Willard Says...

May 26, 2022

The Walking Man

One of the best parts of my job as a commercial real estate broker is not being tied to my desk for 10 hours per day. Typically, I have several meetings every day all over downtown Chicago and I always try to walk to and from these no matter the distance.

By doing this, it helps me keep tabs on the pulse of the city and gives me a chance to clear my head while I mentally prepare for my next showing. Plus, it is really the only form of exercise I get these days.

While roaming the streets with my patented fast-paced steps, I am always fascinated by the vast number of people asking for money; it seems like someone can be found panhandling on just about every Loop corner. Some of these individuals have been parked at the same location for years, while others strategically move from one location to the next. While there are exceptions, most of these people are simply down on their luck and are fairly harmless. Admittedly, I have never taken the time to get to know any one of these people by name, but over time I have started to recognize them as part of the unique fabric that makes up downtown Chicago.

For example, anyone who works in the vicinity of Clark and Madison knows of the “World’s Finest Chocolate Lady” who bellows in an annoyingly boisterous tone for 8 hours a day. Patrons of Ogilvie Transportation Center are likely familiar with the woman who sits on the Madison Street bridge everyday with resumes in hand in case a compassionate person has a job to offer, while politely asking for loose change to help her get through the day. The cast of characters is endless.

Part of me wants to stop and help every one of these people, but I cannot help being skeptical. I will never forget going to a Bulls game at the old Chicago Stadium and seeing a man in a wheelchair begging for money to help with his disability. After the game, I saw a car pull up next to him in an alley and watched him stand up from his chair, fold it up into the trunk and then walk into the car bragging to his friend about how much money he had just made. There was another instance where I gave some loose change to a beggar, only to have it thrown back in my face because it wasn’t enough. I was even scammed once by a sob story that I bought–hook, line and sinker–only to find out later that the guy was a complete fraud. Because of these incidents, I cannot bring myself to donate money to street people anymore.

However, a recent story in the news about one of these aforementioned characters known to many as the “Walking Man” really raised my ire. I have observed him wandering the streets of the Loop, Michigan Avenue, Streeterville, Gold Coast and Old Town for over 20 years. He has a very distinctive look: long, wavy, silver hair (it was black when I first noticed him), a bushy mustache and always clad in a white v-neck t-shirt and a sport coat. He has a mysterious look to him: part distinguished and part disheveled. He generally keeps to himself and never bothers anyone, always seeming to be wandering around with no particular place to go. Often, I have wondered what the story is with the Walking Man. Who is he and how did he get to where he is now?

Fast forward to this week when I was stunned to see a news story in which this man was brutally attacked on Lower Wacker Drive and by all accounts, is lucky to still be alive. The attack was so vicious that he has severe damage to his legs and may never regain eyesight.

As more details came out, though, we learned more about this mystery man. His name is Joseph Kromelis. He is a transient who goes from one homeless shelter to the next and has no family left, other than a nephew and an estranged sister who lives in Alaska. Certainly, he has no money to pay his medical bills and subsequent rehabilitation that awaits.

Everyday, I see stories in the Chicago news that make me shake my head and wonder what the heck is going on in this town. However, the outpouring of support and financial assistance to Joseph warms my heart and shows that in spite of the multitude of issues, we are still, for the most part, a city of genuinely good and compassionate individuals.

The Walking Man’s nephew has set up a Go Fund Me page for his uncle and I have donated some money. While I do not know Joseph personally, he is such a familiar face that I feel like we are old acquaintances. I figure this is as good of a time as any to break my policy.

If you would like to contribute to Joseph, please click here