I sat down on the bench outside of Lafayette Coney Island, set my cup of coffee next to me, and proceeded to toast my cigar; a moment later I lit it, puffing several times, watching great plumes of smoke rise up into the air, and then glanced at the head, glowing a cheerful cherry red, to make sure it was evenly lit. The October morning air—chilled to thirty-five degrees—felt invigorating as I settled in for some people watching.
Soon, a man of a certain age stepped out of Lafayette zipping up his jacket, looked at me, and said, “It’s cold.”
I laughed. “You think this is cold? This isn’t cold. Last January was cold.”
He laughed in return and moved on.
A few minutes later, a young man of about thirty walked past me; our eyes met and he grinned a wide, toothy grin and said, “That’s what I’m talkin’ about.”
“No better way to start a Sunday than with a coffee and a cigar,” I told him.
I watched people pass in front of me walking in both directions: couples, groups of three, four, and more, all engaged in idle chatter. Several spared a glance for me on my bench, my Tigers cap on and braced against the chill, whenever I exhaled a plume of smoke. One or two looked at me with disdain. A young woman smiled at me and said, “That’s a good idea.” I smiled back at her and nodded my thanks. “I have them from time to time, even at my age.”
She laughed and walked on.
A middle aged man with a camera, a big—I mean big—telephoto lens on its front, stopped to aim his camera at me. I struck a pose and smiled for him, and he took his picture. As he passed, I asked him if he was going to post me on his Facebook page. He laughed but said nothing. “You have my permission,” I called to his receding back.
A homeless woman approached me, smiling a toothless smile at me, and asked if I had a cigar for her.
“Sorry,” I said, and she moved on, seemingly disappointed.
Another Lafayette patron, about my age, came out, pulled out a half-smoked cigar and lit it. From the label I hazarded a guess: “What’s that you’re smoking, a Rocky?”
“Yeah. How about you?”
“Never had one. Is it any good?”
I chuckled. “I wouldn’t be smoking it if it weren’t.” Then I added, “Funny thing about cigars. No such thing as a bad smoke. It’s just personal preference.”
He nodded and asked, “Is it strong?”
“Mild to medium.”
“I prefer dark wrappers,” he told me.
“I like maduros and oscuros, too. But I don’t like a cigar that competes with my coffee.”
We chatted a few minutes about cigars, and he handed me a Nub to take home with me.
“Sorry I can’t reciprocate,” I said. “If only I’d known you were coming.”
“Not a problem,” he said. “Next time.”
I nodded and he left me.
A few minutes after eight, the first marathoner ran past me in long, loping strides. I watched him, admiring his form, until he rounded the corner. It was a full minute before the next runner ran past. NASCAR this was not.
They came faster after that. Running in pairs, small groups which turned into larger groups before giving way to a never ending parade of runners, and some walkers, all wearing a host of running gear. The serious runners were dressed for the elements, and they ignored the cheers of the onlookers, conserving their energy; the not so serious runners… well, they wore anything from jeans to sweat pants to super hero costumes—Spiderman and Captain America had come out for the event. One competitor carried an American flag as if to ward off potential terrorists. Another guy ran past dressed as the Cat in the Hat. They tended to respond to family and friends who lined the street to cheer them on, raising their arms and calling out, and I wondered if they’d have enough energy left to finish the event.
An hour and a half later my cigar was nearly finished, and the last swallow of my coffee had gone cold. I’d given up my seat on the bench to stand curbside and had just about given up, thinking I’d missed seeing her. But then, in a small group, I spotted her: red hair gleaming in the bright morning sun. Colleen, my wife, running for World Vision, an organization that brings fresh water to those in Africa not as fortunate as we.
I called out to her: “Colleen!” Her head spun toward my voice and a smile came to her lips. The smile I’d fallen in love with nearly two and a half years ago. I held up my coffee cup—Styrofoam, and said, “This coffee’s for you, momma!” Colleen is a coffee snob—Starbucks or nothing. “Finish strong,” I added. “Finish strong.”
She blew me a kiss and then she was gone, taking with her my love and admiration, leaving me with my regret that my aging knees wouldn’t let me share with her this moment: her second Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon.
When my cigar was finished, I grabbed a second cup of coffee and slowly made my way back out Michigan Avenue, toward the World Vision hospitality tent, stopping along the way two or three times to people watch. Across the street a woman held up a sign for Erica: Run Like Justin Bieber is After You!
A middle-aged man stopped me. He’d run a relay. “You know where I can hail a cab?” he asked, and I had to laugh.
“Try the MGM Grand,” I told him, pointing toward the casino about four blocks away.
“But I need to get down to the riverfront,” he said. The riverfront was in the opposite direction, maybe eight blocks away. The man had run a relay—a mile or two, or maybe five miles, I didn’t know how far. But he couldn’t walk back to where he’d left his car?
“Jefferson is the finish line,” I told him. “I can’t imagine anything is running down there other than marathoners.”
“Oh.” He sounded troubled.
I left him as he tried to decide which option to take.
A couple hours later Colleen joined me in the hospitality tent. She was ecstatic that she’d knocked off forty minutes from her time a year ago, and I was proud of her—a good woman doing a good thing for those who are not as fortunate as we.
A nation rich in resources and unmindful of waste, we think nothing of leaving a half a glass of water on the table at a restaurant, of taking our car to the car wash or washing it in our driveway on Saturday afternoon, of watering our lawn after three days of rain—while a three-year-old child in Africa is given a fifty-fifty chance of making it to age five because her village lacks fresh water.
On behalf of those to whom you’ve given life and hope, Colleen, thank you, and I love you!