April 24, 2015 - Edgar Allan (3rd person I approached)
Every day is a new beginning. A new opportunity, and a window of chance to doing something, anything, differently. I was downtown and had planned to meet with a friend, then walk around and find someone to have lunch with me. A late lunch.
By the time I had finished my meeting, it was already 5pm, and then the skies opened up. It got dark and stormy looking. It started hailing. And hailing, and hailing. From the warmth and comfort of the coffee shop, I watched people dodging in and out of doorways to avoid getting wet. Other than that, the sidewalks were empty. It created the perfect canvas for the hail to cover everything in it’s frozen whiteness.
I wondered what the chances of finding someone on the street to chat with would be. I waited it out in the coffee shop long enough, that the staff actually cleared my cup and replaced it with a glass of water.
In between the changing degrees of light, I decided to make a break for it. Friday evening, downtown, heading towards the DTES (Downtown Eastside), the sidewalks were mostly populated with people waiting for busses, taking cover under awnings, in doorways and at bus shelters.
There’s an eight block radius that I usually walk when I’m out to meet someone to join me for a meal. The sidewalks are always busier than the vehicle traffic on these blocks. Today was a little different. The sidewalks weren’t deserted. There were people still out selling cigarettes sheltering under umbrellas. Other people selling all sorts of random items were certainly fewer than on a non-rain day, but there was still some industrious folks with assorted wares for sale.
Most of the people that were still out in the rain had created shelters for themselves. Tarps made out of black plastic garbage bags, odd pieces of tarp-like material held up with rope forming shelters. Some tarps were stretched between a collection of shopping buggies. People huddled together under their makeshift shelters. For many, it’s just another day on East Hastings Street. Inclement weather does not allow people to suddenly find shelter out of the cold wet of an April downpour.
The first person I approached was a woman selling cigarettes. She listened intently to what I had to say. Shaking her head no, in an accent that sounded Italian, she told me her English wasn't too good, and told me she didn’t want to chat.
The second person I asked to chat was a man sitting on the sidewalk, under the cover of a pub's awning. He’d found the only dry patch of sidewalk. He was gazing intently into space, and had a small, fresh cut on his face. While I was telling him about my project, I wasn’t sure he was taking in what I was saying, even though he was making direct eye contact.
“Nah man, not today,” he said, apologetically.
There was a man nearby who had been listening to me, while I was describing The Stranger Project to the guy with the cut on his face. He asked me what the story was for, and when I told him, he volunteered to chat with me. I asked if he’d let me take his photograph, and explained it would be posted online.
“Sure that’s fine. I’ve been on the news before,” he said. I told him I was hoping we could chat over a meal at the nearby diner. Edgar Allan, who uses both first names, gathered his belongings and we headed off to have something to eat. He had three small, unframed paintings and a wood carving with him.
“I’m a painter and carver. This is my work,” he said. He sells his work on the streets to supplement his income.
We were about two blocks from the diner when Edgar Allan asked me if he could bring his girlfriend along, while we chatted. He explained that he lived nearby, and he could go and get her.
"We’ll share a sandwich or something, and she’ll be quiet. But I’d like her to be there. Would that be okay?” Ordinarily, I prefer to chat one-on-one. I find when there’s a third person, the dynamic and potentially the story, change. But I figured it was a thoughtful, and nice of him to consider his girlfriend, and want her to join us. I said I’d go ahead and grab a table while he dropped off his artwork and brought his girlfriend.
Edgar Allan never showed up. This was a first, new, and unexpected. Once before had I made arrangements to meet someone via telephone. The lady wasn't able to chat with me on the day I had approached her, but she said I should call her in two days time, and she'd meet with me, and chat then. She didn't make it that day either.
I waited about thirty minutes to see if perhaps Edgar Allan was just delayed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to leave the diner and head out to find another story, or if I was going to go home. I wasn't sure what I was going to do. After thirty minutes, I started to write while I waited. I ordered some food, and decided I’d write a story about how today story had unfolded. Perhaps it’s a little like an episode of Seinfeld - all about nothing.
That’s the beauty of being open to the unknown, allowing things to unfold as they will. Fluidity and ambiguity. Embracing change and being open to things happening, doesn’t guarantee that things happen as I would want them to. But being open to whatever it is, allows me to accept that things happen as they will.
Everyone has a story. I hope I’ll see Edgar Allan another time, and perhaps find out what kept him from going me for a chat. Thankfully, the only feeling I’m embracing now is that I hope everything was okay. #notastranger #beinghungrysucks
Today’s story is sponsored by the Save On Meat diner, and their charitable organization, A Better Life Foundatio