May 10th, 2008 - New York, United States
The day after my arrival in New York beneath torrential rain, I awoke to a gorgeous sunny Spring day. I was out of my hotel by 9 o'clock having breakfasted on some of the best eggs benedict I've ever tasted, and soon found myself sauntering down Sixth Avenue. I know I must have been sauntering, because somewhere in the mid-twenties I saw ahead of me two men setting up a stall on the sidewalk from which they were going to sell leather belts, and as I approached one of them turned to the other and said, "Now there's a man whose happy with life !" and nodded in my direction, a broad and friendly smile on his face.
I stopped to talk to the two men. The man who had delightedly pointed out my contented state turned out to be both camera-shy and just shy - he barely spoke another word. But his friend was only too keen to introduce himself - Samuel, the US Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, a proud and dignified man, doing his best to make ends meet. We chatted for ten minutes or so about why life was as good as we chose to make it, about why we must never give up, about why we should make the most of what we have, and then he sent me on my way, wishing me a "most excellent day".
Almost twelve hours later, as I made my weary way back to my hotel having trekked perhaps 20 miles or more in the day, I went out of my way to walk up Sixth Avenue again in the hope of seeing my new friends again, and sure enough there they were, as many belts on their makeshift table as there had been at the start of the day. "There's the happiest man in New York," Samuel bellowed as he saw me arriving before shaking my hand with a force that added extra weight to what he said next, whispering conspiratorially in my ear. "Don't let any of these motherfuckers give you any trouble," he said, throwing a meaningful look up the avenue at nobody in particular. "If they do, just hit them and run. Don't look back. And remember, I'm here if you need any help. After all, we're friends now."
(The light was particularly difficult when I took this picture, and I ended up having to do much more processing than I would have liked. I'm not entirely happy with the final result, but I do think that this is worth viewing large.)