I’m a diabetic, and because of it I have neuropathy (nerve damage) in my feet and legs. Since last spring, I’ve been walking with a cane. That’s all been said here before.
Walking around this winter in the snow has been a bit tricky at times. With that nerve damage in my feet, I can’t feel the snow on the ground or on the sidewalks where I travel. It can be very scary, but during these winter months I’ve noticed something: There are people out there who have my back.
On most weekday mornings, I head over to a consulting job in Covington. A friend usually gives me a ride to downtown Cincinnati, and before I take a bus over to Covington, I often stop in at the Walgreens on Fourth Street to pick up cheese crackers, a diet pop or whatever. If there’s a line of people, most customers — strangers to me — will let me pass them. I guess they see the cane and know it’s difficult for me to stand still for very long.
The cashiers at that Walgreens on Fourth Street have come to know it’s hard for me to move quickly when paying for my purchases while also carrying a cane. Even if there’s a line, they never rush me and always greet me with smiles on their faces.
When I get to the bus stop on Fourth Street, there are benches for passengers to sit on while waiting for the bus. If those benches are full, someone will always get up and allow me their seat. Again, I have strangers looking out for me.
Sometimes if it’s snowing, the snow and the darkness in the morning hours makes it difficult for me to read the bus numbers on those Tank buses. A young girl has somehow caught on to this. She’ll sit there with me calling out what bus has just pulled up.
She now knows I’m waiting on a No. 5. When it arrives, she says “There’s your bus.”
When I get on the No. 5, it’s usually not crowded, but if it is somebody will always get up to offer me a seat in the front. I never have to ask.
On the No. 5, I always get the same bus driver. He’s a kind, older gentleman. When I reach my destination in Covington, and if there’s snow on the ground, he’ll pull past the bus stop a little bit and let me off on the street where it’s safer. He always says, “Take your time. Be careful.”
I have a few blocks to walk to get to that consulting job. If it’s messy out and if there’s snow on the ground, my boss, Carl, is waiting and watching for me. He’ll come outside and help me up the few steps to get inside the office. He doesn’t want me to fall.
When the work day is over, Carl will often take me back across the river to my bus stop in Cincinnati where I’ll take a bus back home to Westwood. If the weather is especially bad, Carl will take the extra step and drive me back to my apartment.
Sometimes Carl is out of the office. When this happens, a co-worker, Jeremy, who also takes a bus back to Cincinnati, will walk with me, keeping an eye out on potential slippery sidewalks. If the sidewalk at the bus stop is snow covered, he’ll let me hold on to him until the bus arrives.
A neighbor I’ve come to know in Westwood has learned my routine and when I should arrive home in the afternoons. She’s looking out for me, making sure I’m walking up that sidewalk when I should be. If I’m not, if my routine changes, she’ll call me on my cell phone making sure I’m OK.
These are just a few examples of what I’ve noticed this winter. People, some of them strangers, have seen I’m struggling a bit. They’re paying attention to it. They want to help.
I’ve written for this column for more than a few years now, and often I’ve alluded to and sometimes flat out have said that people in Cincinnati and the surrounding area are unfriendly. They don’t make eye contact with you when walking down the sidewalk and don’t offer a “hello” to people they don’t know let along somebody who doesn’t look conservative.
With my long hair and different way of dressing, I don’t come close to looking like a conservative at all. Still, people who don’t know me have showed patience and have offered help to a guy who some would consider strange looking.
What’s changed? I don’t think I’m getting soft in my old age, but acts of kindness toward me this winter have opened my eyes. Maybe when push comes to shove, the people here in Cincinnati do care and do reach out to others.
To Carl, Jeremy, the nice cashiers at Walgreens on Fourth Street, that young girl at the bus stop who tells me when my bus has arrived and all the other folks who have looked out for me this winter, I want to offer a heartfelt thank you. To the other people who live in and around Cincinnati, I probably owe you an apology. Over the years, I think I’ve been a little too hard on you. I’m sorry about that.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org