Johnny on “The Spot”

My friend Ron, from over on Vent, wrote a piece a week or so ago about being street smart and living in the city.   In one part he was talking about pan handlers and not getting taken in by them. It reminded me of some of our more memorable “moments” that have transpired. #2 went away to school at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Here she was a poor college student and regularly was accosted by people on the street asking for a handout. She said she rarely would give them cash but would offer to give them food and once a “lady” took her up on the offer of buying her a sandwich and actually directed #2 to a “sandwich shop” where she wanted #2 to buy her one from. She said the sandwich was like $10 which she never even paid for her own sandwiches so I think that kind of taught her a lesson.

After #2 had moved back home and had her car accident (which you can read about here) we would go to Grady Hospital in downtown Atlanta several times a day to visit. One day as I was leaving the hospital I was approached by this frail looking sort of middle aged looking black gentleman. He handed me a (wet) piece of paper and asked me if I knew where the address listed on the paper was located. I was now holding the wet piece of paper but explained to him that I really wasn’t that familiar with downtown Atlanta, sorry, I could not help him but maybe he could find a police officer or one of the hospital workers to help him.

He then explained to me that he (in his words) had AIDS (not HIV positive) and had just gotten off a bus from Baton Rouge, LA and he had gotten his dates mixed up and that was the address of his hospice he was going to and he was a day early and was going to have to try to find somewhere to stay for the night since his room at his hospice would not be ready until the next day and while he was on the bus he had (again in his words) “pooed” himself and couldn’t I please help him out by giving him a couple dollars to find a place to stay for the night?

I know it’s probably not right to think this way (and I’ll probably go to hell for thinking it) but all I wanted to do was THROW the piece of paper at him and run away, but, my hand was already wet from the wet piece of paper and at this point I’m not even sure I wanted to know WHY the paper is wet…. I tell him I have no idea where the address is and I scrape a couple of dollars out of my purse (trying not to touch anything else until I can wash and sanitize my hands) and hand them to him along with his wet piece of paper and hurry into the hospital, directly to the bathroom where I scrub scrub scrub my hands. I know it’s awful to admit, but, I felt “dirty” the rest of the day.

A couple of mornings later, I’m already at the hospital with #2 and hubby comes in on his way to work. He’s almost in tears (he is so kind hearted) and proceeds to tell me that he has just met this most pitiful man outside the hospital. And he proceeds to go on and on about how badly he feels for this poor guy because he just got off a bus from Louisiana and….. I hold my hand up to stop him and say “Let me guess…. He pooed his pants?” Hubby looks at me incredulously and says “HOW did you know?” I said “Ummm…. He hit me up about 3 days ago right across the street and I gave him a few dollars. How much did he take you for?” Hubby goes “I only had $10 in my wallet.” Yeah, you DO have to watch out for some of them because you will get took.

I always get really aggravated with the aggressive ones. Hubby used to come and have lunch with me about once a week when I worked in Midtown and lots of times he’d park at the Publix grocery store a couple of buildings down from where I worked. This area was over run by homeless people. There was one of those “Open Door” shelters right down the street that was only open at night for the local homeless which meant during the day they had to find somewhere else to hang out which meant the parks nearby on sunny days and when the weather was bad they would hang out at the library that was across the street from our work or at the Publix or other stores around until they would get run off by the manager.

Hubby made the mistake of giving a couple dollars each to about 4 of them that were standing outside the Publix in the parking lot and they I guess watched him and knew what he drove and after that every time they saw his van pull in they’d all start walking towards him. He’d tell me “Well, I know they aren’t buying beer or cigarettes cause I only give them a couple of dollars apiece!” ***shaking head*** SO gullible! My response “Ever heard of pooling your money together?”

One day I came in to work and it was pouring down rain. The front of the building had little enclosed (by railing only) patios on each side of the front but at least it had an overhang which provided a little dryness from the rain. As I walked up to the front door this “pile of newspapers” on one of the patios sat up and stretched and yawned! Scared the crap outta me! It wasn’t that I was afraid of him, I just wasn’t expecting there to be a person there, especially one covered by newspaper. I went inside the building (our doors stayed locked from the inside and you had to buzz the receptionist to get into the building unless you had a key card) and happened to mention to the vice president of the company what had just happened and he went running out and yelled and screamed at the guy to get the F**K away from our building and stay away! Then I felt guilty for saying anything and the guy getting yelled at. He was just trying to stay dry.

Another day, our little receptionist, C, went across the street to the bank and as she was walking back to the office was accosted by one of the “regular” homeless guys that always hung out in that block vicinity. He actually grabbed her hand and tried to make her touch his penis. Scared the poor girl to death. I think she was barely 21 at the time. That would have scared me too.

 She actually called the police on him when she got back to the office and they came and arrested him and took him down to the station where he was out within the hour. Apparently he “chooses” to be homeless and actually has a lot of money but is mentally ill so they are always arresting him for something and either he posts his own bail or his family does and he’s right back out again. He actually started coming to the office and ringing the buzzer several times a week and when someone would ask who it was he’d start cursing whoever answered. Then he resorted to pulling up the outside lights and pulling wires loose outside the building or whatever he could to get revenge. Someone would have to go yell at him and several times they’d call the police only to be told we were actually wasting our time and theirs by calling them because even though it was “criminal mischief” there was not a lot they could do about it and it was just wasting taxpayers money to keep calling about him. Seriously???

It always scares me when I’m driving and exiting the highway and there will invariably be usually men (sometimes couples) standing on the ramp asking for money. Some of them are just holding signs explaining their circumstances and some try to clean your windshield and others will come up and knock on your windows or windshield to try to get your attention. Those I always try to ignore. If you are in dire straits, I don’t mind helping if I can, but, I got problems of my own and I can’t always help and your situation does not give you carte blanche to accost me and my vehicle. KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF ME AND MY VEHICLE!! That’s the best way NOT to get money from me.

For the several years that I worked in midtown the majority of the time I would take the I20 ramp to I75/85 N. Invariably almost every morning there would be the same gentleman sitting on the end of the guardrail or standing at the end of it or sitting on a plastic bucket at the end of the ramp. This ramp would get so backed up every morning. At that juncture you had two lanes exiting from I20 West that merges to one lane and from the right you have two lanes coming from I20 East that merge to 2 lanes and then those two lanes merge together. Traffic ALWAYS bottlenecks there. It would take me about half an hour to drive from my house almost 25 miles away to that ramp and then take another 20 minutes just to get down that 1/2 mile (approximately) of merging ramps.

Almost every morning rain or shine, hot or cold I would see this same gentleman sitting there. He was never rude or abrasive and was usually just holding his sign (cardboard) that said “God Bless You”. He was always friendly and smiling and whenever anyone would give him money he would point to the sky and fold his hands like he was praying to say thank you for the money. After a while I noticed that underneath the tangle of overpass ramps, etc there was a mattress under there with a few piles of possessions so apparently he called this little area “home”. I noticed after a while that he was apparently disabled. He limps and apparently has something wrong with his leg or foot or something.

During my years of commute if I found myself in the left lane (where he sat) I would give him a dollar or so but if I was in the right lane I usually didn’t. Too dangerous to dart across the traffic. I took to keeping a bag of snacks in my car like granola bars or nuts or chips or Poptarts and I’d usually try to bring an extra bottle of water in the mornings in case I found myself in the left lane. We eventually developed a sort of camaraderie and I learned his name is Johnny Johnson and if I wasn’t at work one day, the next day he’d ask where I was the day before. Even if I was in the right lane if he saw me go by he’d stand up and wave or bow or point to the sky or something just to acknowledge me. He told me after the Superbowl one year that one of his “regulars” had made arrangements for her and her husband to pick him up and bring him out to their house so he could watch the game and get a shower and a nice meal and he told me how appreciative he was. It almost made me cry!

Once, the highway department was doing some work on the area of the ramp where he “lived” and he had to moved down the ramp several hundred feet. When I came through the next day he extended his arms in like a welcoming gesture and said “Hey, I’m remodeling my living room! How do you like it?” A homeless man with a sense of humor! Gotta love it. I tell you all of this because since I stopped working for the property management company over a year ago I haven’t seen Johnny. I never have a reason to go through that area that early in the morning anymore and after the morning rush he’d always be gone.

Friday, my old boss called me and asked me to come in and have lunch with her. I had no thoughts to the fact that I’d see “my old friend” Johnny because it was like after noon when I rolled through there but lo and behold there at the end of the ramp was Johnny! Is it weird that it made me feel good to see him? It brought a big smile to my face. I rolled down my window and held out a dollar to give him and he said “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in forever!” I told him I had gotten laid off and didn’t come through there anymore but just seeing him standing down there at the end of that ramp made me smile. I guess I was glad he was okay and the fact that someone (even a homeless guy) that I hadn’t laid eyes on in over a year and didn’t even know me, knew who I was and paid attention enough to realize something about me. Yeah, I know I’m weird. And thank you Johnny Johnson. You might be just a homeless guy standing on a highway ramp but you made my day and you rock in my book!


About pegbur7

South of the Mason/Dixon Line
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10 Responses to Johnny on “The Spot”

  1. Jimmy says:

    I have been accosted by the guy wanting to wash my windshield whether I wanted it or not, this actually happened in downtown Atlanta a few years back it was kind of funny to watch him vanish when a police car rolled by.

    Folks like Johnny Johnson my heart goes out to and I have no problem helping them out, Thank You for sharing him with us.

    • pegbur7 says:

      Yes, they do disappear when the police some by, except Johnny…. which makes me think he’s the real deal. The cops will stop and chat with him and he will just be smiling away.

  2. Heather says:

    I was a homeless person and had many experiences with my fellow homeless friends. I will touch on that in the Cassie stories, in the future.

    Even as being homeless their were lots of other homeless folks that scared me. Way to aggressive or just plain crazy, but then there were the types that actually perferred to be homeless. There was one guy the was afraid of being in buildings, so a home was out of the question.

    Back in the day, folks were a lot more generous then they are now, now they are more cautious. I remember in one day I got $40 just for sitting on a wall holding a sign that said hungry. It’s the drug addicts, drunks and mentals that make it hard to trust that the person is in honest need.

    Through the generousity of the locals, I was only homeless for 4 days.

    • pegbur7 says:

      Heather, I’m sure that as hard as what you went through was, it has made you a stronger persoon today. My heart goes out to the young girl you were. I am so sorry but all the horrible things you had to experiece. I am proud to call you my friend (even if it is vitually for now).

  3. Ron says:

    “I had no thoughts to the fact that I’d see “my old friend” Johnny because it was like after noon when I rolled through there but lo and behold there at the end of the ramp was Johnny!”

    Oh, Peg…what a touching story! And I bet Johnny was just as happy to see you as you him!

    Like Jimmy shared…”Folks like Johnny Johnson my heart goes out to and I have no problem helping them out.”

    *like the guy I spoke of in my post.

    This is why I will always use my intuition to let me know who and who not to give to on the streets. You have to when you live in a big city.

    Great post, my dear friend!

    Happy Labor Day to you and your family.


    • pegbur7 says:

      Thanks Ron. We have had a wonderfully quiet day. And even though we don’t live IN Atlanta, I used to deal with it on a daily basis. I try to use my intuition but sometimes you still get “took”.

  4. SuziCate says:

    God bless, Johnny Johnson. I remember talking to you on the phone and yo’d have me hang on while you greeted hi,…I miss Johnny, too! Glad he’s ok. We both know someone wiley and manipulative enough to do fine on the streets!Don’t we?

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