As I walked around the Quarter, I came across a guy named Steve who was sitting against the wall of a convenience store on Royal Street, asking passers-by for help. Steve was a short guy—maybe 5′ 5” or 5′ 6”—who was overdressed for the weather in the way a person is when they only have one set of clothes and no safe place to put them besides on themselves. Well into middle age and in possession of a remarkable amount of cordiality for someone who probably hadn’t had a shower or a shave in two weeks, Steve seemed like the kind of guy who, had the ball bounced differently a couple times over the course of his life, would be leading an unremarkable middle class existence. Steve was the poster child for the damage done by the Great Recession. He greeted me with what I can only assume was his usual, disarming pitch:

“Look man,” Steve said, cupping his hands together and holding them out in front of his body.“I’m not asking for change. I got change, alright? I don’t need change. All I’m looking for is something to eat, man. I’m starving over here.”

“Sure, man. Not a problem.” I told him.

Seriously, I’m not a bum or nothing.” Steve said, standing up from his spot against the convenience store wall. “I’m 4 years army, man—from Birmingham, Alabama— came here looking for work and ended up out here.”

“No need to explain yourself. I’ll get you something to eat.” I said.

“Thank you, man. Most people just walk on by around here like they think I’m bullshitting ‘em or something, y’know?” Steve shook his head. “This town…didn’t think it was gonna be like this when came down here, that’s for damn sure.”

“How long have you been down here?” I asked as we headed west towards Canal Street.

“I’ve only been out for 3 months or so. I came out for this job cutting steel.” Steve paused.“Well, I didn’t really know how to cut steel, but they didn’t know that and I wasn’t about to tell ‘em. I gave it everything I had at that job, but the place went under a little while after I got there. It was a family business and I liked it there. I really did, but now I been out here looking for work and there ain’t nothing here!”

“Didn’t you say you were from Birmingham?” I asked.

“Well, I’m not actually from Birmingham. Where I’m from is about 2 counties over. Y’all have parishes over here, well, we’ve got counties. I just tell people I’m from Birmingham ’cause they’ve never heard of where I’m actually from.” Steve said.

“Try me.”

“You know where Double Springs is?” Steve asked.

“Can’t say that I do.” I told him.

“What’d I tell you?” Steve said as we turned onto Canal Street and headed north, away from one of what must be hundreds of foot massage parlors in the city. “Unless you’re from Alabama, there’s no reason you’d know where it is.”

“You stay there long?” I asked.

“Nah,” Steve said. “I just grew up there. As soon as I turned 18 I joined the Army and got the hell up out of there. That was…well, that was about twenty years ago, I guess. I just turned 40 the other day, so I got at least one foot in the grave now. I’m just…” Steve stopped and started running his hands through the place on his head where his hair should’ve been. “I just need work, man. This guy I know said they was hiring up in Cleveland, but damn that’s a long ways away. I wish to hell I knew where that guy was.”

I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t know where in the hell Steve’s guy was, so I just stayed quiet a minute before asking him where he wanted to eat.

“Lord, I don’t really care where we go, I’m just hungry.” Steve said.

“You cool with hitting up a hot dog cart?” I asked.

“A hot dog sounds good to me.” he said.

“What about McDonald’s?” I asked as we passed by some golden arches.

“Naw, man.” Steve said, clearly repulsed by the idea. “I can do most places, but I can’t do McDonald’s. I worked at one of them once and after you see what it is they actually put in the food there, you can’t eat it no more.”