drifter

Daniel the Drifter visits Forsyth last week with his  cart and dogs. (Photo courtesy Lamar Russell)

Every so often, Forsyth is blessed with a visit from a mysterious drifter. This last week, that visitor was Daniel, a man with the complexion of Charlie Manson but the disposition of Gandhi. When I spoke with him, Daniel was making his way up Highway 41 in a bicycle rickshaw with five young Pit Bulls. 

Daniel originally hails from Indiana, but his mother was born and raised in Hahira, Ga. After laying brick early in his life, Daniel decided to give up all his worldly possessions and journey across the county like Forest Gump. That was 20 years ago. Since then, he’s walked tens of thousands of miles and covered nearly every state in the continental US. Of all the places Daniel’s been, Georgia holds a special place in his heart. “My favorite places have to be Georgia, Texas and Arizona. The land and the people are so beautiful. It’s just really nice.” 

Daniel spoke of different people he’s met on his travels and the generosity that’s been shown to him over the years. In one encounter, he gave a young boy all the money he had and told him to buy something nice with it. The boy at first refused on account of Daniel being homeless but he told the kid to stuff it in his pocket and keep it. On another occasion, he met an old man selling fruit on the side of the road. The man was giving the money earned to a neighboring widow struggling to pay her bills. The man told Daniel that when he was younger, he traveled the country via waterways along the Mississippi; living off catfish he caught and sold to people along the way. Recently, Daniel’s tires went flat on his rickshaw and he went to a repair shop to have them replaced. Instead of charging him, the garage owner bought Daniel lunch and gave him a blanket to stay warm.  

Perhaps the greatest story of generosity happened to him in Cross City. “I was living out in the woods at the time. My mother Pit Bull was pregnant with pups so I couldn’t go anywhere until they were born and old enough to travel. One day I was walking up the road when this old man pulled up to me and asked if I wanted a ride into town. He said his name was Tim. He was a Federal man and an animal lover like me. After that meeting, he started bringing me Big Macs three or four times a week. One day, he came up to me and said ’I need a man with a red bulldog to take a house’. And then he bought me a house!” 

At first, he offered to buy Daniel a big two-story house but he refused. “I told him I’d rather just have something small with a lot of land for me and my dogs to walk around. So he got me two acres with a trailer for me to live in. We fenced it in so I didn’t have to worry about my dogs running off or getting run over. Tim paid for my haircuts, clothes, food, water bill, electric bill and everything else. It probably added up to over $40,000 total. He was a give and you shall receive kind of guy.” 

“I wasn’t trying to settle down but I needed to at the time. After a year and a half, the pups were grown and I was itching to get back on the road. I tried to give it away to a girl that worked at McDonalds. People that work a McDonalds don’t make much and she had a child. But she turned me down. She just didn’t understand. Who gives away houses after all? So, I just gave it back to Tim and told him to find someone else that needed it. I get restless being in a place too long. Being on the road gives me fulfillment”. 

Daniel has walked nearly 8,000 miles with his new young pups, although they prefer to sit in the trolley while he pedals. He just turned 53 and says he may be looking to settle down in the foreseeable future. “I’ll find a nice piece of land on a river one of these days where I can build myself a little shack. It’d be nice to have a place to go back to and rest.” 

Daniel ended our little chat with a snippet of life advice. “People tell me things are worse now than they’ve ever been. That’s not true. There’s still so much beauty in the world. You just have to look for it. I’m happy and fulfilled and not everyone can say that. Some people have all the stuff in the world and still aren’t satisfied. It’s not something you can buy. People buy things they think they need but they really don’t. Spending your life helping others is way more rewarding than spending it on yourself.”