For the last three years, my morning commute has taken me up Carrollton Avenue to the river. Those of you with a hobby of collecting hangovers will know that's where the bar and grill called Cooter Brown's is located.
For the last three years, almost every morning, I have seen a lone worker, cleaning up the mess that the all-night partiers invariably left behind.
And last week, after an absense of about two months brought no doubt by the intrusion of Katrina in our lives, he was back.
Wearing a black apron and white shrimping boots, the tall thin man uses a hose, a broom and a shovel to wash and sweep and scrape Cooter's back into shape. Regardless of the weather or holidays, he's been there every morning that I've been by there.
Can I tell you how excited I was to see him there? It sounds crazy, but it was like seeing the first flowers after a long hard winter. It was like seeing a ship emerge safely from the fog. I wanted him to know how happy it made me just to see him sweeping and hosing. I wanted to share this feeling with him.
So I pulled over and hopped out to meet this man.
Perhaps frightened, and certainly surprised, he shyly told me his name was Robert. I told him how glad I was to see him, a person I'd never met, a man I only knew as a touchstone of normalcy in these crazy times.
He smiled, showing a gold tooth. He said he'd been cleaning up Cooter Brown's for 16 years. I told him he was doing a great job, and thanked him for coming back to our wrecked town.
"It's my job," he said.
I wanted to ask him a dozen more questions, but he didn't seem comfortable talking to me. Perhaps Robert is naturally shy, a person who would prefer not being noticed and talked to. That might be why he took the late-night cleaning job in the first place, and why he did it so well.
Or, perhaps he just thought I was insane, stopping to shake the hand of a janitor in the early morning light.
So I didn't keep him. I wished him well, got back in my car and continued on my way.
And Robert went back to cleaning, just like he's always done.
Welcome back, Robert. Thanks again.