The sign reads: “Please Spare Change I’m Stuck Need Food & A BUS Ticket HOME -Thanx”
I met Kelvin just outside my 50 floor hotel in Las Vegas on a colder than expected Thursday morning in November. I first saw him, seated against a concrete pillar, hands in his pockets and the hand-written cardboard sign leaned against his shins, when I was out with my wife to buy some post cards. We passed him going to and coming from the shops.
We saw a number of homeless people on the Las Vegas strip. Most were on or near the pedestrian over-bridges to maximize traffic for their panhandling. Most appeared to be well established in the lifestyle. I’d overheard two men whom I would guess to be in their late 50’s talking while riding the bus back from the old downtown casinos to our hotel on the strip about 1 am the night before. They were on the bus to stay warm and one was trying to sleep leaning forward in his seat. Their conversation revolved around meeting later at McDonald’s to see if either had found a real place to sleep for the night. They were veterans of the Las Vegas streets.
But Kelvin struck me as not totally lost yet. I don’t know if it was his younger age, the trace of normalcy in his appearance or the thousand yard stare that made me go back with my camera and have a chat. He said he’s been in Vegas for 3 days since he ran out of money trying to get home to Washington DC. He got here from Los Angeles. He got there from China after the government repatriated him. He went to China because he thought someone was trying to kill him. He thought someone was trying to kill him because he got hit by a car. He showed me a massive scar on his lower left leg that looked like his it had been broken and both ends of the bone tore through the skin. He had a proper handshake and seemed happy to talk to someone. I did not entirely buy his story because I am a skeptic, but he was not selling it per se, just sharing answers to the loose questions I was asking. Perhaps I should have bought him breakfast and pursued a conversation instead of kneeling on the pavement amongst the passers by and piecing together a predictable dialogue.
Kelvin got a few bucks and what was left of a 24-hour local bus pass to save him from walking on his bad leg until it expired at 7:42 pm. I got a memory of Las Vegas that includes a brief interaction with a kid sitting quietly on a sidewalk along Las Vegas Boulevard with a sign asking for spare change. I have a guilty feeling that I should have done more.