Three years ago, I began taking the Baltimore mass transit system to work. There’s a subway station near my house, there’s a light rail stop two blocks away that I can see from my sixth floor office. Why drive the Baltimore Beltway, when I can use public transportation? Not only is it the socially responsible choice, it’s also convenient for the working writer; I can write on the train, something I cannot do when driving.
Take the subway downtown, walk a block, pick up the light rail and take it back out of town. For three years, this has worked for me.
My transfer point between subway and light rail is State Center. Discharged from the metro into an open plaza, I walk past the State Office Building, cross Howard Street at the light, and pick up the train at the Cultural Center stop.
At street level, the office building has a parking garage. A guard always stands there at the entrance, and it was always the same guard, a man of indeterminate age between forty-five and sixty, a little heavyset with gray hair and a mustache. Honestly, he looked a bit like James Doohan, circa 1982.
Even though I didn’t know him or work in his building or park in his garage, I always said hello to him as I walked past the garage’s entrance. On Mondays we might have a brief conversation:
Me: How was your weekend?
Guard: It was nice. Yours?
Me: It was excellent!
The conversation was done. I never even broke stride.
Fridays were sometimes similar — “I’m so glad it’s Friday!” “You’re telling me!” — and the first time I saw him after Christmas I’d ask how his holiday had been, even though I didn’t know his name, his religion, even if he had a family.
For the past three weeks, someone else has stood guard at the parking garage entrance. For the first week, I wondered if the regular guard were on vacation. Then I wondered if perhaps he was now working a different shift. I hoped that there was nothing wrong.
This morning, there was no guard at the entrance. Instead, there were two sheets of paper taped to the “Please Stop” sign inside the entrance. One was a picture of the security guard. The other was a sign printed out on a computer.
The guard — Sean Kyle — had passed away after a short illness. And his coworkers missed him very much.
I stood there, reading the sign, feeling a bit numb and deeply sad.
I didn’t know Sean Kyle. I didn’t know his politics. I didn’t know if he had children or grandchildren. I didn’t even know his name until this morning — and I feel vaguely uncomfortable even using it. I never had a conversation with him that lasted more than five seconds.
Nonetheless, I’m going to miss him, too. He was part of my morning routine. And I’m going to miss that.
He always seemed so kind. He always had a smile on his face. No matter the weather conditions, he always seemed comfortable. He seemed content. He really seemed to me like he was a good person.
Sleep well, Sean. Second star on the right, and straight on ’til morning.