The second shift supposedly ended at 11 PM, but it was a very rare event for Carmen to actually leave the job at that scheduled time. I would arrive by 11 and wait in the car in an alley next to the Brown, near the employee back entrance. Sometimes I would wait there for more than an hour before Carmen finally emerged. Sometimes I would take a nap while waiting.
One warm summer evening I got a sudden urge to stop and buy a pack of Kool filtered cigarettes at the Seven - Eleven as I headed out from home for the fifteen minute drive downtown. I don't know why. Kool is not my brand of cigarettes. I had not bought a pack of Kools in the ten years before that day, nor in the ten years since then. But, I had the idea and it seemed important, so I did it. I stopped and bought one pack of Kool filtered cigarettes.
I opened the pack and smoked one of the Kools as I drove I-64 toward downtown. I didn't like it that much, so I set the pack on the seat next to me and forgot about it.
Carmen was working later than usual that night. As I waited in the car nearly dozing, I spotted a figure in the rear-view mirror walking up the alley from behind me. It was a young black man wearing jeans and a tee-shirt walking barefoot, with a pair of heavy work boots tied by the laces slung over his shoulder. He looked tired and running on empty.
As the young man passed the back of the Brown Hotel, he stopped to pick a few cigarette butts from the employee's ashtray before continuing on. I just sat there, watching quietly.
As the young man came to the end of the alley at Fourth Street, a jolt ran through me. I should give that unwanted pack of Kool cigarettes to this guy!
I fished a five dollar bill out of my pocket, slipped it behind the cellophane cigarette pack wrapper, got out of the car and trotted after the young man. By the time I got to Fourth Street, the young man was already nearly across Theater Square and he was about to turn down another alley toward Fifth Street.
Chasing strangers down the dark alleys of Louisville in the middle of the night did not appeal to me, so I yelled, "Hey, man! You dropped this!" as I held the cigarette pack above my head and waved it at him. It was a lie, but he stopped and turned. I threw the pack of Kools at him and it landed at his feet. As he bent to pick it up, I turned and went back to my car.
Five minutes later, Carmen came out. I drove to the end of the alley and turned onto Fourth Street. I looked as we passed Theater Square and I spotted my unknown friend sitting on a bench with his face in his hands, sobbing.
Maybe one day I will hear his side of this story, but maybe not. That's OK.
- oOo -