Talk of the town: A short history of Gemini Dream
You've probably seen his familiar face downtown, sometimes in coffee shops, other times holding up homemade signs with messages like - "Need a buck. Why lie? I want to get high on pot" - and asking passersby if they can spare some change.
He may have even asked you.
You may have witnessed him hassling those who come to the corner of North University Avenue and South State Street on Saturday afternoons to condemn our souls for the sin of failing to march and chant alongside them.
"It is better to give than to receive!" he yells. "Give to your neighborhood dope man!"
"Fight the power of Satan!" he says, co-opting the language of the protestors to raise some cash to feed his pot habit.
But there's a lot more to the man than his antics. If every man has a story, every panhandler can tell you how his took a wrong turn. So too with Gemini Dream, who borrowed his moniker from the Moody Blues song by the same name.
Gemini wouldn't agree to provide his real name to AnnArbor.com for fear that his Social Security case worker will decide that a man healthy enough to panhandle is healthy enough to work for a living. But he did sit down to explain why he calls the streets home, how he got here, and how Ann Arbor has treated him since he arrived in Treetown five years ago.
A few wrong turns
For the bulk of Gemini's adult life, he says he's been gainfully employed. From 1982 to 1999, Gemini worked for BDS Corporation in Virginia, a service owned by his father that contracted with airlines to return lost luggage to its rightful owners in Virginia and neighboring states.
Gemini says he spent most of his time in the office in the early years, sporting a short haircut and wearing neat trousers, a white shirt and a tie to work every day. But when a driver left the company, Gemini saw his opening to liberate himself from the office and his father's watchful eye. That freedom was well worth the pay cut, he says.
"My dad found fault with everything - he was very quick to judge and to criticize," Gemini says. "We hadn't seen eye-to-eye since I was 13. So the first chance I got to get out of that office, I took it."
Gemini got married and became a father in 1976, at the age of 18. He and his wife had two children before separating in 1982 and divorcing in 1984, he says.
Shortly after his separation - in the rebound stage, Gemini admits - he met his second wife. They were married from 1984 to 1991. Another marriage in April 1998 lasted for little more than a year before Gemini and his third wife parted ways.
In 1992, Gemini was nailed with the first of three drunken driving charges - all within a year. By 1993, Virginia had placed him on "habitual offender" status and suspended his license, he says.
His driving days a thing of the past, Gemini says he returned to office work, serving as a dispatcher for the company. He stayed in that role until his father died in 1999, and the company imploded.
Gemini says he then worked a series of dead-end temp jobs while his mother paid his rent. That arrangement ended in early 2002, when Gemini received a letter from his mother notifying him that he'd be cut off on April 1. She died from complications related to her diabetes in 2004.
By the time his mother's payments ended, Gemini says he'd had already applied for Social Security disability insurance for manic-depression, but needed something to tide him over.
"I knew I had to do something for money, so I started panhandling," Gemini says.Â
The more people he asked for money, the more comfortable he got with asking people for money. Even when the disability insurance came through, he kept asking.
Two towns to call home
Gemini Dream was born in 1958 near Cambridge, England, the youngest of six siblings. He says his family left England to live with friends in Philadelphia in early 1964 before moving to Richmond, Va., on Feb. 3, 1964.
Despite staying in Richmond for 40 years and a day - he left town Feb. 4, 2004 - Gemini doesn't call it home. He reserves that title for the towns where he says people have treated him best over the years: Gainesville, Fla., and Ann Arbor.
Florida had long been a fascination. When Gemini was locked up for 280 days in Richmond in 2002 - he says for his role in an anti-Iraq War protest - he made a point of asking a fellow inmate how he liked Florida.
He got positive reviews and hitchhiked his way to the Sunshine State. He says he made it as far south as Key West before encountering a hippy community that sung the praises of Ann Arbor and how tolerant the community was for drifters and street people - the guys who've taken a wrong turn or two in life.
That spring he made his maiden voyage to Treetown. He says he fell in love immediately.
"Most of the smaller towns I've been to are very uneducated; it's the exact opposite here," Gemini says, citing the University of Michigan and the the thousands of talented people it brings to town each year.
Since leaving Richmond, Gemini has split time between Gainesville and Ann Arbor, opting for Florida when it's cold in Michigan and Ann Arbor when it's too hot in Gainesville.
Of course, life in Ann Arbor isn't always easy. Gemini's frankness about how he spends the proceeds of his panhandling makes him something of a magnet for law enforcement.
"Most of the cops in Ann Arbor are cool. They'll see me out with my signs and give me the 'thumbs up', or they'll figure I'm not worth a bed in the county jail," Gemini says. "But there seems to be a few guys who never got past the bully phase of high school."
Gemini was panhandling in Nickels Arcade in August 2008 when he says he was approached by an officer who cited him for panhandling and gave him a November court date.
Gemini never showed. "I had a bus ticket [to Gainesville], so I said 'screw this' and left town," in October, he says.
But leaving made matters worse. By the time he returned to Ann Arbor last summer, there was a warrant out for his arrest.
The warrant was discovered when Gemini got into another run-in with local police. After being released on his own recognizance, he was sentenced to six months of reporting to probation for skipping the 2008 court date.
Gemini says he thought about skipping town again, but knew that would've meant the end of his travels to Ann Arbor. That's why he's still in town, wrapping up things with his probation officer.Â
On Wednesday, Nov. 4, Gemini plans to board a bus headed for Hawthorne, Calif., to visit his daughter. After that, it's back to Gainesville until temperatures rise too far.
By next spring, Gemini says he'll return to Ann Arbor, enjoying coffee at Amer's Cafe, a quesadilla at Tios or panhandling on a downtown street corner. He wouldn't have it any other way.