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Hey, Steve! This guy comes up to me on Sunday. Cledus? Jester? Jake? I don’t remember who, and said, “Wheels is dead.”

Wheels? Wheels? I don’t know any wheels.

“Sure you do, he was the guy with the hand truck, the furniture dolly, whatever you call it.”

And then I knew. You are gone, dead, finito. I was in the middle of things, too busy to sit down and bury my face and cry. I had to keep going since there were a couple hundred friends there under the bridge. Hungry ones. Towards the end of the month, you know.

So, didn’t know your name was “Wheels.” When I first met you, two or three years ago, I said my name is Ken and you said something like my name is “Stffvaaa.” Perhaps you were a bit tipsy but I took that to mean that your name was Steve. Indeed it was, and is.  But I think I figured out how the “Wheels” thing came about. When we first met you had all of your crap in black garbage and Safeway bags. They were always tearing and your stuff was always falling out but then one day you sailed in under the bridge with that yellow hand truck and kind of this mesh thing and all your stuff neatly inside. “Wheels.” I totally get it.

Over the years your story came out, or at least parts of it. This is what I remember: you had a wife whom you adored, a house in Beaverton or Hillsboro or Aloha (one of those cities out West) and a window washing business. Things were good for you, Steve, and your wife and your house and your business. Then came the cancer. Since you couldn’t afford medical insurance in your small business you had to pay out of your own pocket and it eventually cost you your house and your business. Then she died. It’s happened to millions in this country that doesn’t take care of its own. But it happened to you.

Steve, I don’t know if you were a drinker before she got sick or after. It doesn’t matter much now. It probably didn’t then, either. This is what I imagine: maybe a few extra drinks to ease the pain of loss. Over time those few drinks a day became more drinks and before you knew it the sauce was the thing. It’s happened to me. Over and over again.

And yet you were always cheerful with your funny little laugh and your sideways smile and that kind of conspiratorial way of talking even when you weren’t telling a secret. You loved me. You cared for me. It mattered to you if I was doing well or if I was doing poorly. And when I started getting sober you encouraged me and you asked me every week, “how many days now, Ken?” But you didn’t come along on my sober ride. I wish you had.

Yesterday, we had a memorial for you, talked about you. Somehow, I had hoped that you would show up, alive. But no such luck. Just my little pipe load of denial, I guess. Joker said that you had tagged your own corner not far from the Hawthorne. “Wheels Corner.” It’ll always be yours. Lots of us cried out loud. Many more must have got something in their eye.

At the cop circle

If I had known, my friend, that you were on your way out I would have run to you and put your head in my lap and touched your face with my hand and accompanied you to the corner of eternity, the corner where Jesus hangs out waiting for his own. In the old days we were called publicans and sinners, nowadays, homeless, drunks, addicts…losers. His favorite folks. He waits for folks like you and me on that corner. Folks not very good at doing life. Folks failing more than we succeed. We seem to be okay with him, though. Just being us is good enough.

I like to think some of our folks were there to greet you. Scotty, a tender heart wrapped in a nasty attitude and Amber with her wet, alcohol drenched kisses and Joan, red hair and fiery green eyes and maybe even Charlie with his gimpy leg. Taken down by alcohol or dope or both one and all, but now free at last.

But I wasn’t there when you died. And so I went home Sunday and cried. I wept for my loss. I wept the life that ripped you off. I wept for a nation and a church that doesn’t care about guys like you. I wept.

I love you, my friend. If you think of it, when it’s my time, wait for me on that corner with Jesus and we’ll laugh again.


  1. Deborah Gohrke wrote:

    I’m crying with you Ken. It hurts to love, especially painful to love the vulnerable – which makes you very brave, although I can feel you wince at being called brave. I’m so sorry for your loss, the loss to your community, the loss – mostly sorry that stories like Steve’s are not uncommon.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 2:07 am | Permalink
  2. Ronn Elzinga wrote:

    I love your blogs. Thanks for sharing your heart with us. You’re a damn good writer. This blog needs to be your next book.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Permalink
  3. me wrote:

    i love you. i’m so sad with you.

    Sunday, September 12, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  4. Matt Wallace wrote:

    Thank you Ken. Needed to read that today.
    (Dry Bones Matt)

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink
  5. Joe Grier wrote:

    So very sad, Ken. Just now got around to reading this.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink
  6. Al Doyle wrote:

    I think there’s something in my eye.

    Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 5:00 am | Permalink

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