I thought he was dead. If fact, I'd heard he died, or must have. But there he was sitting across from me in the small OTB on the Sonoma County fairgrounds known as The Jockey Club. The chances of me being there, 650 miles from Portland on a Saturday in January were slim and none. This time slim won.
Ted, my old friend from the Bay Area could have died for many reasons. My complete opposite, in many ways, this Vietnam Vet, former heroin addict, turned caterer, lived alone and chain smoked his way into my life as a thoroughbred horse handicapper. We met along with a slew of characters at Golden Gate Fields in a small room called The Top of the Stretch. There was Zim, the psychiatrist, Mike the Berkeley publisher/writer, Bob, the day trader, and Gene the lawyer. A motley crew of horse players and friends, we'd swirl in and out of each others lives from Friday until Sunday for a few years. And then we fanned out, back to other lives. I went to Oregon, Ted ...who knows? For about 7 years I'd ask anyone I saw, what happened to Ted? The conclusion was he must have died. Why so radical a conclusion?
Easy, Ted was battling no only the demons of drug addiction from his years in Vietnam, but he was as likely a candidate for lung cancer as I've ever seen. he'd had a year of rotten luck that saw his apartment burn down, a driver hit and run as he walked to work on a typical San Francisco foggy morning, and then a battle with prostate cancer. There were many possibilities. So many, in fact, that when he went AWOL from this little circle of friends, we all expected the worst. Besides, we all had each other's phone numbers...BUT that was right before everyone had mobile phones. Land lines, like people disappear, don't they?
Cut to last weekend. I decide to accompany my wife to her sister's home in Santa Rosa for the day. We'd been in the Bay Area for a few days, and this was a rare chance to help my sister-in-law organize her home office. After the heavy lifting was over, my reward was a couple of hours at the OTB. I love the Kentucky Derby prep races this time of year and looked forward to spending a couple of hours getting the chance to see the new crop of 3-year-olds. That's what took me t the OTB.
When my eyes met Ted's we each uttered the other's name. I was a bit grayer, and he was ...he was...let's just say gaunt. But he wasn't dead. Trouble was, he probably soon will be.
I couldn't focus on the horses too much after finding him there, so we talked about the last 8 years. He confirmed that he was, in fact, battling cancer. It was spreading too. He'd moved north from S.F. to Sonoma county just t get away from everything and everyone. Apparently not the horses, though. He'd quit smoking a few years ago and now he was dealing with chemo and some spreading tumors. Apparently he has the same kind of pancreatic cancer that took Steve Jobs life.
Ted and I talked for a few hours. Even though we exchanged contact information, that's probably the last time I'll see him. But at least I know where he is and how he is and that we're still friends.