Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Homeless in Oklahoma City, OK: Jim

I first met Jim when I found him busking on a downtown street corner. Finding a parking place, I walked backed to his corner and watched daytime crowd ebb and flow in front of him.

Sitting on the sidewalk, leaning back against the steel box that housed the traffic signal controls, he played an improvisational piece on his wooden flute.  People stopped to listen, some tapping a foot in time with the riff, others smiling and then moving on down the sidewalk. When the crowd had all left and we were alone, I sat down and asked him about his music and his life.

Jim was talkative and very animated, waving his hand about as he spoke. I asked if he ever used a sign or played on the corners of the highway at intersections. He said no, he was more of a traditionalist; he just turned his cap upside down on the ground in front of him and the people dropped their money into the hat.

These images are from our first encounter
where he played his flute which hung
from his neck on a piece of leather. 
Over the course of several months I found Jim around town often. Through a lot of conversations, I leaned Jim is a veteran and spent much time in the Northwest doing whatever labor he could find. For a long stretch, he had a wonderful female companion while doing farm work, but life and times se them adrift, each held by different currents. He still misses her company and comfort, he says.

Jim often talked about the characters he met on the road and in the homeless camps. Some good, some bad and some indifferent; he found a few that were truly evil. and he tried to stay as far from them as possible.

The last time I talked to Jim,
he was carrying his old Army duffle bag
and sitting on a bench at the Crystal Bridge
in downtown Oklahoma City.
Jim told some awful tales about men who would prey on other homeless people, days living on nothing to eat and days when someone stole what little he had. Jim told of a time he fell in with some truly bad men near Seattle and was afraid for his life till he got away from them. 

Even living a life few of us could imagine, Jim seems to be at peace with himself and with the world. I always enjoyed my time with him, listening to his tales of the road.  He helped me put my life into perspective when I reflected on how I might have handled his circumstances.

Human perseverance and the will to make the best of our lot shines through in some people and it did in Jim.

Words and Images by Al Griffin