For years my commute has involved taking the Snapper Creek Expressway to get to US1—whether it was to get to school or work. This heavenly highway bypasses much of the insane traffic a West Kendall kid encounters while attempting a mass exodus out of one of Miami’s most overly populated suburb. I’ve been taking this route for such a long time I could drive with my eyes closed and still get to my destination. In complete sync with the road, my car and I know every tree and road sign so well, that together, we can describe the path better than Google maps.
Being a to-do list queen, I love routines. They allow me to be in control, which I must admit, I love having. The only problem with routines—as I’ve come to learn—is that after a while they become so second nature that you soon succumb to them full-heartedly. Details become a bystander blur and you stop questioning their purpose all together.
Today while taking my usual route, I came face to face to a reality that snapped me out of my usual routine trance. For years I’ve slowly seen a homeless man deteriorate before my own eyes. If you’ve ever taken state highway 878, I’m pretty sure you’ve seen him too. He’s a white male probably in his late 30’s though his badly sunburn skin make him look more like borderline 50. He navigates a wheel chair and strolls through the backed up parade of cars and impatient drivers trying to get onto US1.
When I first saw this man, he instantly caught my attention. Here was a tall young blond guy dressed in slacks and a tie with a sign stating he was an artist, unemployed and homeless. Definitely not your typical portrait of a homeless man. I clearly remember thinking, how can a guy like that be homeless?
To be completely honest, I’ve always had mixed feelings regarding the topic. Part of me genuinely feels for homeless people and wants to selflessly help them, while the other skeptically wonders what it is they will do with the couple bucks I just gave them.
Months preceding my first glimpse of this particular homeless man, I noticed his clothes were now filthy, his eyes bore a sad expression and he carried a sign asking for the person who stole his drawing book to please return it. I rolled down my window and gave him some cash. Intrigued, I asked him for his name and he looked at me as though no one had asked him that for centuries. “Sketch” he replied and the traffic light turned green.
As our eyes latched on, it felt like we shared a secret to which everyone else was oblivious, like two old friends who had an inside joke.
Since then I’ve driven by Sketch a million times. At first, I’d look for him at the light wanting to give him whatever pocket change I had. But as the years passed by, I started following standard driver/homeless etiquette. While stuck at the light, I’d pretend to be fidgeting with my radio or reached for my cell phone just to avoid any interaction.
And then today, I saw Sketch. I mean I really saw him. He wheeled his chair through a sea of cars, none of which lowered a window to offer any help. He carried a sketched portrait of a man, which rested on his chest for all to see. Wishing I had cash I looked at him as he approached my window. But all I could offer was eye contact and a smile. He looked back at me, smiled and kept moving. As our eyes latched on, it felt like we shared a secret to which everyone else was oblivious, like two old friends who had an inside joke. We acknowledged each other as people—each with their own set of problems—dealing the best they can with what they have.
As I drove along in traffic, I realized that for years, I have been driving with my eyes closed. Today, for the first time ever, I saw in this homeless man more strength and self empowerment than a handful of people I know—including myself. Despite being handed a difficult hand of cards, he bares his identity on his chest and attempts to claim a purpose for his life. He clings on to the notion of being an artist producing beautiful drawings notwithstanding the ugliness that surrounds him. Meanwhile, many of my friends including myself have yet to discover who we are yet alone our purpose.
Like a true artist, Sketch taught me to see the world in a different light today. He reminded me that we often become so involved in our day-to-day lives that we lose our purpose and ourselves in the routine of it all. And we often stop seeing all together. I plan to keep my eyes open despite my preset GPS capabilities, because while the road may be the same, you never know who may cross your path.
And if you do happen to drive by the snapper creek and see Sketch, be sure to say hi to this talented sketch artist.
By Cristina Jaramillo