The Breckenridge weather was nice when we drove up on Saturday, so we went bicycling Lake Dillon, Colorado. We went about 7 miles or so before my lungs and other parts gave out. Near the Dillon Amphitheate there is a split-log structure with a huge stone fireplace to keep you somewhat sheltered while you picnic. It made a perfect frame for the distant mountains. The area has changed, since many of the trees, killed by pine beetles, have been removed. Visitors no doubt like the visibility and are unaware of the changes. There was an art show in town with many unique and talented artisans. I sat out on the balcony and listened to the creek water rushing by while reading a Laura Lippman book. The soak in the hot tub on Sunday night was the piece de resistance.
I’m at Wendy’s for a cheap meal (baked potato and chocolate frosty) and wave to a man I recognize. He is a street person that cleaned the windows at my print shop years before. I’m embarrassed I don’t remember his name.
He looks my way, waves and walks on. A minute or so later he is back and sits down with me to talk. “You look different,” he said. A nice way to say I looked older. I brushed it off with “Yeh, I cut my hair and I’m not curly anymore.”
He looks good, I think, as he sits down. He’s lost weight, looks less disheveled and more distinguished, as happens with some aging men. He is wearing a green fleecy over shirt with a hole under the front pocket. He is no longer accompanied by his pail and squeegee. His life is less fixated on betting on the dogs and horses, but it remains a major topic of discussion.
“I used to be able to win $200 to $300 at the track, but now it’s not the same. It’s all rigged now,” he concedes. He makes money doing landscaping work and stocking shelves and displays for shopowners along Broadway.
He still lives on the street. Even in his winning days, he wouldn’t consider putting money in the bank. “I’d just take it out to place a bet. You can’t keep that kind of money on the street. People will rob you. Thirty to forty dollars is safe.”
He speaks in short sentences with paranoid references to being free of the man. He is a Vietnam vet, but “I never took any money from the government.” He is a free spirit, who spent much of his life gambling away friends and family.
“Gotta keep moving ahead,” he says and volunteers that he has been doing some drawings. He pulls out a wad of white-lined sheets of paper torn from a spiral notebook and unfolds them. He seems proud of his work and explains his method and medium, “I use crayons. The watercolors run and are hard to keep dry on the street. They get ruined.”
It is no surprise that the pictures are of horses. They are cartoonish with skinny legs. One has a mountain in the background with two or three evergreens dotting the page. I flash on drawings tacked across a wall, entries in a children’s contest.
“You might be able to get some acrylic paint at Meininger’s Art Supply,” I say. I was thinking their dumpsters might provide some partial tubes of paint. He knew the company well, “They’re expensive.”
“You know, the Denver Art Museum has a free day the first Saturday of every month. You should go. Off to the side as you enter they have canvas-like paper and free paint, and you can spend some time in there and do some drawing. It’s free.”
He talks a little about real estate. He knows people, who are living in condos that cost just $200 a month. There is very little housing, fewer and fewer apartments and “hotels want at least $50 a night.” Conversation plays out in a staccato-like rhythm. “I have to get going,” I admit. He lingers and we say goodbye.
Part of me is sympathetic to his living on the street. Part of me realizes he couldn’t care less for my opinion of his situation. He is living the life that he chose and continues to choose. He is one of the invisible people, living free and off the grid.