My senior year of high school, I got a job working part-time at a radio station. I came in during the week for two hours each morning to intern with the news department. I got school credit for it and got to miss first period every morning. So, win-win.
During college, I continued working there, eventually moving up to a full-time on-air shift. We carried local high school basketball and football games, and "Bill" was one of the guys who did play-by-play for our sports broadcasts.
Bill was 60ish. Gregarious. He had a zest for life, and people, and conversation. And I never knew why, but he seemed to take a liking to me. Just one of those people who's always genuinely happy to see you. That's a great quality, I think.
Anytime I'm talking to someone who doesn't know Bill, my quick, go-to description of him is "the man who always used to find me tickets to Alabama games." And anyone who knows me at all will know that that alone would put him right at the top of my list.
It was during my time at the radio station that this occurred.
A friend and I decided we'd try and start going to some Bama games. This was the early 90's, so way before eBay and StubHub. There were pretty much three ways to get tickets: Buy some outside the stadium, check the classifieds, or word of mouth.
One Friday evening at work, I guess Bill overheard me talking about wanting to go to a game. By that night, I had tickets to the next day's game.
From that point on, he'd always ask if I needed tickets. For about three or four years there, anytime I was wanting to go to a game, I'd call him. And I don't think there was a single time when he didn't manage to find someone who had tickets
Sometimes I wouldn't even have to ask. He'd call me, just to check. I still remember those brief but oh-so-important conversations: "Bone. Bill. You need tickets?"
It was like he had taken it as his personal mission to always make sure I had tickets. I mean, who does that? It was an act of kindness for which I never got to repay him. But I will never forget it.
Eventually I started getting season tickets. And after I quit that job, I didn't see Bill much. Just occasionally at a basketball game or somewhere around town. I specifically remember one instance -- some sort of community festival. He had clearly lost a lot of weight. I found out later he'd gotten the cancer. But he greeted me just like he always had. Smiling. Genuinely happy to see me.
Looking back, I guess by this time he must have been in his early 70's. But not to me. To me, he was still the same age he'd been when I first met him. I do that sometimes, especially with people I don't see very often. I get a picture of them in my mind, and how old I think they are, and then they're always that age.
Until they're not anymore.
A few years ago, Bill started working in the clubhouse at one of the golf courses where I play. I was surprised to see him. It was a good surprise. Gregarious as ever, he looked a lot better and I silently hoped he had beaten the cancer. We would always share a bit of banter when I played there. He still seemed happy to see me. And by then, I was just as happy to see him.
When he wasn't there for awhile, I asked about him, and they said he was having some health problems. I feared the worst. But he came back to work and I thought maybe he was gonna be alright.
Then I started missing him again. He wasn't there two, three, four times in a row. I asked when he was coming back. The guy got a solemn look -- one of those looks that completely and immediately changes your mood and you don't ever want to see from anyone. He shook his head slowly and said, "I don't think Bill's coming back."
He was right. Bill passed away on Christmas morning. He was 82.
Somehow I was still surprised when I heard the news. And stupidly, I'd never gone to visit him.
I know he would've been happy to see me.
"My old friend, this song's for you / 'Cause a few simple verses was the least that I could do / To tell the world that you were here..."
Labels: Bama, Bill, cancer, friends, radio station