I thought I would have taken just one shot of Joe and moved on. But, I observed something about him which made me linger there longer capturing more frames than I had planned; Joe moved without restraint and with an energy that I hadn’t seen before in someone his age. He worked a few hours a day directing cars into and out of a downtown Miami parking lot. The lot seemed oddly placed; as if it was only a matter of time before developers dug it up to put yet another building. When his eyes fell on me just a few yards away I gestured with the camera in my hand for permission to shoot him. He smirked back at me, nodded slightly with approval and quipped “I might break your camera though”.
Joe’s spot was just a stones-throw away from a busy bus stop; and as I was shooting I noticed that each time a bus drove past the parking lot Joe would stand straight and salute the bus driver. It seemed funny at first but when the traffic had cleared a bit I walked over to him and struck up a conversation. “I’ve been doing this for 22 years” he said; he continued with his condensed history of the parking lot. “I know 90% of the people that walk through here every day; most of them lawyers going to the courthouse”. The courthouse was on the other side of the block so walking through the parking lot was a convenient shortcut. Another bus passed and he stood straight and saluted. Noting my confusion he started to explain; “the way I see it, if I can do one thing each day to make someone smile or feel appreciated for just a moment, well that could make their day” He greeted every single passerby, cheerfully tipping his hat with a slight bow or throwing a cheerful reminder to “come on, smile”, which he followed up with a “there you go” and a smile of his own.
I believe the passersby appreciated his bright greetings every morning. One lady, walking by seeing me shooting him slowed down to mention ” he’s such a nice person to shoot; always so cheerful”. Joe and I got to chatting about his family; he had siblings, kids and even a few grand-kids. He had a ranch somewhere back in Colorado. It got me thinking then why was he here in Miami doing this. Maybe he has his own reasons. As I continued shooting I noticed he’d pause ever so often and stoop down to catch his breath or sip some water; expected, Miami’s mid-morning humidity was punishing. It was during one of these “breaks” that he told me: “I’ve been fighting with cancer for five years. They took a tumour out of me but now the cancer is in my blood; they can’t do anything about that. I’m a dead man walkin’.” Even though my own heart sank as he said those words, Joe seemed to have resigned himself to whatever fate meets him. He was beyond all the stages of denial, anger and questioning; he accepted his mortality as his situation. The thought of his own end didn’t scare him.
As I rounded up my shooting I offered to get him a coffee or a sandwich; just a tiny gesture of appreciation for the pictures and perhaps something to lighten his day the way he did for others. He was thankful but declined as he already had his food waiting for him. As I left he jested at me: “don’t blame me if your camera stops working”. “I won’t” I joked back (secretly looking for a plank of wood to knock on).
There are so many things about this interaction that left me in awe. I felt inspired by his positivity in the face of an impending end yet shaken to the bone at the reality of our inescapable human and biological fragilities. There are many themes under which his story can be filed, yet, because of my own personal experiences, the creeping ubiquity of cancer seems to be the most prominent. Ultimately, I wish to view Joe’s story as one of triumph; a triumph of the human spirit over diseases of the body. Such triumphs though are ultimately a factor of the perspectives we choose to adopt. Choose wisely!