It's a given in this business that your readers will surprise you, especially regarding what it is that will draw a strong reaction. Sure, we know if we write about abortion or the Confederate battle flag, we'll be besieged with mail, but beyond that, we just never know what's going to strike a chord.
Last week in this space, I wrote about a man I've seen walking the neighborhood around Vance and Danny Thomas. He was a mystery to many of us in this office who drive through that area on our way to and from work. We called him "slow walker" because of his ponderous gait. He wouldn't speak when any of us tried to talk to him.
I wrote about how we wondered who he was and whether he had a family or a means of support.
The column struck a chord, big-time.
On the first day the Flyer hit the streets, I began getting calls and e-mails. His name was Robert, I was told. He was a former Tiger basketball player named Johnny, I was told. He'd been given drugs and taken an accidental overdose, someone said. Another caller said his name was William, he was retarded, and if I went to a certain market on Vance, they could tell me all about him, because they gave him coffee every morning.
Another person e-mailed me who used to work at MIFA. She told me the man bought his clothes there, and she thought he lived on Crump.
Finally, this past weekend, I got an e-mail from an authority on the subject — a gentleman who knew the man, his living conditions, and his history. He told me William's full name (which I won't divulge here) and said that he was mildly retarded and lived in a group home nearby. He's got people who care about him and who make sure he's fed and clothed and has a roof over his head.
And he's got a lot of other people who care about him, too, even though they, like me, just see him walking around. I'm not sure what that says about us, but I think it's a good thing. At the very least, it heartens me to know there are a lot more caring people in this city than we would imagine.