Strangers Of A Feather
By Ron Ciancutti
Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Gordan
On a snowy January 4 in 1981 I carefully maneuvered my pickup truck down the interstate, heading back to Bowling Green State University. It was the end of winter break, and while I methodically crawled along through typical Cleveland-area squalls, I was listening to the radio as Browns quarterback Brian Sipe drove his team down the field. As I traveled closer to Bowling Green, the radio signal grew weaker and weaker until I finally lost it altogether. I approached a wall of blinding snow on desolate Route 6, seeing nothing but taillights in the fog ahead. A truck had gone off the road, and traffic was at a standstill. I rolled my window down and through the whipping winds I could hear the Browns game emanating from … somewhere. It was from the semi-truck in front of me.
The long line of traffic wasn't moving, so I turned off the engine of my truck and edged closer on foot to the semi. The driver saw me in the rearview mirror and suddenly the passenger door was opened. I climbed up, leaned in the door smiling, and explained that I just wanted to hear the end of the game. The driver was also a Browns fan and all too happy to share the moment with a brother of the most stubborn fraternity ever—eternally hopeful Browns backers. Twenty seconds into our new friendship, we heard the infamous “Red Right 88,” Sipe’s interception that denied the Browns any post-season hopes. It is possibly the most disappointing moment in Cleveland sports lore. And the truck driver, whom I knew for less than a minute, let forth with the foulest string of cursing I had ever heard. So I decided to join him, and the two of us cursed up a storm—an art form that can only truly be mastered by Browns fans. Up ahead, traffic started to move so I said, “Well, see ya—thanks.” He yelled, “Yeah, but @#$%^&* those +&^%$#@, too!” “I know,” I said, shaking my head. “I feel the same.” Back in my truck I thought how simple it was to find common ground with a mutual Cleveland sports fan—yet a complete stranger. The sense of frustration was so universal, so easily recognized. In the decades since, I have often wondered if that moment ever crossed the trucker’s mind, and if he ever tells the story about a stranger who was really anything but.
Painting A Picture Of Relevance
One summer in high school I was waiting tables when an elderly gentleman and a middle-aged man, both wearing painting overalls and caps, entered the restaurant. The older gentleman was clearly upset and crying. I handed them menus and rattled off the day’s specials. They nodded silently. Stepping away from the table to give them some time to consider their order, I saw the younger man lean across the table with great empathy. The older fellow was indifferent—stubborn but so sad. Taking their order, I heard enough of the conversation to know that the father and son were spending their last day together because the son had evidently taken a job out of state. Dad was going to be left behind—alone. Both men were troubled.
The owner of the restaurant, also an older fellow, walked past me, and I filled him in on the mini-drama playing out at Table 3. “You kids have no idea how lonely it gets when you outlive everyone else,” he said. When the two diners had finished their meals, I saw the boss approach the table and introduce himself. Whatever he said made the old man immediately brighten up, and the son as well. The boss sat down and motioned to me. I came over, delivered the check, and poured the boss a cup of coffee. “Ronnie, this is Mr. Hanson and his son,” he said. “When you clock in tomorrow morning, be sure to let Mr. Hanson in. He’s going to paint the bathrooms, the kitchen, and eventually the dining room. He’s just the kind of guy I’ve been looking for.” Mr. Hanson nodded and smiled, and now the son was tearing up. The son looked at me and mouthed the words, “Thank you.” I just shrugged. I told my boss that he had done a good deed.
Mr. Hanson stayed on as the restaurant’s handyman for some time. He and the boss became great friends and shared coffee, lunch, and often dinner. The older regulars also became friends with Mr. Hanson. He joined several of their clubs and went on outings with them. Now and then his son would return and meet his father at the restaurant. I’ll never forget the lesson my boss taught me that day. He was so quick to empathize with another human being, to reach out and help him. Remembering what it was like to be alone, to feel unnecessary, the boss stepped in and aided a brother, albeit a complete stranger.
One day my friends and I were eating at a cafeteria-type restaurant when a young woman suddenly burst through the door. Looking frazzled and desperate, she stumbled to the ladies room. Everyone was looking at her. About 30 seconds later a man, looking very angry, came in and walked directly to the ladies room, pounded on the door, opened it a little, and whispered something. At this point a large man quietly stood up, went to the counter, and told the manager to call the police. He then walked over to the ladies room, locking eyes with the intruder. The big man coaxed the young woman to come out, put his arm around her, and escorted her to our table. “Guys, you don’t mind a little company for dinner, do you?” We smiled and pulled out a chair for her. When the other man began shouting, the quiet one spun around and grabbed him by the throat, throwing him into a booth and trapping him in the corner. The girl was crying as we tried to offer her food, drink—any type of comfort—but she was inconsolable.
Meanwhile, the police arrived. “What’s the problem here?” The quiet one raised his hand and spoke to the police for a few minutes. The police asked the angry man for identification, called it in, and then cuffed him right there. After the intruder was hauled away, the quiet man came over and spoke to the girl. He was some type of counselor and had experience with abusive men and battered women. Having given her several numbers to call, he offered a ride to one of the shelters, which she promptly accepted. I don’t know the rest of the story, but if that kind stranger hadn’t stepped in and confronted the man on a rampage, the woman may have been dead by that evening.
Forces Of Nature
Like the feather floating through the air in Forrest Gump , we are all independent souls catching an updraft here or a westerly wind there, but nothing floats forever. Everything comes to rest somewhere, and now and then at those moments, we are forced to deal with each other. It is our personal commitment to the Golden Rule that allows total strangers and their problems to become our brothers and sisters who need help. Gump said, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both are happening at the same time.”
Works for me.
Ron Ciancutti is the Director of Procurement for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.