The place was recommended to us by colleagues at our partner station WGCU and we went there a few days after President Obama’s inauguration.
The man you see to your right is Tom, a man who i’m very glad i persuaded to come and talk to us on air.
He was the star of the show because of his Irish- American humour, warmth and ….yes, i know it’s an over-used word, his dignity.
An hour or so before the show started i went outside the kitchen and sat down with Tom (left).
The place had not only impressed us with the care and professionalism of the helpers and the staff, but had also surprised us by it’s being needed at all.
On an unseasonably chilly day – just after an unseasonably frozen night – Tom told me his story.
He’d come from Chicago, where he’d lost his job and home (and wife) and found himself on the road when all other options had run out.
He mentioned a son too, but the look on his face made it clear this wasn’t going to be a welcome area of conversation with a man he’d just met.
He said he’d made some bad calls, maybe got a few things wrong, but he said he always wanted to work and had done occasionally as a labourer before winding up in Florida – attracted by all the building going on there – and the weather.
He said he was in his 50’s but he looked older and he said that he hoped Barack Obama would win the election. Not just for him, but for the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tom had also been “rolled” – he’d had his possessions stolen, and on that day, he was there to get a replacement kit- supplied by the kitchen, of a new blanket and a washing kit.
He told me that things come and go, but what he was most sad about was his diary. That , he said, couldn’t be replaced.
From deep in his pocket he produced the one thing they hadn’t stolen ; a battered watch with a brown leather strap. It was, he said, his father’s and he kept it on him at all times.
I asked Tom if he’d come in and talk on the show. “Why not ?” he said, it wasn’t like he had anything else to do. And he was brilliant with his wit and deep rich voice, hardened by years on the road.
In a fit of sentiment, i went to our (warm) car and brought him out my West Ham scarf. “You’ll be the only one wearing one of these in Florida” i said.
Tom died last week- hit by a car while walking in the traffic . A victim of a so-called “hit and run”. Ros says he was told that Tom may have been back on the drink , and this may have contributed to his death, but no-one is sure.
We are extraordinarily privileged on WHYS to travel around the world to create conversations- and we have met some amazing people who don’t leave the memory.
Tom was one of those – a man i’m very glad i met, and i can’t help wondering if he was carrying the diary we sent him after the show, and what he may have written in it.
When the show was over, we had packed up, loaded the car and were saying our goodbyes. Only one of the customers was still there ; Tom, wearing his new scarf and smiling when someone walked past him and said “there’s a career for you in radio Tom……”