Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Johnnie B-Part Three

A few years back, I was on a visit home to see the family in Michigan, and, almost in passing, I asked my brother if he had heard of or seen Johnnie B. lately. He looked at me hard, as if to suggest that I was playing with his head by merely asking the question. Once he decided I was serious, he let me know that Johnnie B. had been "a Skid Row bum" for as long as he could remember. "We just drove by his favorite haunt yesterday, that Quik Mart down by the City Union Mission," he said. "You wouldn't even recognize him if you saw him. A real shame."

I made a mental note of this information, shaking my head about how interesting life can be at times. That evening, I went for a ride around the area my brother described. I had no agenda but to simply get a glimpse of him, if possible. No luck.

The next afternoon, I flew home to my most pleasant, adopted hometown in a first class seat. I knew my loving wife and perfect daughter were waiting for me in our idyllic home, a home planted in a neighborhood that sits on the corner (the "poorest" corner, mind you) of one of the wealthiest square miles of housing in the country. I thought long and hard about the irony that I was having a drink I did not need while traveling home to such a setting, while Johnnie B. was living near a City Union Mission, roaming the streets begging for money, hoping to calm his own storms.

I arrived home and I told my wife about the trip. I told her in detail, for the first time, about that morning out on the dock many years ago. I told her about Johnnie B's advice, advice she recognized as one of the oft-repeated mantras of my worldview.

"You need to go find him and thank him for what he did," she said. I knew she was right. So that's what I decided I would some day do.