EUGENE, Ore. — Santiago Reyes is a hard man to photograph. He moves restlessly, as if his powerful energy is bigger than his body—or bigger than his wheelchair.
Reyes was born in southern Mexico and came to the United States in the 1970s. He worked mostly construction jobs until one morning in 2003 when his life changed forever.
“Some car in front of me lost control and started to roll back and forth on the I-5,” he says, “and I hit.”
After that came the depression and the years of fruitless job interviews. For 10 long years, the answer was always the same: no dice. Sometimes he wanted to give up. He spent his days volunteering in Cottage Grove, driving himself every day to Community Sharing to help prepare food for others. He took classes on security and got the licenses he needed.
Then, finally, came some good news.
“I really didn’t see the chair that he’s in,” says Darryl Fink, the lead supervisor of Guardian Events Security. “I saw him and listened to him, his passion for wanting to work and for just wanting a chance.”
A chance was all that Reyes needed, so now he works the front lines of security. Today, it’s a classic car auction at Brasher’s in north Eugene, keeping an eye on acres and acres of cars, always with a dose of good humor.
“He’s probably got the biggest smile out of everybody on the crew,” says Mike Guggenmos, who owns Guardian Events Security, “and he’s always saying hello to everybody.”
“I wish I could have 50 people like him,” says Fink.
In case you’re wondering, Reyes says he doesn’t worry that somebody will challenge or hurt him because he says his powers of communication can overcome most resistance. He’s also not worried about any suspects who might try to get away.
“I can run fast,” he says.
So Reyes moves on, always watchful and always helping. In the only way that matters, he is back on his feet.