Prior to my recent trip to Baltimore, T suggested that I contact an old school friend of ours who lived near where I would be staying. We all grew up together. Jim and T were best friends during high school. We have once again connected with him though Facebook. Although I had not communicated with him personally, I decided to take T’s suggestion. I sent Jim a message telling him about my trip to his city and T’s suggestion that I look him up while I was in town. Jim responded that he would love to get together. Unfortunately, he had previous plans to be in New York City during most of my visit to Baltimore. I responded, and told him not to worry about it. I gave him my cell number just in case he returned home while I was still in town. I really didn’t expect to hear from him.
Yesterday was the last day of the conference. The weather was lovely, and I decided to spend some time exploring the city. I was craving a good cup of coffee, and I used my GPS to locate a Caribou about two miles from my hotel. No problem. I decided to skip a session and head across town. After all, I was there to study downtown revitalization, so the walk would be a great opportunity to see what was going on in another downtown! The two mile walk was great. The coffee was wonderful! I could have done without the two mile walk back to the conference center, though.
I attended a final educational session, and headed back to my room to rest a little and get ready for the festivities that evening. We were going to a party at the B &O Railroad Museum. As I was changing for the dinner, my phone rang. I was surprised to hear Jim’s voice, still the same some thirty years later. He wondered if I had time for dinner and drinks. I told him that I had plans for dinner, but would be back at the hotel by 9:00 if that wasn’t too late for him. He said that would work out fine, and we agreed to meet later in the lobby and go from there.
The party at the railroad museum was a blast. The food was regional favorites, and then a local band got everyone out on the dance floor. By the time we arrived back at the hotel, I would have happily gone straight up to bed. Instead, I rushed up to my room to freshen up for round two. When I got back down to the lobby, I called Jim to see if he was there yet. He said he was right outside of the main entrance, and then I saw him. A huge, happy, genuine smile spread across my face. I was still talking to him on my phone as I ran up to him and squeezed him hard. “Still as goofy as ever,” he said.
He was older, of course, but still the same in so many ways, and I was flooded with memories, so many memories all at the same time. I remembered Jim, T, and other boys during our childhood summers riding on their bikes, playing Ghost in the Graveyard, swimming at the local pool. I remembered parties from high school, and Jim’s prized car. I could see it vividly for a moment in clear detail.
We grabbed a cab and headed to the Mount Vernon district to one of Jim’s favorite hangouts. It was an awesome location in an ancient stone building. There was a restaurant on the main level, but the best part of all was down below. We took the steep exterior stairs down to the basement. Jim smiled as he awaited my reaction to the most fabulous dive bar I had ever seen. The walls were brick and the lighting was so dim it was difficult to see. The arched doorways separated rooms bare of anything but crude, shabby, mismatched tables and chairs. I felt like I had stepped back in time 200 years. It was the perfect choice. Jim knew his stuff, though. He’s an architect who specializes in historic preservation projects.
Time went by too quickly as we sat talking and reminiscing. Several times, we sent texts to T to include him in the conversation. Once we were almost ready to leave, but we said, “One more drink…”. While we waited for our drinks, Jim asked me if I would step outside and share a smoke with him. Yes, we two old people were having a good time, two small town kids from the Midwest sharing a smoke in Baltimore. This was some kind of special, organically grown cigarette (no, not that kind of special!) and Jim sent home a pack for his old buddy, T.
We sat laughing, talking, and remembering our time as kids when I realized that my phone was gone. We looked around in the area where we were sitting. We stepped back outside and looked around. Finally, we gave up. Jim speculated that some shady-looking guys who had been sitting near us must have taken it from where I had set it on the bar.
As we rode in a cab back to the hotel, I used Jim’s phone to call T and let him know that my phone had been lost. It wasn’t a big deal. I could still communicate through email. While I hated the hassle of losing my phone, I certainly didn’t intend to make a big deal out of it. It was just a phone. Later, T called my room to tell me that he had suspended service on that line. I will admit that it did feel very strange to be so far from home without a phone.
I didn’t sleep well. I was too worn out, had way too much to drink, and I was worried that I wouldn’t hear my alarm. Finally around 6:45 a.m., 5:45 my time!, I was up for good. I fired up my iPad, and watched a couple of episodes of King of the Hill, my go-to show for comfort and relaxation. Just as I was getting ready to get in the shower, T called. Someone named Kate had called him. She had my phone! He gave me her number, and I immediately called her. She seemed like a nice young woman. She said that she had called T because he was the most recent number called on the phone she had found. I told her that I had to leave soon to catch a plane and asked her if it would be possible to get my phone from her right away. She said that wouldn’t be a problem, and I offered to pay for a cab to take her to my hotel.
Twenty minutes later, I met Kate in front of the hotel. She was young, about as old as Andrew, in her early 20’s. She seemed stunned when I hugged her, and at first she refused to take the $20 I pressed into her hand. I had tears in my eyes. I told her to please take the money. I told her that I would be so proud if one of my kids would make such an effort to be kind to a stranger. I was so humbled and so moved. For hours, I was near tears that someone, a stranger, had shown me such kindness. The world is still a good place. People DO still care about their fellow man.
I had plenty of time to think of the plane ride home. I thought of life, the journeys we all make, weaving and navigating our way through one experience after another. Despair, loss, pain, triumph, laughter, love, and memories, all of these things make up our lives. We are up, and then we are down. Yet most of us continue to plod along with hope in our hearts. We have purpose. Life has meaning. Our experiences often leave us wondering what this journey of life is all about. Often, we feel like we are alone on our paths. What does it all mean?
It is these moments of human connection that keep us pressing on against the wind. Meeting an old friend and sharing smiles and memories, the kind actions of a stranger, these are the things that make up a life. These are the things that we know, treasure, and cherish in our hearts. These are the things of value.