Michael wanted to share this inspirational story about never giving up…

Carlos Thomas rode his bicycle to interview at a new Marshalls. He got a part-time job that he hopes will be his ticket out of homelessness.

Carlos Thomas rode his bicycle to interview at a new Marshalls. He got a part-time job that he hopes will be his ticket out of homelessness. STAFF PHOTO / CHIP LITHERLAND

By Thomas Becnel of the Sarasota-Herald Tribune

Three weeks ago, Carlos Thomas bicycled his way into a part-time job.

When he heard that Marshalls was opening a store on University Parkway, he arranged for an interview with the manager. Then he rode his bike several miles to keep the appointment.

“I was sweating and my legs were shaking, and I told the guy that I rode all the way from Bradenton,” Thomas says, laughing. “He goes, ‘You did what?’ And he hired me: ‘Be here tomorrow at 9 a.m.'”

Thomas, 37, needed a break.

He had worked at Scott Paint Stores for a decade, becoming a manager, but got laid off in 2007. Since then, he has not been able to find regular work. He ended up losing his car, his apartment and most of his possessions.

Thomas now lives at the Salvation Army shelter in Sarasota. Before that, he stayed with friends, or slept in local parks.

Somehow he manages to stay neat and clean, with a shaved head and trimmed goatee.

Thomas owns one pair of white sneakers and one pair of black dress shoes. A few pants and button-down shirts. One necktie.

“People look at me and say, ‘There’s no way you’re homeless,'” he says. “You know, people have this perception of what the homeless look like. I say, ‘No, I’m just well-kept homeless.'”

Thomas hopes his housing situation will change now that he has a job.

“My plan is to collect a couple of paychecks and rent a room,” he says. “Then move up to a studio apartment and go from there.”

Country character

Thomas is full of surprises.

When he watches the news, he enjoys Fox television personalities such as Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Unlike an overwhelming majority of African-Americans, he did not vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

“I didn’t know enough about him,” he says. “He just came out of nowhere to me.”

In 2007, Thomas spent several months in England, staying with a woman he met over the Internet. Even now, without a home in Sarasota, he maintains a MySpace page.

When he can, he logs on to a computer at Selby Public Library.

Thomas’ few personal belongings include sunglasses, a cell phone and a digital music player. His favorite singers include Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn and Kenny Chesney.

“I love country music,” he says. “It soothes me, when I’m going through trying times.”

Landing the job at Marshalls was a big step forward.

Dan Meyers, the manager who hired him, had 300 applicants for 35 spots. Thomas stood out.

“He rode almost 12 miles,” Meyers said, laughing. “It put a big star above his name.”

Earl Hayden manages a Scott Paint Store in Sarasota. He laughed, too, when describing the several years he worked with Thomas.

“He’s just a goofy character,” Hayden said. “Just a fun-loving guy who was good to be around.”

Michigan to Florida

Thomas was born in Georgia, but his family moved to Michigan when he was 9. He dropped out of Ypsilanti High School when his girlfriend got pregnant. They married. He worked as a cab driver and short-order cook.

After they divorced, Thomas moved to Sarasota. He worked as a landscaper, car detailer and bartender.

In 1997, he survived a horrific motorcycle accident. He spent weeks in the hospital, getting a hip replacement, and then lived off a cash settlement.

Thomas worked for years at Scott Paint Stores in Sarasota and Bradenton. Laid off early in 2007, he collected unemployment, then cashed in his 401(k) retirement funds.

“For the next five months, I couldn’t find a bartender job to save my life,” he says. “If you’re bartending, you can pick yourself up pretty quick, but I couldn’t find anything.”

Thomas found a few odd jobs, but he couldn’t afford to keep his car or his apartment. A friend gave him a bicycle, which helped him move from park to park.

“I have to live kind of rough,” he says, “but I try to keep clean and straight and narrow.”

Thomas jokes about trying to maintain appearances, even while homeless. He avoids thrift store clothing.

“That’s not my style,” he says, “unless you want to look like J.J. from ‘Good Times.'”

Career decisions

Thomas does not lack confidence or ambition.

When he talks about earning his GED, he says he might go on to study for a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree.

Thomas is grateful for even a part-time job at Marshalls. He works side-by-side with an unemployed architect.

“I don’t know why he’s so upset,” Thomas says. “He doesn’t have to worry about taking a bath or finding a place to sleep.”

He blames himself for poor career decisions that date back years, saying he should have finished high school. He could have joined the military.

“I’d be retired right now,” he says, shaking his head.

Instead, Thomas is hoping to find a place to live. He applies for bartending jobs that would supplement his income.

He hasn’t lost hope. He looks for the bright side to a dark time in his life.

“Even being homeless, I can find a place in Sarasota to sit and be in peace,” he says. “If you can get through this tough time, it’s a great place to be.”