I can almost hear my mother’s voice saying “it’s such a small world,” but when I look at the picture from Halloween 1994, her words suddenly become very real to me.
Joey and I were celebrating our first Halloween as newlyweds, and we decided to go all out. We were going to party at the “Church Street Station Bash.” My beau in caveman skins and I, dressed as a genie, set out as locals to do the “tourist thing.”
We stopped at several bars, looked around many shops, and even managed to scream our way through a haunted house. The town was jumping, and we were having a good old time.
Suddenly amid the crowd of costume spectators, a man pushing his bike down a Cobblestone path caught my eye. He was in his mid-to-late thirties, rather tall, and dressed in layers of dark clothing. He was roughly groomed, but he had good posture and a friendly smile. On the front of his basic, brown beach cruiser bike, within the confines of a metal netted basket securely fastened to the handlebars, rested one of the cutest four-legged passengers I had ever seen! A medium-sized, mixed breed resembling a Benji dog, sat ever so comfortably atop a pile of blankets neatly placed beneath her. She wore a pair of hot pink sunglasses and a lovely straw hat with a ribbon and flower right above her droopy right ear.
As an avid animal lover, I was quick to approach the man and asked him to take a picture of his friend. With a smile, he turned toward the rear of his bike and lifted up a blanket that covered another basket. He pointed to a jar with a white hand-printed label that read: Photos $1 DONATION.
Joey eagerly pulled out a dollar along with a couple more to spare and shoved them into the jar. Then, as I reached for the bike from the man, he motioned Joe to go stand by my side, explaining to us that he would take the picture. Here we were, standing in the middle of downtown Orlando holding this man’s home, while he photographed us with what was probably his best friend.
Strange? Maybe. But, the picture turned out adorable, and our memory of the evening always did seem to humble us a bit. That was until a few months later when my husband and I were in Key West on a long weekend getaway. We were dining on the patio of a local eatery when suddenly, I was taken by a man in the street playing with his dog. For several minutes, I watched as the man sat on the curb across from us, tossing a yarn ball up the road for his dog to catch, and the dog faithfully returning it for another try. Just then, the man began to gather up his things. He motioned his dog to come, and it did. Then, it gracefully jumped into the metal basket on the front of the man’s bike and sat patiently while he placed a straw hat on its head.
I sensed a strange feeling of familiarity. I tried to comment to Joe in choppy sentences about my suspicions, but the man was about to escape eye view. I felt a strange impulse to run after him. I jumped up from my seat and briskly walked across the courtyard and out the side gate. “Excuse me! Excuse me, sir!” I said, quickening my pace.
“Sir!” I yelled as I approached him. He stopped and turned toward me, his eyebrows lifted as if trying to remember if he knew me. Stumbling for words, I asked, “Where were you for Halloween?”
He paused momentarily and then answered hesitantly, “Orlando.”
“Yes, I knew it,” I whispered to myself.
“Church Street Station, maybe?” I asked.
“Yes… that’s where I was,” he answered, looking at me dumbfounded.
Then, I began rambling on about how Joe and I had met him in Orlando, and how we had a photograph of his dog on our bulletin board at home. Friendly as could be, “Vincent” introduced himself and began to tell me his tale. It turns out, Vincent wasn’t homeless at all. Instead, his lifestyle of “free living” without boundaries was one of choice – without addiction or poverty.
It was amazing to me! I had complained the entire eight-hour drive about how uncomfortable I was having to be in the car for so long, and here this man was telling me about how it took him and his dog three months to travel on a bike from Orlando to St. Augustine, then down that eastern coastline to Key West. What are the odds of all of us ending up together again nearly four hundred miles from the starting gate? Fascinated by his story, I led him back to the restaurant where we continued our conversation with my husband at the table. A conversation that was as enlightening for us as it was disturbing to those dining around us.
Even though Vincent never actually entered the courtyard, his mere presence seemed less than appreciated. Nevertheless, Joe and I continued to enjoy his company. We offered them both food and drinks, which Vincent kindly declined. Joey even attempted to give him some money, but he refused that also. Then he pulled a wad of cash from his front pant pocket and said, “This is just from today. I had more, but I just gave my change jar to a friend in need last night.”
With rude and nosy patrons giving us their looks of discontent, Joey and I finished our meal and concluded our visit with Vincent. After that, we all wished each other well and we went on our merry way to continue on in our very different lives.
Laugh on. Peace out.
Lisa DeMarco is a waitress at Billy’s Cafe and a columnist for Villages-News.com