Bob Clausen remembering ‘Headphone Carl’


LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Last week driving into work, I watched a man cross the street who had a radio put up against his ear. Old school transistor radio, no iPhone or ear buds.

It made me think, “Hey! I haven’t seen a guy I call ‘Headphone Carl’ in a while.”

A homeless man who walks from one end of Little Rock and back and has for years.

First time I saw him was when I moved here 25 years ago, been seeing him ever since.

Like a lot of people, our paths crossed on occasion.

A day after thinking that, I opened an email from my news director simply saying, “I think you could do a commentary on this,” and there was Carl’s picture, next to his obituary.

His name is Keith Gibbs.

We covered a story about a homeless man who died and was found between two concrete barriers in an interstate median. We didn’t know who it was until recently.

Sad end to a sad story? Hard to say.

I didn’t know Keith and feel bad I never really looking into his story, but reading on, I learned he was a son and brother. He had a life, loved ones who I understand cared for him over the years as best they could, given his circumstances.

I can only imagine he lived in his own safety zone, listening to his headphones going on about his life such as it was.

I don’t know that he was ever a bother to anyone.

We crossed paths over the years, never engaging in conversation, but I always offered what I could and he gratefully accepted, except one time.

He was walking across a convience store parking lot in West Little Rock. I left the gas pump and handed him a few dollars.

“Thank you,” was all he said, and he went on.

Later in the afternoon in downtown Little Rock, there he was. I’m pretty sure he didn’t ride the bus, and thought, “My gosh, he walked all this way.”

I walked over and offered him a few more dollars, if for nothing else, the effort for his commute.

He looked at me and said, “No thank you,” smiled and walked on.

I like to think because he recognized me from earlier and wasn’t going to take money from me twice in one day, and that’s what I’m going to keep thinking.

I don’t know what Keith was thinking between those headphones all those years, but think of this: He was a son, a brother, nephew, uncle and so on. He had a life, although it didn’t resemble yours or mine.

His family loved him. I’m sure he loved them the best he could.

People have been heartbroken, saying he died alone.

By himself, yes. But alone?

He was surrounded by his city, people who knew who he was were all around him.

He was next to maybe his best friend, a road, that could take him wherever he wanted to go.

As many times as I saw him, I can honestly say I never saw him ask for anything. Nothing.

He got a lot of help from his family, from everybody on his life’s road, where he must have been comfortable always on the move.

He’ll make one more trip Wednesday at noon- Dial and Dudley Funeral Home in Bryant.

Check out their website and read some of the messages. Heart warming.

I’m sure he’ll fit right in on the road he’ll be walking next.

For sure, he will not be alone.

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