By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
He is still stung by the Miami Coalition for the Homeless's snub. "We really connected on a personal level," he laments of Rita Clark. "She told me that she used to live in Cleveland, and this and that. We talked for a long time. Then she just stopped returning my calls."
Jungjohann certainly earned the prize of free Heat-Cavs tickets. He's not Lex Luthor after all, we conclude as we drive off with a trove of grade-A LeBron swag, speeding a bit with the irrational fear he'll change his mind. The guy just happened to stumble into partnership with a government-intertwined South Florida agency. The poor bastard.
Marcelo, moseying up Biscayne Boulevard around NE 25th Street with a baby stroller full of belongings, grabs a large jersey and size 11.5 Nike Air Force 1 LeBrons. He's a bearded Puerto Rican drifter who has the look of a master collector with his carriage full of junk, a Dickies cap on his head, and sport sandals over socks. Then he admits he has size 9 feet — but he has a plan for the shoes. "I got a friend," he explains coyly. "I make a deal with him."
It's hard not to see the imaginary crack rocks dancing above his head like sugarplums. We make a mental note to ask for shoe size before distributing any more sneakers.
A retro-style jersey T-shirt goes to a man named Willie, sleeping at the Metromover station on Biscayne at NE Sixth Street. He promptly uses it as a pillow and shuts his eyes again. Getting a matching shirt is his neighbor, Reggie, perched a few concrete slabs away. A former member of the parking-stub-hustling-homeless elite who once had a couch to crash on and a clean wardrobe, Reggie looks dirty and defeated as he sits on a brick ledge. He just finished a prison stint and is hitting the crack too hard. Life on the streets is defined by NASDAQ-esque ups and downs, and Reggie is in a bear market.
Our last trip to the USSR had been orderly, even placid. But now as we drive to NE Eighth Street between First and Second avenues, the street's denizens are on the lookout for a dented beige Corolla. A small crowd gathers around the car, window-shopping the open boxes in the back seat.
Channel 10 has been tipped off as well. The sight of blazer-wearing reporter Glenna Milberg wielding a microphone with a cameraman in tow acts as a magnet for ruckus-seeking homeless.
New Times is soon beset by the roof-eschewing of every race and ilk. Many of them are unsurprisingly grubby, but a few have a scavenger's dapperness perfectly complemented by wine-and-gold mesh. Women want extra-extra-large jerseys to wear as dresses. Husbands and wives demand matching jerseys. Nobody wants to settle for a T-shirt. One loquacious woman, named Paula Andre, asks for a petite pink jersey for her daughter. We oblige. Asked her kid's name, Andre is stumped.
Word spreads to a nearby homeless shelter, and new speed-walking waves of homeless join the rabble. Then the attempts at double-dipping begin. "I told you, I gave it to my man!" a woman named Mississippi keeps yelling when reminded she already nabbed a jersey. With increasing ferocity, she slaps a New Times reporter's left shoulder.
"Take all the shit out and give me the car!" a man named Pablo screams, half-joking.
After 45 minutes of being pawed, prodded, needled, and harassed, a reporter is sweating like Shaquille O'Neal at a free-throw line. The boxes are down to their dregs. The car rocks, but nobody reaches in to help themselves. The scene borders on ugly but never hops the fence.
The mob is enjoying itself. Main Man Stacks, a pudgy dude who happens to be wearing a Cleveland Indians hat, makes it clear he wants the last jersey — and "don't even give me no other kind of shit!" he orders. "We can be choosy!"
After the escapade, only a few items are left in the car. (As for the bobbleheads, New Times has listed them on eBay to coincide with the publishing of this article. All proceeds will go to feeding the homeless in Miami and Cleveland.) A pair of shorts and two wristbands go to Josh, a beggar just north of Little Haiti. His Mr. T-like mass of rosaries and chains pegs him as a serial accessorizer.
At the discharge window outside the county jail downtown, where prisoners are freed wearing only blue scrubs, a cheery vagrant trades his government-issue top for the last T-shirt — an '80s-style petite women's item, split on the sides and reconnected with knots. And shoes are given to the reclusive homeless colony under the Dolphin Expressway bridge along NE 12th Avenue, where Vietnam-vet-looking bums threaten to "destroy you right now" when asked for their names.
It's a different story in Coconut Grove, ground zero for the famous water bums — homeless who kept skiffs and lived on deserted islands until marina officials landlocked them by confiscating the boats.
It's late afternoon and raining, but the neighborhood's most gregarious beggar is cheerily cradling a Hurricane High Gravity with his bare feet, begging for cigarettes, and chatting idly. The guy, who says his name is Departee Hardee and sports Charles Manson-style gray locks and facial hair, is hanging out with his reserved, nearly toothless buddy Michael Chaver.