This particular day started like any other. I had to stop at the bank before work, so I left home early. Not knowing how long my business would take, I put 2 hours worth in the meter. To my surprise, I was back by my vehicle with 1hr 40min still showing on the meter. I was about to get in when I spotted Gregor and his cart coming up the sidewalk.
"Hello Gregor," I said as I approached.
"Hey young man!" Gregor said excitedly. "Is today the day for a picture, or shall I play you a song?"
"You're a musician and an artist, huh?" I inquired.
"I plays the harmonica," Gregor replied. "The Blues, of course. Any favorites?"
"I like the Lightnin' Hopkins song about the little boy and the mill and...." I started.
Not needing any further clues, Gregor exclaimed, "Whoa!! Mister Charley!!" He played the harmonica as well as anyone I've ever heard. I stood in amazement as he played. He seemed as lost in the music as I was and I pondered what he might be thinking. He finished the song and carefully placed the harmonica back in his coat pocket. I pulled a $20 bill from my wallet and showed it to Gregor.
I said, "You can have this on one condition. I want you to have lunch with me."
Gregor looked puzzled but agreed. There was a sandwich shop less than a block away and we started walking. I imagined what people driving by must have been thinking. I was in a coat and tie and Gregor was in his coat and rags. He was a black man probably mid to late 50's. It was hard to guess not knowing how long the streets had been wearing on him. He sore a knit cap covering his hair (it was late autumn in Charlotte, NC), but his beard and moustache was a combination of black and grey.
We arrived at the sandwich shop. I opened the door and motioned Gregor inside. He was hesitant, but walked inside and then stepped to the side. I went in and he followed me to the counter.
"What can I get you, Gregor?" I asked.
"Ham and cheese, young man, just lots of ham and cheese," Gregor replied.
I paid, got our food and some drinks, and led Gregor to a table near the back corner, thinking he would be more comfortable there.
We sat and began to talk. Gregor was devouring his sandwich and I did my best to keep pace so he wouldn't feel bad. I didn't know how long it had been since he had a warm meal. As we were finishing, I started asking more questions. I inquired about his art and music skills. I tried not to get too personal, just general questions about life. In a way, I guess I was looking for advice. I did have a job and a roof over my head, but I wasn't at a "great place" in my life.
Gregor picked up on my search for answers and asked, "you seem to be on top of the world, why you askin' me questions? What makes you think I know anything?"
"Things may look great, but I'm not doing so well. Of course, I feel like an idiot telling you I have problems," I said
"Problems are relative, young man," Gregor said without missing a beat. "You deal with yours same as I deal with mine, best you can."
I asked Gregor about love and being in love. He bellowed a hearty laugh and said, "men have been screwing things up as long as women have been around to see us do it." He shook his head and a pensive expression took over his face. He told me what he remembered about his love and he spoke longingly. I envisioned a beautiful, black woman in a red and white checkered dress, standing on the porch of a little country home. I envied Gregor in that moment. But alas, we decided that love would remain a mystery. Unfortunately, the time had come.
I laid the $20 bill on the table in front of Gregor and said, "I've enjoyed sharing a meal with you today."
"The pleasure was all mine, young man. I can't thank you enough," Gregor replied.
We shook hands and parted ways. I learned so much that day that words cannot express. Not just from conversation, but from the experience as a whole. I never found out why Gregor ended up on the streets. I realized that day it didn't matter. Someone was placed in my path that needed help and I had the ability to help them, so I did. I think I probably got more out of the meal than he did. I gave him a little money and fed him for a day. I learned life lessons that some 15 years later are still helping me be a better man.
I never got to speak to Gregor again. I saw him a couple of more times as I driving. Then, he was just gone. I will never know for sure what became of Gregor. But wherever he is and whatever happened, I like to think that his problems are relative, and he's dealing with them as best he can.