Remembering Richard

May, 2004

Whenever I travel, I think of Richard.

I met Richard about the time Wendy and I got married. He lived in our apartment building, sharing a nice two bedroom unit with his wife and her sister. He was a big guy, standing about 6' 2", broad shouldered with a shock of blond hair atop his large head.  He nearly always wore a smile. During the winter months I would
see him in the stairway or in the laundry room, but during the other months I mostly remember seeing him outside the apartment building, sitting in a lawn chair under a shade tree by the parkway.  

He had lived in the building for years before Wendy and I moved in and he seemed to be a storehouse of information about the area. If I had questions about nearly anything, he had a good answer.  Many times I would come home from work to find Richard sitting in his lawn chair next to the sidewalk, greeting all who walked by. Sometimes he had a little transistor radio with him, and he would hold it up to his ear, trying to keep tabs on the daily adventures of the Chicago White Sox. Passers-by would ask him the score or make some small talk, interrupting their hurried urban lives for a moment to chat with 'the guy who knew everybody'.  I met lots of neighborhood folks by standing outside talking with Richard. He introduced me to 'Officer Bert' - the cop who walked a beat in our neighborhood, a man who stood so tall that my nose was about even with his
badge. Everybody knew Richard, and he knew everybody in the world. He knew the neighborhood kids, the pilots and flight attendants who did their lay-overs in the nearby buildings. (Our apartment was near the rapid-transit line to the O'Hare airport.) He knew every neighborhood dog by name. I was certain that if
the Pope were be tooling about Chicago's northwest side, his holiness would park the popemobile, saunter up to Richard and ask him, "How's the game going, Richard?"  Richard was that kind of guy.
  

        Sometimes I'd park my car and spend an hour out on the sidewalk, just 'shooting the breeze' with Richard, until Wendy would come looking for me. She would find me standing on the sidewalk, still wearing my grimy technician's coveralls, toolbox at my feet, and caught up in some deep philosophical discussion about video tape rentals or skateboards or some similar earth-shaking topic. Sometimes there were three or four of us standing around just in conversation, losing all track of time, until it got to be too dark to see, or the mosquitoes started ganging up on us.
    I never knew what he had done to earn his living. He had some kind of disability (I suspect that he had a stroke) that prevented his going to work anymore (his left arm always seemed to be folded across his chest) but he was as knowledgeable of the city map as any Chicago cab driver, knew city politics like an alderman, and could read people like a salesman. Richard had a weathered look about him, as if he were used to many years of hard labor, or maybe years of military service.  I guessed him to be somewhere in his fifties, so he might
have been in the war in Viet Nam.  He never liked to talk about himself, so in all the years of talking we never got around to the subject.
     He got a big kick out of helping others. After my older son was born, I bought a bigger car and needed to sell my old small one. One of the answers to my newspaper ad came from a Russian ship captain who wanted me to drive down to the docks at Calumet harbor so he could get a look at the car. I had no intention of going until Richard said, "I know the docks pretty well-- why don't we go down together?" So we did. I ended up selling my car to the captain, who loaded the car onto his ship, and for all I know my old Ford Tempo is still
running around Moscow --or the Ukraine or someplace like that. We signed the bill of sale in the captain's quarters on board the ship. I got $1550 for the car, and the captain threw in a bottle of Russian vodka with the deal.(I gave the booze away, by the way.) That's the kind of fun experience you never forget, and I would have missed it if it weren't for Richard.
   A couple years later I changed jobs and went from being a TV repairman / lawn mower mechanic at Montgomery Ward to taking on a job that would eventually turn me into an engineer and IT manager. Richard was there, encouraging me to answer the blind want ad that put me where I am today. He was like that- telling me that I would be going places.
  Some time later,  I was sent on a business trip (my first ever!) and I needed a garment bag for my suit. Richard had opened a new account or something at his bank, and they gave him one as some kind of promotion. He gave it to me. At first I didn't want to accept it, so I told him I probably wouldn't use it very
much. I'll remember his answer for the rest of my life. He said, "Nonsense-- you'll be taking it to China."
    A few months later Wendy and I bought our house in Aurora and moved out.   I never saw Richard after that. He died sometime before I made my first trip to Shanghai--- with the bag. Now it's been there six times in the last 2 1/2 years, and I am getting ready to pack it for the 7th trip.  I wish I could go back to the old neighborhood and see Richard out in his lawn chair, cheering on the Sox, and just tell him he was right. He was right about a lot of things, Richard was.

All the best to you, Richard.

Neil