Strangers Of A Feather

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Gordan

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. 

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