He was an odd one. His dress was stylishly tattered. His colorful guitar was often missing strings. He claimed to play Blues, but he banged on the guitar and socialized more than anything.
At 16, I sort of kept my distance. He had a thing for the ladies and unless I was walking with friends, I tried to avoid his hoots and hollers.
Adjusting to Ann Arbor
My family moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1973. I had lived in a number of towns and cities in my 16 years, but Ann Arbor had a flavor all its own. I loved dodging the bikes, dogs and students on the U of M "Diag". I loved exploring the quirky shops and stopping at the old soda fountain, Drakes. And if I was lucky, I might catch a glimpse of Shaky Jake, standing on a corner with his guitar!
Even though I kept my distance, most of Ann Arbor reached out to Jake. He was welcomed into restaurants for free food. He often had a cluster of "fans" chatting with him, and enough money in his bucket to get by. What I didn't realize until years later, is that Jake had moved to Ann Arbor the same year I did. I was nervously excited about adjusting to a new town and high school, that year. Jake looked like he'd been there forever!
Back to Ann Arbor
In the fall of 2005, I returned to Ann Arbor to move my freshman daughter into the dorm at University of Michigan. While she was busy with orientation, I spent the morning strolling down State Street and Liberty Street... straining my memory to recall what had changed, what was missing. And then I saw him. Shaky Jake, was seated at a cafe table having breakfast with a middle aged woman. He wore his napkin safety pinned around his neck. Without thinking, I stopped and introduced myself and told him I rememberd him from when I lived in Ann Arbor 30 years ago. He looked no different, really. He stood and shook my hand and his friend took our picture.
It took me 30 years to be brave enough to talk to you. You were polite. A little sad maybe. I heard you died in 2007 at 82, so I'm lucky I saw you. We came to Ann Arbor the same year...I left and you stayed. You taught me to realize I have something in common with every person I meet...no matter how different we seem.
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers