If anyone has lived in New York City or driven down the busy FDR drive, you've probably seen the assumed homeless man there, or evidence of him. He'll set up weird standing arrangements, quirky, funny or just strange signs, or he may be standing there himself with props, often fruit. Well, this icon of Manhattan driving is not, in fact, homeless, not mentally ill to the point of lacking awareness of what he was doing or the motivation for it. His name is Otis Houston, Jr. and he lives nearby in East Harlem and works as a custodian at a health club.
Mr. Houston claims he puts on this "show" to entertain and inform his audience of drivers in the natural bottleneck of this stretch of the FDR. He came to New York as a teenager from South Carolina, but fell into selling drugs and spend some time in jail years ago. While locked up, he took art classes and after his release, he used this spot on the roadside as his studio, trying out his skills as an artist and using the position to get himself noticed. That he indeed did! He's been noticed and known by thousands, passers by will often honk and wave and call out his nick name, Black Cherokee, for his part Cherokee heritage. Mr. Houston is simply an artist going old school to get people to see his work.
Two NYC filmmakers noticed him and put together a very original documentary about Houston that highlighted him in a whole new way than these urban drivers would ever know. There are clips of him caring for his father ill with Alzheimer's, and him giving conversation like any other New Yorker.
This post is an obvious lesson in withholding judgement. Everyone you pass today, in New York City, to Nebraska to South Dakota, has a story, and we're all just trying to be heard.
Below are some tags from everyday New Yorkers enjoying the Black Cherokee on their way to work:
(And him, as you can see, really enjoying what he does too!)