All the travel difficulties of this day made me think back to the case of Joe B.
When you are searching around for wines that hold interest, that have character, it can be difficult to explain what you are looking out for. People, salespeople mostly, ask me what it is that I am trying to find, and if I like them I’m apt to say that I am looking for Joe B.’s case. And it is true that the look around has taken me some time.
It was a black case not much more than a foot and a half long and not so deep, more like a briefcase than what you might take on a trip. It had been a long time since that case was new, and I remember the plastic handle, studded to look like leather, with the grey electrical tape all wound along one side to keep it held on. But it was the blocky white gauze letters glued to the black sides that stood out: SANDY on front, with an arrow underneath pointing right, and BWOOD stuck on the back. Probably there wasn’t enough room to write out the whole word Brightwood, so Joe had cut it short. That made sense to me, since almost anybody going that way would understand what it meant anyhow.
Actually, Joe had told me that most times he got a ride coming back a lot quicker, ’cause the other folks who lived in Brightwood all knew who he was and would stop their cars and give him a lift back from the Sandy Safeway. Probably the least they could do: a week’s groceries can be heavy. But the day skiers coming off the mountain and headed towards Gresham were always afraid to pick up a hitcher, so Joe sometimes waited out there by the ditch at the side of Highway 26 for 30-some minutes, maybe an hour. I figure if folks just saw Joe B. standing out there on that rough crutch without knowing the story of what had happened to him, then they might try to avoid thinking about him altogether. Just cruise along and forget about the guy standing there firmly holding the case indicating his direction. I figure that’s what most folks might do. ’Cause Joe B. could fix people with a scare if you didn’t know how kind he was.
Joe B. had been a logger. As Clary told me once, they don’t call loggers “treers” for a reason, and that’s 'cause the trees don’t last too long when the loggers are around. Clear cuts were the rule on the hills behind Brightwood and Zigzag. I’d look out the school bus window and see long stretches of stumps where a forest had been the day before. On the clear days I’d go hiking around behind the place we lived, and you could hear the chainsaws in the distance. They weren’t ever so close, but that noise gets to you. There aren’t a lot of other sounds like that in a forest, relentless like that. It’s not the same as birdsong.
Joe B. had been a logger, and the way it happened, he had been alone when the sitka spruce fell the wrong way and pinned him under. Joe didn’t talk too much about that day, at least not to me, so of course I heard about it mostly from Tully. But it was Clary who told me that Joe, once he woke up, had cut off his own leg to get out from under that tree, and that he’d done it with the knife he carried with him. I wanted to know why he hadn’t waited for help to come, and why he had gone and done that, cutting the leg. Clary said it was because Joe didn’t think help was coming, and because Joe had his two boys to look after. Clary said I would understand that someday. She said he would have lost the leg no matter what, and his life besides. She said anybody else would have died out there. I guess she knew what she was talking about. Those sitkas can be big ’uns.
Joe never talked too well after that. There was a slur in the words that came out, and you had to pay attention real close to get to his meaning. That’s why he carried the case, I think. He wanted people to understand where he was trying to get to. The grocery store in Sandy would be the natural place to let somebody out anyway, it was the only big place over there, and it was where everybody from Brightwood on down to Welches and Wemme did their shopping, if they didn’t go on to the Fred Meyers in Gresham. Back then there was no delivery, and nothing came to your house without you going and getting it. Once a week Joe B. would take his black case out to the side of the road and wait. Probably it would have been too dangerous for one of his boys to go. They were older than me, but they were just kids, after all.
I walked it once. It was 89 paces from Joe’s mobile home to the side of 26. Probably that took Joe some doing.
It has been two decades now, maybe more, and sure at this point I think about Joe B. every day. I suppose there isn’t anything in the world I’d like to see again as much as Joe or that briefcase with the arrows. For me that case showed more than just a direction. It told about a man who might have died alone, but didn’t, and who then dealt with the consequences as best he could. That briefcase wasn’t fancy, and it wasn’t a brand name, but these days I look for something with even a touch of what it carried with it. Most days I don't find it.
This piece of writing originally appeared on Stephen Tanzer's Winophilia. I changed it a bit today to suit my mood.