Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My Escort

I just got back from Ohio. A book tour stop in Dayton and Cincinnati led me there. Apparently, when you go to a market for a book stop, you get an “escort”. Not THAT kind of an escort. Not Eliot Spitzer style. The traditional kind: a single person accompanying another or others for protection, guidance, or courtesy.

Her name was Barbara. She was probably in her early 70’s. But she could have been anywhere from mid-60’s to late 70’s I’m guessing. She was, by far, one of the most interesting people I have ever met. I felt like Ira Glass, sans tape recorder. She drove me back and forth from Cincinnati to Dayton to Cincinnati to Dayton and back to Cincinnati within the span of about 10 hours. We probably covered a good 250 miles, at least. She did all of this with a knee that was recently replaced.

Here’s just a tad of what made her interesting... no…not interesting. She was more than that. She was insightful, opinionated, outspoken, resillient, tough. She was cool.

1) She shared some of the most personal moments of her life with me; and we’d only just met.

2) She married her husband at 21, mere months after meeting him. While perhaps it began as a marriage of convenience (when he was told he was being transferred, he told his boss he couldn’t be, he was getting married. And then she married him so he wouldn’t have to move), she grew to love him.

3) In the early 70s, while dining in a restaurant, a car came through the window and ran over her legs. She got less than $1000 in the settlement. And she's not bitter.

4) She has two daughters. One left Ohio and lived in Europe for ten years working for the UN.

5) She has one granddaughter. And she lost one grandchild. And she's not bitter.

6) Her husband was diagnosed with colon cancer at 59. He died three years later.

7) After mourning his death, she decided she needed some "new experiences." She went to work at a soup kitchen on Thanksgiving. She was disgusted by all the ‘do – gooders’ who came once a year to help the homeless so she decided to become a regular.

8) While working there, it was the first time she experienced being the only white person in the room. She developed some serious empathy for black folks.

9) She befriended a black man who volunteered there as well. When he took ill and had a leg amputated (he was diabetic), she volunteered to ‘help’ him. She became his caretaker. She brought him food, took him to the doctor, was his friend for many years.

10) They went to Niagara Falls together on a whim and he suffered a heart attack. She took care of him after that as well.

11) She received a letter from the man’s son, thanking her for taking care of his father. The son was in prison for shooting two people. They didn't die. But he shot 'em just the same.

12) She corresponded with the son and visited him often. When he got out on parole after 14 years (2 years early), she invited him to live with her. She got him a job operating a forklift. He held it for a while. But then he tested positive for drugs. Lost the job. She doesn't regret helping him, but it was time for him to go.

13) He moved away to Atlanta – didn’t go back to prison – to look for work with a friend. She talks to him regularly. On the phone and through letters.

14) She has worked as a dancer, chef, food stylist, writer–escort and Lord knows what else.

15) She loves Barack Obama. She does not like Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Rush Limbaugh or Bill O’Reilly.

16) Each time we drove past this totally bizarre church - it had a giant Jesus waist deep in the grass in front of a sprawling, modern evangelical house of God that resembled a stadium more than a place of worship - she said: “Look, there’s butter Jesus! Doesn’t he look like he was carved from butter? Up the road there's a church with a Starbucks and a soccer field! Can you believe that?”

17) She’s driven Suze Ormann, Nora Roberts, Denis Lahane and many other people I’d never heard of. And seemed thoroughly unimpressed.

18) She's been to China, Hong Kong, Belgium, France. The list goes on. Paris and Florence are her favorite places on earth.

Damn, people are interesting! What a woman. Her openness prompted me to share some stuff too. We talked about the book, gymnastics, my work, my family. But I kept the fact that I voted for Hillary to myself. I feared she might pull over and ask me to get out if I were to convey that little tid bit. She really really doesn't like Hillary.

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