This was the thirteenth in a series—- a column I used to do called “Horse with No Names” about the strangers that I met in my life.
May 2004, San Francisco
On Wednesday I stopped at a crossing light next to a homeless man that was pushing an overloaded shopping cart. I said good morning to him, he nodded and returned the greeting. I had not written anything in awhile for my column ‘Horses with No Names’ series because quite frankly there was no one that really stood out. When I write, I want words of honesty to come from my heart or I will not tell the story.
I really wanted this man to know someone gave a damn so I asked him his name. He told me it was Tony, but everyone called him “Caveman”. I looked directly into his eyes and could feel he had a story in him that I wanted to know. I asked him if I could take a picture and he nodded affirmatively and we crossed the street.
As I took his picture I asked him how he got his name and he told me that he had received it when he belonged to ‘The Rainbow Family Gathering’. Not quite knowing what that was I Googled it and found out it was communities of people, who congregate in remote forests around the world for one or more weeks at a time with the stated intention of living a shared ideology of peace, harmony, freedom, and respect.
Tony told me that at one of the gatherings someone had given him two large bones for his dogs and he ran around with one in each hand like a mad man. Looking at his wild dreads and envisioning the scenario in my mind I had no problem seeing this vision quite clearly how he got the name. He then told me he was exactly 36.9 years old as he counted the 9 months that he was in his mother’s womb as part of his age.
Tony was a really good person in his heart. I asked him what he would like people to know about him. Immediately words rushed out telling me that all he cared about was his fellow man. He told me he lived his life much like the film “Pay it Forward”. In one of my favourite movies 11 year old Trevor (Hayley Joel Osment) carries forth a teaching assignment to put into action a pyramid scheme based on doing good deeds rather than for profit. The recipient of the favour passes the favour to someone else and so on. How grand would this be if we all lived like this?
Tony told me if anyone needed a coat for the Bay area chill he was the first one to offer his and he asked for nothing in return. For Tony it is all about unconditional love. He has no worldly goods, so he looks for nothing else and he loves life. As I grasped his hand to thank him I could feel the energy of love come through his hand to mine.
When we get up every day do we live our life like Tony?
Do we appreciate what we have?
Do we take life for granted?
I walked away from Tony with a lot of questions in my mind. Who is giving Tony the unconditional love that he so richly deserves? There are so many cuts to county, provincial and federal budgets that have left little for people that need it the most.
Who loves them?
Most people have never really sat down and got to know a homeless person. I do stories on them because they are no different than you or me– they just have a different story.
Update July 2022
So why did I decide to tell this story this week?
Last week I had a woman who was 62 call me and ask if I knew a good place for her to camp. I asked her why she was camping, and she immediately told me she had been evicted. What if your own mother told you she was camping because she was homeless?
For far too long we have dealt with homelessness by warehousing folks in emergency shelters — if you can find room. Things will never change if politicians, media and most importantly us think the current solutions are okay. I was lucky after being on the phone for a few hours to find a temporary roof over her head– but, nothing is permanent. So when life gets hard, try to remember the life you complain about is only a dream to some people.
Poverty and homelessness have become the norm. Homeless people that die on the street is not news. In contrast– a drop in the stock market is. Just remember that person on the street is someone’s father or someone’s mother and they all have a story. Unfortunately, we have come dangerously close to accepting the homeless situation as a problem that we just can’t solve.