December 10, 2014 It's December. When we enter the winter of life. Time to call an old friend. His birthday, I remembered, was this month. Though, I couldn't quite recall when. And, "where is his number", anyway? I look to my cell. Which, oddly, hasn't rung with his, "Heeey, if it isn't that clown... how 'ya doin'?" in awhile. Shucks, all I have handy in the phonebook is his old home handle. Still, I know it is around.... somewhere. Ah, there's the card with all the info on it. His name. His mailing address in another city. It tells me what to dial (well, press, I guess.) And, hey, his birthday.... December 2! Shucks, I missed it. Didn't realize it was quite this early. Let me ring him up. No answer. Unavailable. Hmmmm.... maybe he has it shut off? Perhaps he's already over his minute limit (he does like to talk a lot.) Well, I guess I'll just have to send him a Christmas card, instead, to let him know I am thinking of him. Possibly I can call his ex-spouse, whose digits I also have somewhere, and ask her to say hi, and see how he's doing. Did I mention he's (quite literally) an "old" friend? This year marks his 88th. Then, something got me to thinking that I should google his name. I didn't know that I'd find anything there. But, perhaps, his new address or phone number is available online. I can double check I have everything correct... or perhaps the info has changed. And he also did some writing. I thought I might find a recent article. An enthusiastic football fan, and faithful game watcher of Notre Dame, I wondered what he thought of their end of year collapse. He'd call into the local sports radio stations regularly, and it was always reassuring to hear his voice on air. "Here's Palatine Bob!" I think I most recently caught him not that long ago, saying something funny or getting a name wrong. Little did I realize it may have been in tribute. For, as I searched his name, not only did it come up in the suggestions, but the word "obituary" appeared after. I, puzzled; surprised, clicked on the link. And, indeed: Unterreiner is dead. "Ah, pardon me," the accented call came from this scraggly old guy in a beater car who rolled down his window to inquire directions, "...do you know where the Old Country Buffet is?" "I think in the mall across the street," I replied, while still a little lost, too. He rolled off; I searched out the same place. Found it. Walked in. And who was at the door saying, "Heeeey?" Yes, the elderly gent who had just met me across the street. Thus, my introduction to "Bob." Little did I know........ "Circus Bob", "Brooklyn Bob", "Palatine Bob"...... a kid from New York who had an insatiable curiosity that would never quite allow him to grow up. Somehow, we came to be friends. I don't quite recall how it started. Perhaps because we both shared an interest not only in circus, but old time jass. ("Drummer Bob" was another nickname.) I allowed him to reminisce. He enriched me with his memories. We could talk the same language. And we liked that. Soon, we became traveling partners. I remember the first trip. It was to an outlying area near Harrisburg and Hershey, PA. Somehow, he managed to book a hotel several miles away, in an area which was rural, and us without a car. Fortunately, I got that straightened out before we departed. We were still walking across a bridge over the interstate to another hotel for daily convention meetings, even after that. One night, a book (of great interest to me, and some rarity) which I had obtained was being paged through cavalierly as he lay upon his bed, when I walked in the room. "This is interesting, Tim!" I almost exploded. But, kept temper, nonetheless. Nodded. Agreed. The routine, in some similarity, would be repeated again. And again. And again. We went on little trips to places like Rockford. There he drove the wrong direction down a busy one way street on our trip to the arena; and, later, we trekked over the Rock River no less than seven times after a show, trying to figure out the way home. There was the University of Illinois trip that we set out upon, sans a hotel stay for the night. I had a place in mind, which I found online that turned out to be both unique and well situated for a late night dance I desired to attend next door. HE kept asking where we were going. And, really, I wasn't sure, either. But we found the place. He got us a senior citizen discount (another perk I received, along with early boarding for trains.) There was a little band in the hotel lobby, that we enjoyed. Then we walked a mile or more to the show. It was tough to tire him out (though I think I eventually did, at least this once.) We both liked to walk. It's a human thing, you know. And it keeps you healthy. About a year before Bob passed, he walked alone some distance through full stalked fall cornfields in Northern Illinois just to get back to the train station going home. This, shortly after surgery to repair a hernia. A "healthy" walk, it was. Where was he coming from? Where else? There was a CIRCUS he just had to see! Bob was eclectic. And, often a bit annoying. Really, he was like a little kid. But, while that is what most found challenging in his persona, it's what I thought was inspiring. He never lost that spark. He always had an interest in life. He had no guile. Befitting of a Brooklyn Boy. "Come, on, pal!" he would exclaim and walk right into some place that he really had no right to be. Not sure how to respond to the awkward situation, I'd stammer along. Then he'd make introductions. I got to know a lot of people because of Bob. He always felt like he belonged in the environs. And, to their credit, those who he may have imposed upon, most often welcomed him and cheerfully made him at home. In the last couple of years, we couldn't travel together as much. But, he'd call me. One time was from his grand daughter's graduation (on a trip he actually had made to L.A.) "Guess where I am!" he proclaimed before the ceremony in the Collessium. A short conversation to involve his friend, make me feel part of his experience: shared. (He later reported that there was a brief stop on his itinerary before boarding a return flight to Chicago. Upon discovering that the Vargas show was playing town, he dropped by the lot for a chat. There wasn't time to see the show, but he was so happy to talk to his friends there, and received a complimentary program to review as a parting gift.) When I was strolling around the San Diego Zoo on a trip to the CFA convention, for which he surely would have liked to be along, suddenly rang my phone. And, so, there he was.... as walked I with the animals, talked with... Bob. While I was coming home from San Francisco, during a major snow storm in Chicago, he called. "Are you shoveling your way out?" he sardonically asked, in his native Brooklynite way. "No," I replied, "I'm enjoying the Colordao River and a red rock canyon on the train." (Where I didn't think my phone could ring.) "YOU can take the ten inches!" In fact, perhaps the last time I saw him was for a model train festival we attended in his adopted home town of adult life, Palatine, IL. He made another friend there who was interested in trains - a young man who would come to call him occasionally to chat, as did we. When Bob moved to Arizona this time last year, to be closer to family, he wasn't happy. "There's nothing but a bunch of old people there!" he often acclaimed. "I want to be around people who have some interest in life!" Indeed, he did. And that's the way he lived. An interesting character, he, who always maintained that interest. His ways were, understandably - and truly - difficult, to deal with at times, if not often. He wasn't always the easiest to be around. Yet, that's the struggle for us all, isn't it? And, he, like we all, certainly struggled too. But, in this month when we celebrate birth, I know he's found life anew. In a message he left on my voice mail last year, which I kept, knowing his health was not the best and he might not last long, Bob wished me, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We'll keep in touch! God Bless. And thank you for your friendship!" Today, I echo the thoughts. Happy Birthday, Bob!