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Laugh With Lisa: A Visit With A Stranger

...Suddenly amidst the crowd of costumed spectators, a man pushing his bicycle down the cobblestone path caught my eye. He was in his mid-to-late-thirties, a rather tall man dressed in layers of dark clothing. He was roughly groomed but had good posture and a friendly smile. On the front of his basic, brown beach-cruiser bike, within the confines of a metal netted basket securely faceted to the handlebars, rested one of the cutest, four-legged passengers I had ever seen...

Lisa DeMarco, who likes to chat to folk she meets along life's highway, tells of two encounters with an interesting character - and his four-legged companion.

I can almost hear my mother’s voice saying, “It’s such a small world.” And when I look at this picture from Halloween her words suddenly become very real to me.

My husband, Joe, and I were celebrating our first Halloween as newlyweds, and we decided to go all out. We were going to hit downtown Orlando and party at the “Church Street Station Bash.” I, dressed as a Jeannie and my beau in caveman skins set out as locals to do the “tourist-thing.” We stopped at several bars, looked around the many shops and even managed to scream our way through a haunted house. The town was jumping, and we were having a good’ole time.

Suddenly amidst the crowd of costumed spectators, a man pushing his bicycle down the cobblestone path caught my eye. He was in his mid-to-late-thirties, a rather tall man dressed in layers of dark clothing. He was roughly groomed but had good posture and a friendly smile. On the front of his basic, brown beach-cruiser bike, within the confines of a metal netted basket securely faceted to the handlebars, rested one of the cutest, four-legged passengers I had ever seen. She, a medium sized mixed breed resembling a “Benji-dog,” sat ever so comfortably atop a pile of towels or sweaters or something that had been neatly placed beneath her. She wore a pair of hot pink sunglasses and a lovely straw hat with a ribbon and flower right above her right droopy ear.

An avid animal lover, I was quick to approach the man and ask to take a picture of his friend. With a smile, he turned toward the rear of his bike and lifted up a blanket that covered another basket. He pointed to a glass jar with a white, hand-printed label that read: “PHOTOS FOR $1 DONATION.”

Joe eagerly pulled out a dollar along with a couple more to spare and shoved them into the jar. Then as I reached for the bike from the man, he motioned Joe to go stand by my side, explaining to us that he would take the picture. Here we were, standing in the middle of downtown Orlando, holding this man’s home - his life, while he photographs the two of us with what is probably his best friend. Strange? Maybe. But the picture did turn out beautiful, and our memory of the evening always did seem to humble us a bit.

That was until a few months later when my husband and I were in Key West on a long weekend-getaway. We were dining on the patio of a local eatery, when again I was taken by a man in the street playing with his dog. For several minutes I watched as the man sat on the curb across from us tossing a yarn ball up the road for his dog to catch. And then watching the dog faithfully return it for yet another try.

Just then, as the man began to gather up his things, he motioned his dog to come and it did. It gracefully hopped into the metal basket on the front of the man’s bike and sat patiently while he placed a straw hat on its head. I sensed a strange feeling of familiarity. I tried to comment to Joe in choppy sentences about my suspicion, but the man was about to escape eye’s view. I felt a strong impulse to run after him. I jumped up from my seat and briskly walked across the courtyard and out the front gate. “Excuse me. Excuse me, sir,” I said quickening my pace. “Sir!” I yelled.

As I approached him, he stopped and turned toward me, his eye brows lifted as if trying to remember if he knew me or not. Stumbling for words, I asked, “Where were you for Halloween?”

He paused momentarily and then answered, “Orlando.”

“Yes, I knew it,” I whispered to myself.

“Church Street Station, maybe?” I asked.

“Yep, that’s were I was,” he answered.

Totally amazed, I began to ramble on about how Joe and I had met him in Orlando, and how we have a photograph of his dog on our bulletin board at home. Friendly as could be, “Vincent” introduced himself and began to tell me his tale.

It was incredible to me. The fact that I had complained the whole eight hours drive down about how uncomfortable I was, and here this man was telling me about how it took him three months to travel on bike with his dog from Orlando to St. Augustine and then down the eastern coast to Key West. Strange or what, all of us ending up together again, nearly 400-miles from home?

Fascinated by his story, I led him back to the restaurant were we continued our conversation with my husband at the table. A conversation that was as enlightening for us as it was uncomfortable to those dining around us. Although Vincent never actually entered the courtyard, his presence seemed less than appreciated. Nevertheless, Joe and I continued to enjoy his company. We offered them both food and drinks, which Vincent declined, and Joe even attempted to give him some money, but he refused, pulling a wad of cash from his front pant pocket, saying, “This is just from today.”

He said he had more, but he had given his change jar to a friend in need the night before. So, with nosy patrons giving us their looks of discontent, Joe and I finished our meal and concluded our visit with Vincent. After that, we both wished Vincent and his dog the very best as we exited the restaurant’s courtyard. ...and off we all went in very different directions.

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