(Photo by Mark Blevis on Flickr)
Meet Kirk Reeves.
I knew Kirk, like many did, as “the trumpet guy.” He used to sit on a traffic island on the west end of the Hawthorne Bridge on weekday afternoons and entertain passersby. Usually he played the trumpet, but often pulled out props like an expanding ball toy (at left). He wore distinctive hats and had a smile and a kind word for everybody.
If you are a cyclist and know anything about Portland, you probably know that the Hawthorne Bridge is Bikey Ground Zero. It’s the bridge where bike traffic can easily outnumber car traffic, where bike traffic jams are a very real threat, and where thousands of bikes streamed by “trumpet guy” every day.
And as such, many people who commuted by bike were very familiar with “trumpet guy.” Like me.
When I worked in Chinatown, I often used to cruise down Naito Parkway to bike home, rather than riding through crowded Waterfront Park. This meant that I needed to circle up to the Hawthorne Bridge in an unusual way. Instead of approaching via the bike lane behind him, I accessed the bridge by biking up a closed onramp, spitting me out on the crosswalk directly in front of “trumpet guy.” I rode this route for nearly two years.
If he wasn’t playing trumpet, Kirk often said hello and smiled at me as he waved his rubber chicken at traffic. Cars were often paying more attention to the oncoming traffic lane than the crosswalk, and Kirk’s presence made me feel like if anyone ever hit me, I’d have a witness to tell the world just how innocent I was.
Earlier this week, I read online that Kirk had died. The Portland Police were searching for any relatives he may have, and Portland started sharing memories of him. A few news outlets covered the story of his death.
It wasn’t until today, after the police had found a relative, that the real story emerged: Kirk was found near Bybee Lake in North Portland with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This man whose smiles never ceased was hiding a lot of inner suffering, as it turns out.
Even before the suicide angle emerged, the story had picked up enough steam that Facebook fan pages started emerging for Kirk. Remembrances started pouring in: KGW found file footage of him working the bridge, The Oregonian ran a loving tribute, Portland Community Media shared a short documentary about him.
There are two lessons I take from Kirk’s sad story.
First: never underestimate the ripples you make in the world around you. Sure, Kirk auditioned for some big television shows and didn’t get selected, but people definitely noticed when he was absent from his post on the Hawthorne Bridge for more than a few days this past week. Those people have organized a candlelight vigil this weekend that even Portland’s Mayor, Sam Adams, says he will attend.
Second: Portland is known for, and often prides itself, on its “weird” citizens. It seems to me that a fair amount of this “weird” behavior may be a cry for attention, a happy face covering an inner pain. After all, Portland is pretty bleak in the winter, a never-ending sea of gray mist from October through May—that can get to even the most stout-hearted of us.
So, to anyone who has ever been deeply irritated by the attention-whoring of someone else, perhaps considering this possibility may help you be more compassionate toward them. And to anyone who has been that person, trying desperately to keep a smile on to just get through the day, know that you impact the world far more than you may think. And consider talking to someone about those worries! Reach out when you’re feeling the worst and you may soon find that the feelings aren’t quite as bad as they used to be.