74. Ken Jones may be homeless in Nashville but he has a bank account, a bicycle, and a plan.
ABOVE: Ken Jones rests on a public bench at the intersection of White Bridge Road and Charlotte Ave, Nashville, 23 March 2018.
Ken Jones may be homeless but he has a plan. Maybe more importantly he has a history and he is happy to recount it.
After an hour of conversation we go to make a photograph and Ken says, “You should have let me comb my hair,” and he laughs. He says he doesn’t much care about his hair in this cold weather. “I just put on my cap.”
We chat. He asks me how I am doing. I say fine. I ask how he is doing.
“You mean besides fighting the outdoors and night crawlers?” he says and laughs. He says he is good, all things considered. “I’m seventy-five,” he says, “So I’m doing pretty good for that.”
He says he is taking care of a little business in his life. He is petitioning the state to get back assistance he was recently denied. He explains he and his son sold a piece of land in Ashland City and he had the balance of his portion of the earnings in the bank–$6,000. He said the rule is you can have up to $12,000 before you lose your assistance but they shut him out for having $6,000. “I still have some of it in the bank.”
He said he uses the money for his necessities, mostly food. He “sleeps out,” he said. He said he has been doing it about six months, and that he has done it off and on in his life. He then described his routine and his choice locations. “I go behind this clinic on White Bridge. It is very secluded. A police officer came the other day and I just laid there real still. He looked around and didn’t see me. But he looked twice and then he saw me. But he didn’t bother me. He knows I am not a trouble maker. And I guess he passed the word around that, hey, when this guys stays somewhere, sleeps somewhere, when he leaves he leaves it looking the same as when he came. Which is true. It’s the camp rule: Don’t leave no trash, don’t leave no garbage.”
Ken says he and a friend once slept out for an entire year in Colorado. He said someone gave him a military sleeping bag and he was warm all winter.
Ken has his son. His son recently moved to Kansas with his wife, he said. And Ken once upon a time had a wife.
In his middle years he worked on ships, he said. Freighters on the Great Lakes. “I got lucky. I was in Toledo and this ship was in the dock and they were working on it. And I went down and asked them if they needed anymore help.”
They hired him to help clean parts on the dock then they hired him to work on the boat, he said. “It paid $2,000 plus room and board for the month so it was good pay.”
But trouble at home forced him to leave the job soon after, he said.
“It’s nice talking with you but I got to go,” he said. He secures his three-wheeled bike with a basket then says, “I think about getting a motor for it. They will allow you to go up to 20 miles per hour without a license.” He said he also has been thinking about getting a dog, a Jack Russel. “Good traveling companion.”
Ken moves from the Bench to his bicycle just as a crowd of teenagers pour out of a city bus laughing and playing.
Ken looks at them and says he remembers those days of playful youth. Then he says, “I hope to get 25 more years.” Then he heads out into the streets of Nashville.