Rich Wise: A Friend

I lost a good friend yesterday.

Back in 2018 (I think), Fabulous Publisher Babe™ and I took the Coast Starlight (Amtrak) to Los Angeles from Seattle. Overnight, so we got a cabin and hung out there, plugged in and writing while enjoying the scenery and talking publishing. (Duh)

Outside of Oakland, we hopped off, because the main train continues down the coast and stops at every little town. We took an inland spur that only stopped a few times, and got us to Bakersfield, where everybody exits and you hop one of several buses that take you over the mountains and down into the basin. It also got us to Union Station in downtown LA something like 6 or 8 hours faster than we would have done otherwise. Worth the effort, though now I have some friends along the coast and might have spent the night somewhere around San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara to see them.

So, part 2 of the trip. Now we’re in a car with sets of facing bench seats, instead of airplane mode with everyone facing forward. She and I are talking publishing and writing, because, hello, have you met us?

Gentleman sitting next to her listens to the conversation for a while, growing more interested because we’re getting pretty esoteric after an hour. At some point, he starts asking questions, then fully joins in the conversation.

As an aside, I tell people that I like to “collect interesting people.” I do. The worst sin you can indulge in is to be a boring conversationalist. Even sportsball can be made interesting. Ya gotta work at it.

Rich was interesting. And way cool.

He had been a young pro golfer, on the circuit. At the time I met him, I’d have said in his early sixties, so this would have been thirty years ago. Knew all the big players, and still stayed in touch with a few, but he never quite made it to the show.

Eventually, he gave up that dream and became a teacher. Taught high school golf for a long time, and had recently retired.

As noted, way interesting and capable of holding his own in a conversation with complete strangers, on a topic he didn’t know a damned thing about, but wanted to learn. So we firehosed him. (Some of you are nodding.) And he absorbed it.

Long story short, we got to Bakersfield, and promptly fled, as all right-thinking people would. (Yes, you, too. Heh)

Our bus took us to downtown. Rich was headed inland to Riverside, so he was on a different bus. We had been teasing each other by that time about not getting on the wrong bus, so we swapped phone numbers.

Trip to LA was fine. Met a niece and hung out with her. Rented a car and drove to Vegas to see some friends. Flew home.

Stayed in touch with Rich. Not much. The occasional text.

He had divorced a while ago and remarried Tamara. She had her own interestingness, and he’d wondered if we might be interested in helping her get her biography out. We love doing that sort of thing, so we did.

Hell of a book, too. Raw, and I was the “copyeditor” who had to clean it up just enough to handle technical things like commas and periods, without stripping out her voice. Think I did a pretty good job.

Little Girl Lost, Woman Found

They are both neat people and I enjoyed the regular and occasional texts back and forth. Never much. Mostly hello and a quick update, when they moved from Riverside to Missouri. Or later to his tribe’s reservation in Oklahoma.

At the time, I didn’t know, because he didn’t talk about it, but he spent most of 2021 fighting cancer. They thought they had resolved it with surgery late last year. Apparently, back in March it came back, heavy and fast.

Rich was in home hospice for the last three months. He slipped into a coma Wednesday and died peacefully Friday afternoon.

I only know now because Tamera sent me a text late yesterday as she sorted through things and wanted us to know, because she knew how much Rich and I enjoyed chatting and being friends.

Just a couple of hours on a train, several years ago. I never saw him again after that, but the modern age reduces that to phone calls, texts, and email. You can keep up with old friends. And new ones.

And folks that wander across your path for only a moment, bringing their light into your life and leaving a candle lit after they go.

I have that candle in my mind.

But I miss my friend.