This is “Gandalf”, also known as “The Colonel” depending on which homeless community you happen to be in out here. I first saw “Gandalf” sitting alone on a park bench at Kent’s Water Park across from the Kent Regional Library this summer. The homeless youth out here dubbed him “Gandalf” because of the long flowing beard and hair he used to have prior to this photo I took of him. Every morning “Gandalf” comes in to the McDonald’s on Auburn Way South to get in out of the rain or freezing cold. Patrons here offer him coffee or a few bucks for a hot sandwich or two. Other patrons mock him and turn their noses up at him as they walk past him, choosing seats as far from him as they can.
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to get to know more about “Gandalf” and said hello to him one rainy morning. I listened as he told me about just getting out of the hospital and how he lost his raincoat in the backpack he had that someone stole when he went into the hospital. He had all his worldly possessions in that pack, a well worn bible, his rain coat and some prescriptions given to him while at the hospital. Someone had offered to buy the old timer a cup of coffee which he graciously turned down due to the fact he was sipping on a liter of water to rehydrate his body. He pointed to the i.d. bracelet from the hospital still on his wrist and said he was just released the night before and how the hospital had cut his hair and beard down to its current length.
That’s how coffee with “Gandalf” started. I started meeting him at McDonald’s after dropping my daughter off at school every morning. Sometimes I’d give him a couple of bucks to ride the buses to keep warm at night even though I knew sometimes he’d buy a beer or two with it. I would sit and listen to “Gandalf” tell me about his panhandling adventures and his experiences as a salesman, a marine in Vietnam and the loss of his first wife who died by drunk driver. Then he casually mentioned he had pancreatic cancer and a tumor in his brain and how doctors gave him six days to live yet somehow he managed to live ten days past their expectations. He told me how he never owed a dime to anybody in his life until medical bills for cancer started piling up. Now he owes more than he can ever hope to pay back.
While “Gandalf” spoke, I was thinking about the green backpack in the back of my van that had a bunch of “survival” items in it. I walked outside and rummaged around in the van until I found it and dumped the contents into a plastic grocery sack and put a pair of clean socks in it and gave the pack to “Gandalf” who was so surprised he was speechless. To my way of thinking, what’s a backpack compared to a man who knows he may not be here tomorrow? I asked Gandalf if I could take his picture and again he was surprised. “Why on earth would you want to take a picture of me?” he asked. I told him it was because I could not walk past another human being and not acknowledge them while they were still here. ”Gandalf” scratched his head and smiled. He lowered the hood on his jacket, ran his fingers through his hair
then posed for me.
When Thanksgiving morning arrived, I found “Gandalf” sitting at his usual place near a window in McDonald’s. I asked him if he had someplace to go and he said he just needed bus fare to go to the Calvary church in Federal Way for their Thanksgiving meal. I gave him bus fare and told him I would see him the next day. Friday came and “Gandalf” was nowhere to be seen. Saturday came and went, still no “Gandalf”. I drove behind the Thai restaurant he told me he sometimes slept behind, couldn’t find him. I drove down Auburn Way all the way down to Kent, checking bus stops along the way in case he happened to be sitting on a bench waiting for a bus. Sunday found me driving around looking for him and asking around about him. This is not like “Gandalf” to not show up…
This morning after I dropped my daughter off at school, I went to McDonald’s and spoke to the manager. She told me she knew “Gandalf” as “The Colonel” and she hadn’t seen him since Thanksgiving either. She makes a point to keep an eye on him because of the frequency of his seizures caused by the tumor growing inside his brain. The last time he had a seizure, he was taken to Auburn General Hospital. I called the hospital but they couldn’t look up anyone without a date of birth so I called 911 to file a missing persons report. Officer Christiansen of the Auburn Police Department met me in the parking lot and I showed him a picture of “Gandalf” from my cell phone and he said he recognized “Gandalf”. The officer ran a check on his computer but no one fitting “Gandalf” has been brought in but he would put the word out to the bike cops in the area who know many of the local homeless folks “Gandalf” knows. They might have seen “Gandalf” in the last few days. Officer Christiansen gave me a possible last name and date of birth so I called the hospital back and a very helpful operator said no one by the name I had or date of birth was brought in, nor any John Does by that description.
I called the King County Medical Examiner’s office and they had no unidentified’s from the last week at their facilities. I called Harborview Medical Center and had no luck with them either, so where is “Gandalf”? If anyone has seen him, please let me know via email at email@example.com. No one deserves to die out on the street.