Thursday, June 23, 2011

In honor of Ben, who likes to walk


This is Ben.

Ben is waiting for the Blue Moon Tavern to open last Sunday afternoon.

It's hard to tell, because the photo was taken with a crummy cellphone from a moving car, but if you look hard you can see him, Ben, in a brown coat, hood up.

The last time I saw Ben was the spring of 1996, and he was wearing the same brown coat, although now it is more greasy. It's now the kind of coat you can look at from 20 feet away and know immediately what it smells like. I was happy to see he is still kicking around, still vertical. That is, capable of being vertical, as he was waiting on the street for the Blue Moon to open. I probably would not have recognized him if not for the coat.

Ben likes to walk, that's what he told me when I finally had the courage to ask him.

Night riding evolved out of night walking, and at the time I was doing more of it than ever before.

You might say it was the golden age of night walking. I was living in the U District, worked at Pagliacci, and like most other 20-year-olds who flocked to the city through the '90s and rented apartments in the U District and worked at Pagliacci, too young to get into bars, my free time was at night, and I filled it by walking. 

This is mostly due to having no friends, although I did walk with others. Once my roommate at the time and I walked to Jimi Hendrix's grave in the Renton Highlands. That was probably the most epic night walk. He moved back to Ohio, so I walked alone, to Golden Gardens, Magnolia, Capitol Hill, usually walked until the sun came up.

While walking, in various neighborhoods in north Seattle, at odd hours, I would catch a glimpse of a tall, lanky figure in high waters slouching forward, hood up, brisk pace. I couldn't see his face because of the hood, but I started seeing him everywhere. Eventually we passed each other on the sidewalk in Fremont and I got a look at him. Beard, enormous eyes, with one eye higher on his face than the other, as though it had been relocated to his forehead, scraggly brown hair sticking out from under the hood. I said hello, he didn't respond.

Other times he would be in front of me. Sometimes I turned around and saw him behind me. Every so often I would see him at the top of a hill. No details, just a dark, crooked figure, pants high on his ankles, passing beneath a street light. It became a comforting sight. I saw so much of him I felt it would be rude to not say something.

One day, as he passed in front of my pad on 43rd Street, I summoned the nerve to introduce myself.

He was nice, but not much of a conversationalist, nor did he let on that he recognized me. He said he liked to walk. That's it, he just liked to walk. He told me his name was Ben. I thought maybe he would say something profound. I asked where he liked to walk.

"I like to walk in the U District," he said, his voice was very deep.

I don't think I made the same impression on Ben that he made on me.

I stopped seeing him after a while, then I moved to the south end and stopped seeing him for 15 years.

I hope to see him again.

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