He sits on the steps of the Shell Station. A backpack beside him. His skin is rawhide. His beard is white.
His name is Buck. He’s from North Carolina. He fought in Korea, and completed two tours in Vietnam.
He’s not here begging, he’s resting his feet.
“My old feet hurt more’n they used to,” says Buck. “It’s hard getting old, buddy.”
There is a half-smoked cigar next to him. He dug it from an ashtray. It still has life in it, he says.
He’s sipping coffee.
“First cup’a Joe I had in a week,” he tells me. “Fella gave me a quarter, few minutes ago. Piled my coins together to buy me a cup.”
When Buck went inside to buy it, there were only cold dregs left. He asked the cashier if it were possible to brew a fresh pot. She told him to get lost.
So, he’s drinking dregs—for which he is grateful.
There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them.
His bloody toes poke through the fronts. His middle toenail is missing.
Buck explains, “God says, ‘Don’t worry what you’ll eat drink or wear.’ That’s hard sometimes. Specially when you ain’t eaten.”
I walk inside the gas station on a mission. I ask the aforementioned cashier to brew a fresh pot of coffee—for me. I am very nice about it.
She smiles and says, “Sure, sweetie.”
Ain’t she sweet.
I buy a hot cup, an armful of snacks, and a pack of Swisher Unsweetened Mini-Cigars. I give them to Buck, and I tuck a bill into his hand. I wish I had something bigger, but I don’t.
Buck starts crying.
And the truth is, I’m embarrassed to even be telling you this. Because this story isn’t about me—it’s about Buck.
“Did you know that I see God in you?” Buck tells me through glazed eyes.
And now I’m the one who’s crying.
I stumble over my own words. All I can get out is, “Thank you for your service.”
I’m a bumbling fool.
He gets up to walk away. His big backpack must weigh a hundred pounds.
“Going to Walmart,” he says. “Gon’ buy new shoes. Gon’ get me a hot pizza, man. Yessir, I just saw God on the street corner.”
And he’s gone.
I’m spoiled. I’m lazy. I’m selfish. And sometimes, I get so lost in my own self-centered world that I can’t see.
I just met someone. An invisible someone. A man who—despite whatever his problems may be—isn’t lost. A man who knows things. Who smokes used cigars.
He sleeps in the open air, counting stars, covered by a military-issue blanket. He prays for heaven to feed him every day.
A man who people overlook because it’s easier that way. Who asked me for nary a thing.
Mister Buck, sir. Today, you met a spoiled redhead who happened to have a few extra dollars. A kid who wishes he could do more for an American hero, but is too dumb to know how.
You’re wrong, sir. You didn’t see God on a street corner today.