By Peter Kapoyanis
It was 1am in the morning and I was sitting on an old wooden stool in a bar in Greenwich Village. Sixties soul classics were being belted out, one after another, in an endless magical medley. Throughout the room there was a sea of people that were bonded together by their love of the tunes echoing in their ears. After a few drinks and a few laughs, I decided that I’d call it a night and began walking back to my hotel.
Earlier that day, I had taken an elevator from the ground floor of the Rockefeller Center Building to the top of the world. From there, I had photographed the majesty of the Empire State Building and the autumn colours of Central Park. Many hours had also been spent on the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge, outside the Chrysler Building and at the Statue of Liberty, taking pictures from every conceivable angle. Doing a photo shoot in the most iconic town in the world, New York City, was exhilarating. It was a photographer’s heaven.
So there I was, walking down MacDougal Street in the middle of the night and no one else was around. Or so I thought. I suddenly heard a voice in the distance, “Hey big fella, where are you from?” I looked around and there was an edgy young man pacing across the footpath. He seemed a little agitated. I told him I was from Australia. Being so far from home and given the lateness of the hour, I was a little wary.
“How do they treat the black man in Australia?” He asked. I paused, took a deep breath and then took a moment to think of how to best answer his question. I told him that there was good and bad everywhere. Australia was no different. There was some ignorance in Australia, but there was also a lot of good people who were respectful and kind. I assured him that I always treated people the way I wanted to be treated myself. That is, I wanted people to treat me and judge me by the quality of my actions and by the content of my character, not by what I looked like or where I came from. He began walking closer towards me.
He stopped about 5 metres away and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. He pointed at me and said in a loud voice, “You know, you look like a guy from a Spike Lee movie!” “Which one?” I asked, “Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, Mo Better Blues?” “You know Spike Lee?” he replied in a surprised tone. “I love Spike Lee.” I answered. Spike Lee was and is one of my favourite film makers. Suddenly, the tension dissipated and a smile swept across the young man’s face.
Immediately his energy had changed, and he began telling me his story. He was homeless and very hungry. I put my arm around his shoulder and shared with him that I came from Greek heritage and that that the Greeks had a genetic pre-disposition for feeding people. I offered to buy him dinner and he humbly accepted.
When I laid down to go to sleep that night, I took stock of what I had experienced during those past 12 hours. It was a good day.