Nowhere but Here - Renee Carlino

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Game Changer

One morning in October, I woke up in my tiny Lincoln Park apartment at seven a.m., just like I always did. I got ready, ate a dry waffle, put on four layers of clothes, and walked to the L station at Fullerton and boarded the train at approximately eight fifteen, just like I always did. Nothing about that morning stood out, but it was a game-changer day—I just didn’t know it yet. I walked through three train cars before I found him. I took a seat behind two of my fellow parishioners and prepared to take in the mass. This was our church every morning, and our pastor was Just Bob, or at least that’s who he was to me. The first time I met him, I asked him his name and he said, “Bob.” I waited for him to continue and then he said, “Just Bob,” so that’s what I called him.

Warning alarms of self-preservation should have gone off in my twenty-six-year-old head when a man named Just Bob began preaching on an elevated train full of innocent people seven months ago, but those warnings never occurred to me because the first time I had heard him speak, I was immediately hooked. He never brought up the Bible or religion or fire and brimstone—nothing like that. The first thing he had said that day was, “You’re all you’ve got!”

AMEN.

He was an old, tired-looking man, probably seventy years old, at least. There were five gray hairs sprouting out of his round, bald head, and he wore the same Dockers and Pendleton every single day. His clothes were clean, or at least they looked clean, but he still had a very distinct odor. He smelled of old books, like the far-back recesses of the oldest library on earth. I imagined that he lived in a dinky apartment that was stacked ceiling-high with old hardbacks. He could barely stand, let alone walk, so it was a small miracle that he made it to that train like clockwork every day just to speak to his loyal followers. There were maybe ten of us. I didn’t know the others at all—we kept to ourselves—but the faces had become easily recognizable to me over the last seven months.

Chicago has its share of totally insane people who like to get on the L and speak loudly to no one in particular. I’ve ridden that train my whole life, but Just Bob was different. He had a message to deliver, a message that I needed to hear. Every day was a different topic. Sometimes he would channel Suze Orman and talk personal finance; other days he would talk about pesticides and preservatives in food and how he thought they were making everyone taller. That day, I’m pretty sure he was channeling Gandhi with a thick Chicago accent. He was talking about being the change you want to see. He said, “Visualize to realize, that is what I’m telling you today, good folks. You must see it before it happens. You must be your own oracle. Visualize to realize the dream!”

As we approached my stop, I stood up and headed toward the door. Just Bob often sat at the front near the exit while he gave his sermon. As I passed, he stood on shaky legs and put his hand on my shoulder. This was very unusual. “Kate,” he said—I didn’t even know he knew my name—“It’s a game-changer day for you. Visualize to realize it.” And then, like he always said at the end of his speeches, “And remember . . .” Just Bob arched his eyebrows, waiting for me to finish the line.

“I’m all I’ve got,” I said.

“Exactly.”

It was kind of creepy, in retrospect, but it was exactly what I needed at the time. He let go of my shoulder, and I exited the train at State Street into the icy cold Chicago wind, with the weirdest feeling that my life would never be the same.

It’s not like a little change would hurt. After my first chance meeting with Just Bob, I began searching for him every morning on the Brown Line, even though that route made me late for work. It started exactly one week after Rose died, when I first felt truly and completely alone. Rose was my mother’s childhood friend and had raised me after my mom passed away from breast cancer when I was eight. My mother had me at the age of forty, after spending most of