Darrel was a stutterer. The man in front of me had just brushed right past him, and now he was looking straight at me.
“Hey, I’m not from the city and I’d like to go to Burger King.”
I entertained the idea that he was asking for directions, but he was clearly looking for an act of kindness.
“Sure, let’s go.”
Darrel looked at me, almost in disbelief, and decided that he needed to clarify the point that I had entertained a moment earlier. There’s snot dripping out of his right nostril.
“I just need a couple dollars for food and I’d really appreciate it if –”
“Yup. Let’s go.”
And we’re off.
“I’ve been out and haven’t eaten since 7:30am. Tourists don’t understand homeless.”
Darrel had grown up in Nashville and had stayed in LA before heading up to San Francisco. I told him that I would have stayed in LA because I don’t know how I’d stand the cold here. He insisted that all the free thinkers live in San Francisco and that’s where he needs to be.
Darrel approaches the young black girl behind the register, and glances at the menu.
“I’d like a - a - one of those - chicken -”
“Spicy chicken sandwich?”
“No. A - ”
It goes on like this for a couple minutes, and I’m just standing there, blown away by several things: Darrel’s pickiness despite not having eaten all day, the counter girl’s patience, and mostly the sheer number of different chicken offerings at Burger King.
Eventually, Darrel seems to have come to a decision. Kind of.
“What’s the difference between the basil and the parmesan? What does the basil have?”
“The basil has… basil.”
“No, no, the parmesan.”
The girl is obviously frustrated now. She mutters under her breath, “Every. Day.”
“I’ll get the parmesan special. With extra parmesan.”
“Don’t you want to consult with the person making the purchase?”
Disdain drips from her voice.
I reassure her that it’s fine, and Darrel turns to me.
“Is it- is it okay if I get two?”
I don’t know how much a sandwich costs, but I figure it’s Burger King and how much could a sandwich here cost anyway so why the hell not.
“That’ll be $10.81.”
Wow. What the hell? What are these sandwiches made of? I pay anyway.
We’re waiting now, and Darrel tries to talk politics. He has extremely thick glasses that give him an old, knowing look, but the rest of his appearance easily override that image.
“Republicans have it made, you know? They’re all rich. They don’t understand what it’s like for folks like us.”
I reassure him that not all Republicans are rich, greedy, white millionaires living in fat mansions. He is genuinely surprised.
The food comes out, and we’re outside. I hand Darrel the bag with his food, but I’m dying to see what this $5 sandwich looks like. Darrel peels back the wrapping, and it looks like what I originally expected: a sorry excuse for a sandwich. I’m disappointed. Ten dollars could have bought him a lot more, not to mention healthier, food.
Darrel and I stand chatting a bit more, and he tells me that he’ll take me to Nashville sometime. I wish I could believe him. I ask him where he’s going. He apparently has a place that he rents on a weekly basis.
“How do you get the money to pay for it?”
“From people like you.”