He is short. Spry. Wiry. He walks with two canes, his hips riddled with arthritis, his body twisted through years of heavy lifting, of pushing steel, of pumping iron. He is only 57 but his body is worn down, worn out like an octogenarian's. But his smile is wide. His eyes bright.
"Any day above ground is a good day," he tells me as he manoeuvres his way into my office and sits down in the blue chair across from me. "I've been coming to this place for over 35 years. I'm just stopping off for a visit on my way to Toronto to visit family and friends," he says with a laugh. "I'm not staying. Got my own place out in Vancouver now. I just like to come back to see old friends and make new ones."
He is hitch-hiking his way across Canada. West to East. "I'll probably fly back," he says. "My daughter's kinda worried about me."
He's been living in Vancouver for about ten years. The last three in his own place. "I'm real happy about that. Got a disability pension. Got me a real nice apartment downtown. I'm surrounded by million dollar condos and I pay a peanuts." He laughs. A big hearty laugh. And then he winces. "Pain gets me sometimes. I've learned to live with it but sometimes a laugh or a cough will pull the wrong way. Like me. Always pulling the wrong way through life." And he laughs again.
He's always lived 'on the move'. Travelled across Canada, the US from coast to coast many times. Had hundreds of jobs. Paid his way where ever he went, staying at shelters and flea bag hotels all over the continent.
The longest job he held was four and a half years with the 'carnie'. "I was a Supervisor. Had a crew of 37. Made good money. Real good money. But, I had a kid and I didn't want her to grow up in the Carnie."
And he laughs again. "I built a house. Set my wife and kid up and I started travelling again. And one day, I went home and they were gone."
He shrugs. "That's life."
He's been a carpenter, competition winning hair stylist, welder, plumber, electrician, restoration specialist. "I even built three houses. My dad still lives in one of them."
He likes learning how to do new things. Calls himself a jack of all trades and a Master of a 'whole bunch'. "I even painted portraits. Only thing I haven't done is heart surgery."
He is charming. Funny. Humble. Real.
And I can't get over the fact he's hitch-hiking across Canada, walking with two canes.
"Gets me lots of sympathy rides," he says. "Except for those folks of course who think I'm going to beat them with my canes."
His daughter is not happy with his choice to hitch his way. "She wanted me to fly but I figure this is probably my last trip like this. I kinda don't want to give it up. I like travelling. Liked this life. A lot."
'This life' began in his late teens. "I had my first blackout at 12," he tells me. "I was a little kid who grew up to have a Little Man Complex. Nothing scared me and with the drink, nothing hurt me."
His family always worried about him. He's had three wives. A son. A daughter.
And now, grandkids.
"I love those kids. They're why I finally got sobered up and applied for social assistance. I wanted to spend time with my grandkids and my daughter wouldn't let me unless I had my own place." He pauses. Smiles. "I love those kids. And they love me."
Family, he says, is everything.
"This place," [the homeless shelter where I work and where he is stopping by] "has always treated me like family. It's a real important place."
Here, he says, people are accepted for who they are, not who they could be if they just... And he lists the things people have told him to do and be. "Get a job. Sober up. Quit running away. Settle down."
"Settling down. It's just not in me. Even now, I have my own place and it's great and all that, but I'm a rover. Always have been. I like seeing new places, meeting new people. It don't make me bad. It just makes me who I am."
"It's why this place has always been so important to me. You're not judged on your behaviour in this place. You're accepted as a human being. Not a bum."
Life on the road today though, is different than life on the road back when he was young, he tells me.
"Back when I first came here, it was the old, old building, the one before the one that's called 'the old DI' now. You couldn't sleep there. Just get a coffee, sandwich if you were lucky. You could visit. Check in with people. I was there when they tore it down and built the new 'old DI'. Being there taught me lots. I learned how to volunteer here. Giving back became real important. I still volunteer out in Vancouver. I never wanted to be a burden. I just wanted to be free."
And now his freedom is coming to an end. "I know I can't keep doing this [hitch-hiking across the country]. My daughter's real upset and scared for me. I'm kinda scared for me too sometimes. When I left Vancouver, I tied one on. I just sorta checked out for five days. I camped along the way and I bought myself some booze and got lost. Nothing bad," he says lifting up one cane and pointing it towards me like a school teacher shaking her finger at a rowdy class. "I just had to shake out the cobwebs."
He sighs. Places his cane back to lean against the chair beside him. He slumps back into the chair.
"Sometimes, change is just real hard to take."
And he sits up again. Suddenly. A smile once again lighting up his face.
"But you know, I got my own place. I'm in a different chapter of my life now. I got my daughter. Grandkids. I even got a barbecue on my deck where I make them hot dogs and hamburgers."
He nods his head. Shakes it a bit as if he can't believe his luck.
"I just hope people know how grateful I am for what I've got. This place gave me so much, I just hope people know how important this place is."
And he struggles to get back on his feet.
"I gotta be in Toronto by the 25th. I hope I can make it."
I hope he does too.
Today is Blog Carnival Tuesday. The one word prompt for today is, "Hope". Pop on over to Bridget Chumbley's place and immerse yourself in wonder at all the great writings about Hope.
And then, drop into Carry on Tuesday where a prompt from a famous poem or prose is given to inspire more writing. Today's Carry On Tuesday prompt comes from the first words of Chapter 1 of Mark Twain's 1884 classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: You don't know about me. . . .
To read other Carry on Tuesday contributors' poems or prose for Prompt #69, go here.
To read my entry, carry on below! I've combined both Blog Carnival and Carry One Tuesday prompts in a poem.
And... it's fun. Seriously. Give it a try. Pick one or both prompts and let your creative essence flow.
you don't know
About those things
to not be
who you wanted
me to be.
you don't know me
like I used to know me.
In those times
when I lost all hope
as you see me.
you don't know
the things I did
to get here.
The people I hurt
the things I said
that kept me safe
from knowing me
you would want to know.
you can forgive me
for having used
It was my vanity
in the darkness
I had no place
in Your heart.