Salutations, unswerving friend

Have you ever had a "hello man" all your own? I hope that you have, that everyone will. But you cannot invent him; only life can invent a hello man and give him to you, What's a "hello man?" Well, stop and listen a moment if you want to share my story from the very first hello. Come to think of it, "hello" is not the word he used then, nor has he since, yet I think "the hello man" is what you would call him, and what he will certainly always be to me.

It was at a seven-way street corner -- a busy Washington, D.C. intersection -- where I first heard this call:

"Aren't you the lady who works for the refrigerator company?"

"No," I called back to the tall, rather well-built thirtyish black man with a pleassantly round face, small mustache, and jaunty cap. He was eyeing me from the sidewalk as I crossed the street in one of its many directions.

"Oh, you do look like her." This as he waved and smiled broadly.

Not too long afterward it happened again, and I answered:

"No, but as I've been asked that question, I think I must have a look-alike."

He waved and smiled anyway.

Somewhat later I passed the seven-cornered intersection in inner-city Washington. Again, a voice from one of the corners called out, commanding my attention with" Refrigerator company lady!" Of course we exchanged waves.

This friendly greeting has now become a rather regular event. I cross that street at 8:30 sharp most mornings on my way to work, not as a refrigerator company employee but an inner city teacher. His work I've never determined, but he could be a watchman or custodian of one of the apartment buildings leaning out to the corner.

He may wave with a can of soda in hand on hot afternoons when I pass him on my way home from school, or even when it is not so hot, maybe on occasional mornings. It is hism corner, but not in the way of a down- and-outer. He is cheerful, up-beat, neither a loser nor a taker but a giver.

The shout "Refrigerator lady!" usually somehow reaches my ears before I see where it comes from. After a while it shortens to "Refrigerator!" finally just "Fridge!" Sometimes the traffic or wind carries his voice away, But I'll finally hear one repeat syllable and spot him waving both arms as though he's directing an aircraft landing -- maybe he's an ex-Air Force man.

When I don't hear my hello man, others do and relay the message. One day all the traffic stopped while three different drivers motioned first to me and then to where he was -- way up on the third floor at a level I didn't expect!

Washington sometimes has some unexpectedly icy winters. The hello man is at his best then. He springs into action, rushing to escort me by the elbow across the seventh corner. I may slip and slide over the rest of the city, but I pass through his turf safely. He always tells me to take care, and wants to know how I am. Never anything more -- or less.

I have to be the first with my "hello" because each day finds my prompt greeter in a different hat or cap, befitting a chameleon that shifts from one corner or one level to another and blends in with it.

Now, stories should have an ending. But this one does not, or rather, I should say, it hasn't yet come to and end. For nine years, the hello man has been greeting me in his different caps and outfits, yet with the same gusto and flair, from one of the same s even corners.

Over these nine years many other events and relationships have changed or ended -- for me personally; for Washington, D.C.; for the world at large. But whether detente has failed, the dollar dropped to disaster, or an air pollution alert been declared in the morning news, the hello man's greeting is the same dependable ceremony. Somehow it makes the morning right.

What do I think a hello man is? If I wished one for you, I would say that he is someone who accepts you solely for yourself, whether yuou are the lady who works for the refrigerator company or not, greets you for yourself, and asks nothing for himself -- except that he may fall out a window or off the roff or cause a city-wide traffic jam if you don't hear his "hello."

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