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VOL. 43 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 19, 2019

NFL Draft a gold (aluminum, actually) mine for King David

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“King David” Holloway pauses a moment in his kingdom: The dumpsters by Nissan Stadium where he daily collects cans. He’s looking forward to a boom in profits thanks to cans that will be left here by NFL Draft fans and those running in and watching the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

-- Photo By Tim Ghianni |The Ledger

After smiling at the white-haired stranger, King David lowers the top half of his body into a dark-green dumpster a few feet outside Nissan Stadium – the ultimate field of dreams for those whose egos are being massaged by single-minded politicians during the three-day NFL Draft rodeo and bacchanalia.

With something resembling Brady’s Red Zone precision, King David – formerly a longtime guest of the state correction system – pitches a dozen empty Monster Energy, Natural Light and soda cans from inside the green trash container and onto a grassy knoll.

He’s a PAT kick’s distance from the overpriced souvenir store that will be jammed when the 100,000 NFL fans, execs and hope-filled players descend on the stadium for “Draft Experience” activities or simply to park and walk across the Seigenthaler Bridge to that surreally monstrous stage and the adjacent spirits carnival and wet-T-shirt contest.

And that’s not mentioning the 30,000 folks who will run, walk or crawl right past this trash bin before belly-flopping across the finish line of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon.

“I welcome them. Let ’em come,” says King David Holloway, the self-crowned recycling entrepreneur who claims the Nissan Stadium parking lot and its periphery as his kingdom, his turf, the place where he’ll rescue football fans’ and runners’ empty drink cans from the bins and load them into heavy-duty trash bags.

There also could be empties cast aside by Parrotheads encamped and fueling for the Saturday night Jimmy Buffett concert and the at-this-writing still possible Preds’ playoff crowd at Bridgestone.

Hell, they might as well have had Fan Fair (I’m old, to me that’s what CMA Fest always will be) next weekend, as well. It will seem like it with guys like Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley and Charlie Worsham performing for the gridiron gods and well-lit fans.

“Be a lot of cans,” David says, adding that his best can-hunting season is when the Titans are playing at home and the all-day tailgating leads to overflowing bins.

King David admits to excitement at prospects of what the draft celebrants and the marathon participants will leave behind for him to recycle.

While I stand, enjoying the king’s company, machinery is at work on this side of the river doing what appears to be preliminary cleanup. But the “main campus” of the rich, gridiron folks’ orgy is being constructed across the water from East Nashville, that cute little section of town where hipsters are allowed to roam free and unsupervised.

Across the Cumberland, workers assemble what appears as a crude, massive “picnic table” that when completed will be a 460-footlong NFL Draft stage. Days before our city’s Cherry Blossom Festival, Nashville’s leaders played George Washington and removed mature cherry blossom trees to make room for the extravagance.

Course George did fess up in his case, proclaiming “I cannot tell a lie, I cut down that cherry tree” or some such. In Nashville, it was hard to get leaders to tell the truth even after they were caught, figuratively, clutching the axes.

“I’ve been doing this six, seven years now,” says King David, noting that his stadium parking lot recycling career was split in two segments because it was interrupted by a 14-year sabbatical in a state pen. He has been back on the job and filled with God for a couple of years now.

Given his profession, this native of East Nashville likely was excited when he realized that both the marathon and the NFL Draft extravaganzas would merge right here by Nissan Stadium.

He was excited, though maybe not as much as the tourism honcho, the short-term mayor, the boot-sellers, beer-servers, fried-bologna sandwich and calamari purveyors and even those gents who pose as Trump and Kim down on Lower Broadway. (I just wish a real hero, like Masters’ champ Tiger Woods was here in town, but that’s another story for another day, as I recall decades-ago days when I covered golf.)

While overfed NFL execs, their minions, fans and even a few ballplayers gorge themselves on our city’s “new” image crafted for this occasion, perhaps a few will hop into that BYOB hot tub on wheels party wagon that’s now competing with the pedal taverns and duck boats.

That’s the Nashville, I guess, that we want to show the world. Nobody eats at Linebaugh’s anymore, as John Hartford sang, a tribute to my favorite Lower Broad feeding trough that died long before our city was tagged “It.” And I’m wondering where the loose-legged bachelorettes and the beery, carnally inadequate Lower Broad regulars will fit into next week’s scheme.

King David won’t be celebrating with Roger Goodell, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Alabama’s Josh Jacobs and the rest of the folks in the stretch-HUMVEES and the like. He’ll be too busy right down here collecting as many aluminum cans as possible before he goes back to the Rescue Mission for prayers, food and a clean, well-lighted place to bed down.

“I’ve got to get back there in time to eat and have chapel,” he explains. “If you don’t go to chapel, you have to show them a check stub to show you were working.

“I don’t get no check stubs out here,” David adds, bright smile erupting between his close-cut white whiskers and mustache.

“I get 41 cents a pound for them,” he says, lifting one of the bulging bags that he notes will help pay for his daytime food and needs other than what he gets at the mission. His dining experiences will differ from those of the representatives of my favorite blood-sport.

“I take the cans just across the street,” says King David, who is working on his third bag of the afternoon.

He removes his thick, protective gloves for a moment as he takes a break just long enough to lament he won’t have time to get to the Nissan Stadium parking lots’ other bins today, as deadline approaches to get his booty (and the cans) to PSC Metals at 710 South First, a mecca for folks toting scrap metals of various sorts. “Gotta get there by 3:30.”

He stops for a moment and pats his belly. “I’m real hungry. You got any food in your car?” I don’t. I’m just a freelance writer and part-time college journalism educator, so I don’t even have cash to give him. In not too many minutes, he’ll be getting his cash at PSC, anyway.

Taking buses, hitching rides or even walking from the Rescue Mission to Nissan Stadium every day to work his bins is only temporary for him. He vows his times they are a-changing, as the old man from Minnesota sang.

“When I get my truck, I’ll be able to tote bigger things,” he tells me. “I’ll be able to get refrigerators, washers, stoves…

“They (people discarding old appliances) put them in the alleys, so I go through the alleys and get them.” Can’t collect those with a garbage bag, of course.

Before taking that appliance sheet-metal in for recycling, “I take the motor out of them. That’s money, too. Separate.”

Of course, he’ll also spin his truck through the parking lot to work his daily can rounds. It’s the nature of the business.

“I quit school in the 12th grade, but I got my GED in prison,” he tells me. “Don’t really need it now, ’cause I’m fixin’ to draw disability. I’ve got glaucoma. Blind in one eye. The other one’s doin’ good. Right eye is the bad one. I put drops in both eyes.”

After tossing the cans from the dumpster to the grass, “King David” Holloway pauses to talk about his job, the NFL Draft, the marathon, prison-preaching and Jesus before grabbing another bag to collect the cans to haul to the nearby recycler where he cashes in at 41 cents a pound.

-- Photo By Tim Ghianni |The Ledger

That disability check should be in his hands soon, David proclaims. “I’m going to get it. They already in the making of it. All I’m doing is waiting. I learned everything came through OK.”

With his future truck and operating from a home instead of the Mission, King David will be able to pick up more-skilled work, stuff that’s hard to find if a guy doesn’t have transportation.

“I can do carpentry, construction, all of that. Drywall. Grocery stores. Bank. All of that. Ain’t nothin’ I can’t do, man.

“I went to diesel college for six months … I know how to fix cars. Anything from 2000 down I can fix it.

“I don’t mess with anything from 2000 up. They’re different. All of them electronic: They got the (computer) box. I ain’t got it that far yet to get electronics.”

He steps lightly around the piles of cans he has scattered across the grass near the dumpster.

“I’ve been working all my life,” he adds. “I can do any kind of work. I cooked for 18 years at Shoney’s. I been there when they first did the Big Boy, when they first come out. I was 20-something. Yep, I was 30.

“I love to cook.”

That career as a cook was interrupted “after when I got in trouble. I don’t like to talk about it much. I did 14 years in prison. It’s a done deal. I don’t even think about it no more.”

He doesn’t look back, but he admits there are scars on his resume. His charges mostly were property crimes, breaking into cars and the like, according to lengthy rap sheets I got from Metro Police and the Department of Correction.

Though his record shows he was plenty busy in his most-productive criminal years, he adds that on some of the charges he took the fall for other guys “because I had the merchandise.”

Religion has helped him become someone other than the thief who went to prison, which was where he began his road to redemption by bowing and praying.

King David, who calls himself “a street minister” in addition to a can man and a willing laborer with one good eye, says he began practicing his ministry while in prison.

“I’ve been doing my ministry five years,” he continues, adding that he ended his time as a state guest about two years ago.

“I became a minister during the 14 years I’ve done in prison. I talked to people. I had night prayers and stuff every night. We had groups. We’d get together in a group. I would lead a group in ministry for two or three hours.”

He has continued that ministry since he checked out of the state’s extended-stay facility in West Tennessee. “Hey, God is good ... I talk to young people and stuff every day, wherever I go when I see them. On the bus. Walking. Downtown. Anywhere.

“I spread the seed. I talk to them about discipline and all that, how to live, how to do right and how to praise God. I’m trying to show the way I know.

“I been knowing it all my life, but I’ve just been doing it the five years I’m doing my ministry, to encourage people.”

He’s not excusing his past, but he allows “God turned my life around. He told me what I could do and what I couldn’t do anymore. I gave my life over to him. I couldn’t do it, so I put it into his hands.”

As for his King David name, well he gets that from the Bible, and says his mother called him that.

“I’m King David. I’m the king of all brothers. Jesus made David king. I’m the king. It’s in the Bible.”

While you may not want to count on him to outline your weekly liturgy, his friend, mentor and preacher Rusty McDonald, pastor of Hillcrest Community Church, on Martin Street – where David goes when he can get a ride –interprets the aluminum can king’s biblical intent: “He is a child of the King, himself: Jesus. So he’s more of a prince. Once you become a Christian, you are a child of the King, Jesus.

“I think David feels like it’s a calling of Jesus that he’s fulfilling.”

King David’s search for post-prison redemption has included listening to advice from the preacher and church friends that he is supposed to help other people, not just look out for himself.

And he does just that, according to Pastor Rusty, who runs his AMI Construction Inc. paving company (headquartered in Lebanon) when he’s not in the pulpit.

David helps the church in its mission to aid people in need, Pastor Rusty points out. By the way, this gentle minister is a volunteer, occupying the pulpit and helping this church that until recently served as a focal point for a struggling, underserved working-class or food-stamps community.

The church mission remains, though the skyline of the proud little neighborhood of inner-city cottages has changed, thanks to the epidemic “It City” surgery-by-bulldozers, making way for tall-skinnies, condos and the like. The newcomers likely will help fill the new Major League Soccer stadium being built at the Fairgrounds, basically just down the hill.

“Now there’s BMWs in the driveways,” says Rusty, illustrating the change he sees in his “parish.” Those new neighbors are welcome in his church, of course. Perhaps they’ll even drop in this coming Easter Sunday.

But the primary congregation consists of people who need help as well as hallelujahs and hosannas.

King David has been missing church for a while because of transportation woes, but he tells me “I’ll be going back soon.” Perhaps in that truck he covets.

The preacher is anxious to see him.

“David’s a great guy with a real positive attitude,” Rusty says. “This is a guy who could be really bitter about a lot of things.”

But when he is there, David gives of himself, the preacher says. He points out that David helped detail the cars and top off the oil for single moms who were at the church for a holiday gathering.

“They don’t have a man to do that, and we thought we could help them,” explains Rusty of that particular laying-on of the working-and-healing hands. “If they needed a headlight changed, we’d go down to the auto parts store and take care of that, too.”

David also detailed the church van and has taken part in all sorts of service.

One reason he’s not been there recently is that his regular ride, Layton Holcombe, owner of a cybersecurity talent network and a regular volunteer at the Rescue Mission, now attends a similarly-helping-hand skewed church closer to his Smyrna home.

“I’ve known and worked with David for the last couple of years, and I’ve been encouraging him to take positive steps by serving others,” Layton says.

“He has a useful story, and he can serve others, too …. I’ve been encouraged by David to see him work through the issues he’s had. The issue of hope and giving up is a daily struggle” for people at the Mission or on the street, according to Layton, who retains what Sinatra called “high-apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes” for David and for others he counsels.

He says he believes in the 57-year-old can man, who is doing things to help other people, despite his own circumstances.

“You can see the light in his eyes,” Layton says. “He’s hanging in there.”

I catch up with David again a day or so later outside Nissan Stadium. Across the river, workers seem to be operating on overdrive and overtime to construct the monstrous stage, a small part of it occupying land devoid of its mature cherry blossom trees.

This time, David is working through the trash containers over near the Juvenile Justice Center. We talk a bit more about the past he is working to overcome.

“It ain’t nothing to be proud of,” he says of his prison days. “Five years ago, stuff was going wrong. He (God/Jesus) gave me a chance, and I turned my life around. I was a sinner, and he forgave me and made me a minister.

“My Father, he don’t allow me to do nothing wrong no more. He changed my life, so that’s how it is.”

Meanwhile, of course, he’s got to focus on the cans, the 41 cents a pound he can make from other people’s leavings.

Maybe it will earn him enough to get some food. Perhaps it will go for bus fare to the doctor’s office.

“I do real well during football season,” he says. He expects a big week when the NFL comes calling in this offseason football lollapalooza. And marathon runners, of course, work up a thirst while walloping their bodies.

“Sometimes I don’t get no cans if I don’t get down here early enough,” David acknowledges. “I want to get here before the dumpster trucks come in and empty these.”

Yes, the marathon and the NFL festivities should provide for a good week for King David.

But when he looks across the river, there is one thing that troubles him: The apparent duplicity of those who removed the 10 mature cherry blossom trees to make room for the super-sized NFL Draft stage.

“I don’t know why they do that,” this gentle can king says. “Not at all.”

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