Vern and Frank – Part 2
(Check out last weeks RiverPath Blog to read the first part)
Like I said, we hit it off. Couple days later, he calls and schedules me to take him back to Hartsfield-Jackson, and we chatted a bit on the way. Some other riders was along, and they seemed surprised when he jumped in the front seat like he was family or somethin. Another couple weeks, he called me to make arrangements for a friend flyin down to see his daughter. This time we talked a good while on the phone.
I told him more about AJ, and me worried about her goin back to walkin the streets. Told him I kept telling her she didn’t need to buy things bad enough to go back to street work, how I could take care of her. I really like this girl and she really likes me. Still, it’s scary. I don’t want to get the big A – AIDS. These young folk on the streets ain’t as careful as they ought to be.
He listened close, told me he’d been married a few times, nothin worked out. Said he’d moved in with a man. I wondered if the man was only a friend or had old Frank switched sides? Didn’t matter to me.
Anyway, we started callin once a month, sometimes two, and jawin. Frank called it tellin our stories. I told him about my adult kids, all doing well ‘cept one, a son got into the drugs and they messed him up bad. One time we talked religion, both been raised Baptist, but now we don’t believe most of the stuff in the Bible was fact – some good stories, some good truths, but sure as hell not facts. I told him about growing up a sharecropper’s kid, number 5 of 10, in southern Georgia and leavin home at 16 for Atlanta. How I’d always worked and supported my family even if I didn’t love their mom much later.
He told me he growed up in a tiny town with religious parents, number 2 of 6 kids, and worked his way through a couple of colleges. Said he had more degrees than temperature. I liked that one, not many educated men will joke about theyself like that.
A year later, he comes back to Atlanta, first thing he says after hi and giving me a big handshake was, “You lost a little weight, Vernon. You all right?”
I looked him over and said the same thing right back at him. We both kind of looked away, then he says, “Well, Vern, I have lost weight, which is good, just not for the right reason. I was recently diagnosed with Prostate cancer. The problem is, it’s not the slow kind. It’s a rare kind and moving fast.”
We both got quiet. He groaned a bit when he got up in the front seat. I got in too, we was waitin on some more riders to join us.
I didn’t look at him when I said, “I think I got the flu again, that’s all. Flu’s been hangin on a long time. Keeps coming back.”
He says, “Vernon, get your butt to the doctor and find out. You’re on Medicare, go find out.”
Six people walk up haulin their luggage. Old Frank climbs back down and starts tellin them to take their luggage to the back and helps them find a seat. Acts like he worked for the shuttle company, just fit right in. Said he’d always worked with people and ran things and can’t stop.
He grins at me when we got off the expressway onto University Street, then turned on Metropolitan. If you’re white and visitin Atlanta, you usually don’t get a route like I was takin to drop Frank off. We turned on Adair Street and the first few houses look pretty shabby. I look in the mirror and see concern on a few of these white folks faces. But, the closer you get to the park the better the homes get. Not fancy, but nicely remodeled and kept up good. Old Frank noticed some of them riders looking nervous, so he starts talking about how his daughter loves this neighborhood, how friendly it is, how they all help the other.
I pull into her driveway, and he gives me a big wink. Her place is a rental and is a little tacky, grass needs cuttin, bushes trimmed, not quite as neat as the neighbors’. “Well,” he says, “looks like some white people can’t keep their place up as good as the neighbors.”
He climbs out, limps to the back. I make it back there as he pulls his bag out. We both bust out laughin. “You know I’m a Michigan hillbilly, don’t you?” I look confused, so he says, “A Michigan hillbilly is a hillbilly who moved from Kentucky up north to get class. Only now they’re called Michigan hillbillies. Guess my daughter can’t get away from it. See you in a week, Vern.”
Catch Part 3 on Wednesday next week. Better yet, hit the Subscribe button to the right and have it automatically show up in your email!