"He'll shake everybody's hand but mine!" cries the Bishop. "He knows I'll take out that demon! One day I run him all the way around that MARTA station, but he wouldn't take my hand!"
"He ain't no revund," huffs the Evangelist I. (for Inez) Willis, who has been preaching on this corner for the last six of her 60 years. She and the Bishop get along, but brother Webb (if that is really his name) is forever plaguing them. "I'm a prophet," says the Evangelist Willis. She shuffles three densely hand-lettered signs, hard to decipher linearly. The word WOE stands out, and THE OLYMPICS IS NOT OF GOD.
" Atlanta will be done away!" she says. "I been tellin' 'em for six years! But people'd rather it snuck up on 'em!"
A young couple bops by, grinning. "That's right, you laughing," cries the Evangelist Willis. "I know you ain't praying, 'cause you got that nekkid gal!" The gal is wearing a scarcely daring skirt and tank top. The Evangelist Willis is wearing a white hat, a white sweater with lace trim and a long, high-necked, flowered dress. She says she has been arrested four times (for excessive vehemence in criticism of longhaired male and underdressed female passersby, the Bishop explains).
She gives me a steady look. "God showed me a storm coming down that street!" she says. "He showed me a jail building blowing up! He showed me a train climbing steps! A train don't climb steps!" A couple of stairway levels below us, a MARTA train rumbles.
"This Olympits is the end," she says. "I know it is. All Atlanta care about is money! Atlanta with her attitude going to blow up! I been trying to warn 'em, and they laugh. It tears me up! I can't stand it!"
The nonverbal man swoops in again, holding up a newspaper clipping about a Cobb County arts exhibit and pointing to a figure quoted in the clipping: $229,037. Then he gestures inclusively toward himself and the Bishop and the Evangelist Willis and shakes his head. I'm going to say it's merrily. None of them are getting any of that money.
Nor do they ask their listeners for money. They get by. They have places to live. Lots of other people in Five Points don't. For years Woodruff Park has been a bedroom for the homeless. Twenty-four men and three women were sleeping there during last Friday night's opening ceremonies. Uncounted others have been driven away from the downtown area by police (there's a city ordinance forbidding "acting in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals" in a parking lot), by the new sprinkler system in Woodruff Park and by the demolition of three or four shelters during Olympic construction. The soup kitchen at St. Luke's Episcopal church has been converted temporarily to Big Al's 50's Caf�, which wasn't pulling in its anticipated Olympic revenues at lunchtime on Saturday. I was the only customer. Nine dollars for a bad hamburger, a package of potato chips, a pickle and a cold drink.
Word in the street was that military vans had been rounding up homeless men and stashing them at Fort McPherson, an Army post six miles from Five Points, for the duration of the Olympics. None of the homeless advocates to whom I talked could confirm that—and an Army spokesperson denies it—but Anita Beaty of Atlanta's Task Force for the Homeless says the Olympics have caused a net loss of "hundreds of beds, when we already have thousands too few."
She also says that 28% to 38% of the people who call her organization's 24-hour hotline in need of a place to sleep are working men and women. Many of them have helped build Olympic venues. But they're being ripped off by temporary "labor pools" that contract out the work at $11—$14 an hour, then pay the laborers the minimum wage—less deductions for food and transportation. "Our modern slavery," says Beaty.