered brother, and I was afraid. Last time I was asked that question was in the projects of Peoria, and the evening ended with gun toting threats and a negative 200 dollars. I choked out “No.”

“Are you sure?” he asked me with his eyebrow raised. “Yes! What’s with this?” I burst with confusion. Michael’s brother apologized and chuckled. “Savannah is a hard city, and when I first moved here, no one helped me out. I can see where you stay.” He nodded toward the inside of the truck, and I looked over my shoulder at the back of the cab. The blankets and pillows made it pretty obvious. “I stay at the motel up the street,” he continued. “And Michael sleeps on the floor sometimes. We have extra blankets, so you’re welcome to stay there as long as you promise not to smoke any crack around my little girl.”

I was ashamed. Michael’s brother was a thug by all accounts, but he was more generous than anyone else I had met in Georgia. This man, who had practically nothing, was still willing to offer up the floor of his only room.

After his brother walked away to “take care of some business,” Michael and I sat at the gas station for another hour, talking about things like societal issues, why he participates in the gang culture of Savannah, and what he believed would have to happen before things would start to change.

As we sat in the truck with the engine running, trying to stay warm in the cool Savannah evening, I watched as the manager of the Quick Stop closed the doors and shut off the lights. It was well after 1:00 a.m., and I wondered at the mystery of these friendships forged in parking lots. I was the only vehicle parked on the street, and I wondered if I should move up the road to the El Cheapo station or the Time Saver where the lights might still be on. Michael must have read the concern on my face as we talked, because he assured me “as long as you’re with me, you’re fine.”

I was aware that this meant that all the people who might typically hurt me were also Michael’s friends. Great. If there was a moment where I questioned his integrity, God was intent to prove his character.

As our conversation continued into a discussion of a more philosophical nature, a man wandered into the parking lot. He was an older black man wearing a yellow and black flannel shirt, stumbling as he approached the double doors of the Quick Stop. He was obviously drunk, and when he pulled on the door handle of the darkened gas station, I almost thought it was funny. He stared up at the building in confusion, and Michael rolled down the window. “It’s closed,” he said and began to roll the window back up. The man turned to stare at the truck, and took a step toward us with his hand out, making a grunting noise. Michael turned to look at me. His face said “Oh shit, I didn’t mean for him to come over here. Sorry.” But he turned back to the window and rolled it the rest of the way down with a smile. By the time the man got to the truck, Michael was already asking him my favorite question. “Whatcha need man? How can I help you?”

I could smell him from my side of the truck. The stench of booze and dirt was overwhelming. The man simply grunted and rested his weight on the door. Michael asked an easier question. “What’s your name?” the man slowly blinked and his eyes focused on Michael’s face. “Bobo,” he said. Michael laughed. “Bobo! Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. Where do you stay, Bobo?” he said as his eye caught a bracelet fastened onto Bobo’s wrist, just barely poking out from underneath the flannel. Michael turned the bracelet to read it. “Oh, you just got out of the hospital today, huh?”

Our new friend nodded, and Michael sighed. “You got a place to stay?” he asked. Bobo grunted and nodded, but Michael wasn’t buying it. He continued, “You know the shelter is up over the bridge. The bus will take you there, and the bus stop is across the street. If I were you, that’s what I would do. You need to get some coffee and sober up.”

Bobo leaned back off the truck and looked toward the bus stop. He nodded. Then he sighed as he stuck his left hand back in the window and tried to shift his focus back to Michael’s face. He grunted the word “change” with his hand open and his palm up. Michael didn’t even look at me. With his eyes fixed on Bobo’s face, he tried to explain. “I don’t have any money man. I’m out here too. I’m gonna be stayin at that shelter again myself if my bro doesn’t let me sleep on the floor.” Bobo was unsympathetic. His eyes were sad, but his hand didn’t move from its place inside the window. Nothing was said for a long 15 seconds and I wondered if I should interrupt the moment. I had a jar full of change behind my seat, but something inside me told me to keep my mouth shut.

I watched as Michael let out all the air saved up in his chest and reached into the front pocket of his jeans. When he opened his fist, it was mostly full of pocket lint. In his palm he held a few pieces of change, and he carefully counted out the pennies. “It’s only 13 cents man, but it’s everything I got. It won’t cover the bus fare across town, but it will get ya started.”

My spirit moaned. Why is it that the people with nothing are the first to give it away? I reached behind my seat and dug out a handful of quarters. I gave it all to Bobo. “That should cover it dude,” I said as Michael smiled at me and nodded. “I’m going to walk him across the street to the bus stop. You’ll wait right here?” he asked me with his hand on the door handle. I nodded. I wasn’t going anywhere.

(Photographer: Shay Kelley/Project 50/50)






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