Sunday, February 28, 2010
“Hey Joe are you ready to hit the “Hong Kong House,” I said to the octogenarian playing checkers in the hallway next to the med nurse.
The frail figure turned towards me with a blank expression that turned into a smile as he recognized me and spoke with a weak voice, “I think that my bar hopping days are over # 25.
Joe was a regular when I first started driving a cab. He hit the bar every night 7 days a week, 364 days a year. He never went out on New Year’s Eve, because he didn’t like to drink with amateurs, he once told me. He lived in a house located inside the gates of a storage facility, that purchased all the land that he owned, back in the 1980’s, with the stipulation that he could continue to live in the house that he inherited from his parents.
He retired from the regular Army in 1976 after 30 years of service. He enlisted right out of High School, in 1946, right after WWII ended. He was a combat medic for 1 tour in Korea and 3 tours in Vietnam, and proudly wore his combat medic badge, on his Portland Trailblazer baseball cap, next to his silver star. He didn’t talk that much, but if you asked him questions he would always answer them.
Over the course of 4 years, I found out that he flew in a Huey medical evacuation helicopter in Viet Nam, where they would land in hot combat zones picking up the wounded and dead soldiers, to bring them back to base camp. After he was discharged from the Army in 1976, he went to school on the GI bill and got his CNA certification, so he could work in convalescent homes. When he turned 62 and started collecting social security he cut back to part time and fully retired by the time that he was 65. Since the house he lived in was paid for, and the storage company paid all his taxes, all he had to do was buy food and pay for utilities. Upon the event of his death, the storage company already had the money depostited in an escrow account willed to his remaining nephews and nieces, since he never married or had children.
Joe was into origami, so he would fold his taxi fare, in advance, into origami figures of one sort or another. Since he had an $8.00 flat rate, from his house to the bar, and back again, he knew in advance how much the fare would be, so he pre-folded a Hamilton. which included a $2.00 tip, for both trips. Sometimes he’d hand you an angel, other times it would be a dinosaur or an alien, but it was always a ten dollar bill. As the fare went up, when gasoline prices escalated, Joe continued to just give a ten spot, so the tip shrunk.
After he got pneumonia, in 2008, he ended up in the hospital, and has been living in a convalescent home, waiting his turn to enter the great void beyond, ever since. After the med nurse signed my charge slip, I told Joe goodbye and punched in the 4 digit code on the door release keypad, so I could get out.