The panhandler and the paisano made a curious couple sitting side by side on the bus stop bench.
The panhandler was asleep. His fly was undone, his mouth agape, a plastic cup wedged between his thighs.
The paisano was dressed in a crisp golf shirt, Bermuda shorts and blue leather deck shoes. He sat motionless, staring at nothing in particular as the afternoon sun blazed away, and the panhandler belched fumes in his general direction.
It went like this for an hour or so. Finally, I asked the paisano if he needed help.
“No English,” he said sheepishly. “Spanish.”
I asked him again. “Necesita ayuda?”
He was waiting for his 6 o’clock appointment to fill out an application at Lafayette Coney Island. He came two hours early since he needed the work and had nothing else to do, anyways. His name was Esteban. Esteban was a recent arrival from Colombia.
“Where did you cross the border? Texas?” I asked in Spanish. “Did you claim asylum?”
“No. No.” he said, presenting a crisp burgundy passport. “Tourist visa.”
Esteban was not a political refugee. He was not escaping gangs, or violence or hunger. He was plump and well groomed and had worked as a chef in a high-end steak house in Bogota.
Esteban has no plans of visiting the Soo Locks or tasting real Mackinac fudge. He was using the tourist visa to lay his eyes upon the eternal flame of the steak grill. He was looking for a job in a restaurant, he said, and had no intention of leaving the United States after six months as the tourist visa requires.