Every day from 6 to 8 a.m., you’ll find Al Nixon sitting at his favorite bench in St. Petersburg, Florida, drinking coffee, listening to music on his phone, and providing a comforting presence to the other park regulars.
Nixon, 58, first came to this park seven years ago, looking to clear his head. Watching the sunrise over the ocean, he was at ease, and he started coming to the park several days a week. One day, a woman walking by stopped and told Nixon, “I know when I see you sitting there that everything is going to be all right.”
Nixon was overwhelmed, he told The Tampa Bay Times, and “for the first time, I knew there was more of a purpose to me being out here than just soothing my own woes. We have an impact on other people, unwittingly, and I’m sure it can be both good or bad.” The woman’s remark resonated so strongly with Nixon that he now never misses a morning at his bench. He spends much of the time connecting with others — some might just say hello, while others talk to him about their relationships or kids.
Nixon, a father of three, only gives advice when asked, he told the Times, and he doesn’t judge anyone. “Mostly people just want to be heard,” he added. “I’ve heard a thousand stories. I don’t consider myself all that smart, or debonair, but I’m a good listener.”
In the fall, Nixon went out of town for a few days, and when he wasn’t in his usual spot at the park, people thought the worst. Someone put a plaque on the bench thanking Nixon for being “a loving and loyal friend and a confidant to many,” and he had to quickly let people know online that he wasn’t dead. “It’s a wonderful thing to make a person know they’re appreciated like that, while they’re still alive,” he told the Times.