Zach Zerr Photography


People of the Streets

Having grown up in one of the largest, grimiest, industrial cities of the world, my appreciation for the grit and guts of a city goes beyond the norm. There is a texture to the underbelly of every place no matter how much facade is used to make things appear clean and smooth. Most cities find a way to make these lines cut deep, people from a certain side of town can't even begin to imagine what their cities are really like.

Denver in particular, though known for marijuana has long had a narcotics issue among the people of the streets. Crack, meth, various injectables seem to be the favorites. One with a real eye for drugs can differentiate the behaviors, but mostly you can see it in the eyes. If you question these claims one need not spend much time walking through alleys littered with needles, broken pipes, beer cans, booze bottles, weed containers and trash from the previous night. Few brave souls openly smoke crack on the side walk, though rare it happens none the less. Tent towns pop up and leave behind a mess of trash that is largely made up of booze bottles and other wonderful things. Most noticeably the hill on which the state capital is located is largely inhabited by street vagrants throughout the day. You can walk east from there down Colfax Avenue and meet more of these wandering souls.

I've never been to the Denver Zoo, or any of the museums, nothing against them either. Personally I like to take to the streets and meet these people of Denver that nobody talks to. I offer them a couple of bucks to take their picture and I listen to them talk. The stories of these characters are worth every second of conversation. Dancing with insanity, enabling them to feel human regardless of how far gone they are by the time I meet them. If you listen too closely you quickly find yourself lost in the tangled mess of the mind that is articulating clear, rarely concise, bits of insanity. Nobody tells better stories than the homeless.

My favorite part truly is how openly depraved the junky becomes. There was a man walking a bike with a rough goatee and crazy eyes. Multiple cross necklaces hung around his neck like badges of honor. He didn't survive out here, he thrived out here. I offered my usual proposition. Crazy eyes replied “Nah man, I'm Indian I can't do that.” Before I could finish thanking him he cut me off “but hell I could use a couple bucks why not.” Ecstatic to take his picture I kept my thoughts to myself. This man, native or not, by his principles had just sold me his soul for a couple bucks. Witnessing the range that is the human experience made me smile. The actual depth of moral value is much more shallow than one would expect.

There was another man outside a liquor store, standing under the overhang in order to shade himself. He had a small backpack next to him and he was greeting people in a friendly manner as they passed. I asked if I could take his picture for a couple bucks and he readily agreed. He told me and my friend that we were just in time that he had just found his dog. Confused, we looked around for a dog that was nowhere in sight. He bent over and started to open his backpack. I can not describe the concern that came across me for what we might next see as anything else but hopeful terror. Hopeful that I would be wrong, and terrified that a dog might have been kept in that backpack on the sidewalk. He fumbled around for what seemed like an eternity before pulling out a stuffed dog as he began laughing. Relief and confusion swept together as wave over me. He proceeded to tell us that he was going to "beat this dogs ass" for disappearing on him. He shook the stuffed animal violently, scolding it and laughing hysterically at the same time. This kind of person is a mine field of conversation through which you must step carefully in order to get out. One word too many, one thing for the insanity to cling to and you are sucked back into another five minutes of delusional conversation. Though entertaining, things always devolve to a point you become tempted to just walk away, sometimes you have to. 

You meet good people too, unfortunate souls lost on the journey, trapped by things only the strongest of minds can over come. You meet those using whatever junk they can find to get through the day, and have a community to get fucked up with through he night. Some come to the street by choice, living seemingly freer, and in their eyes happier than those sticking at least mostly to society's greatest rules.

Funny how none of it is black and white. There is no one reason that brings people to a life on the street, the same way it isn't sad or upsetting in every case either. When you meet people on the street by choice it forces you to think about your perspectives on life. The party never seems to end, and responsibility is unheard of. This is a dystopian paradise,

Meeting these people makes you realize how blessed you are to not be there. The spectrum of human beings is fascinating. There is beauty and good experience in nicer places too. But nothing is more real than suffering, struggle and the people that live it daily. We are such an adaptable species. Consciousness can devolve in such horrifying ways that you have to appreciate even partial sanity that keeps you off the street. The degrees in separation between a junky on the street and the family with a three car garage are never more than six and often much less.