Let me tell you about Bill.
When I sat down at the ATT Stadium in Arlington Texas Saturday night I found myself next to man with unruly hair and an un-groomed beard that was more salt than pepper. He was wearing his team’s colors, crimson and white, and looked as if he had woken up after a late night full of bad decisions, looked in the mirror and said, “I’m good” to himself. Bill could have used a shower. At his feet sat an enormous Weimaraner with an obvious thyroid condition. He told me the dog’s name was “Bear,” no doubt homage to Alabama’s legendary coach.
It would have been easy to avoid getting to know Bill during the roughly two and a half hours we both cheered and roared our shouts of “Roll Tide”. But I’m a dog guy and Bear was easy to like as he laid on his side occasionally managing to slap at the water bowl with his pink tongue, so I asked Bill how he had managed to get the 120- pound canine into the stadium.
“He’s a seizure dog,” Bill said, as he gulped down a second or third beer. My guess is that was just what he had consumed inside the stadium.
“How old is he?”
“Nine. Had him for six years. He’s my baby.”
As the night progressed, Bill entrusted me with the dog as he left to get another beer, smoke a cigarette, or check on the cell phone he was trying to recharge just inside the club level doors. Despite the eruptions of the crowd, the dog sat patiently, rising only a few times to look for his master.
“How far away can you be for him to recognize you’re about to have a seizure,” I asked, hoping I wasn’t prying.
“About 10 or 15 feet. He comes over to sniff me if I’m out of his sight for more than twenty minutes. He can detect a change in my scent. When he does, I take my pill and it’s all good.” I couldn’t help but wonder if Bill’s poor hygiene might be his effort to ensure Bear had no trouble picking up his scent. I certainly wasn’t.
“If he smells something, he’ll sit up and bay like a hound chasin’ a fox. Everybody in this place will hear him.
I wondered if the cigarettes and beer were a wise choice for someone who was at risk of seizures, but thought better about asking. It was Bill’s 57th birthday and I decided he was old enough to make his own decisions. He even pulled out his Hawaii driver’s license to confirm that it was indeed his birthday. He had flown in from Maui as he did every weekend the University of Alabama was on the football field. Bill told me his son was a pilot and he had been making the trip since he had moved to Maui almost 16 years ago.
“How did you get from Alabama to Maui,” I asked.
Bill told me he sold everything he owned in 2000, including his company. He had moved there with two suitcases and a laptop.
“Best decision I ever made. I came back from a trip to Waikiki and I was hooked.”
Bill had been in business with Korean investors and told them he wanted them to buy him out. When they offered him more than he had wanted for his interest he said, “Well let me think about it” and quickly added, “Okay.”
I don’t know if Bill’s story has been embellished, but he told it with such conviction and with his absolute lack of concern for his own appearance, I tended to believe him. You can tell a lot about a man by how he treats an animal. Bill treated his companion with such care and appreciation that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
As the night wore on and Bill drank more and more beer, a steady stream of people would stop to pet the dog and engage the man in conversation. Beautiful young coeds, small boys, and grown men all wanted to meet Bear. Bill was part of the package and he was kind and engaging, even as he flirted with women of all ages. He was never disrespectful and seemed to enjoy the company. And they enjoyed his.
There was something childlike in Bill’s demeanor. But as I sat beside him I realized Bill was at the game without friends or family, except for Bear. I was sitting with a lifelong friend and his family; people I love and, I think, love me. We would all ride home together but Bill would take a cab back to his hotel alone and fly back to Maui by himself. There was a sadness in him and I hoped that maybe for a little while his sadness had been assuaged by the crowd, the people who stopped to talk to him and Bear, and, perhaps, by our conversation.
I don’t know if Bill will remember me but I will certainly remember him. The man looked like a gaunt version of Santa Claus and was almost as jolly. I’m glad I took the time to get to know him in the midst of 45,000 other fans. We “high fived” and “fist-bumped” several times and found a brief, but nonetheless meaningful, moment or two in an unlikely place. I went to Texas to watch a football game and connect with people I love. I got all that and so much more thanks to Bill.
If there’s a lesson in all this, and there is for me, it’s about taking the chance to get to know someone you might not otherwise think could affect your life in such a positive way. Life is about so much more than football and dogs but then again both of them worked a little magic on September 5th, 2015.
Wherever you are Bill, “Roll Tide.” Give Bear a scratch for me.