Play that Harp Boy/The Asphalt Man

        Not long ago I saw a patient who reminded me how lucky I have been to be a Doc all these years.  He and I go back many years.  When I was in High School, we worked together several summers on the paving crew.  He was the foreman; I was the hired help. 

        Bill could do anything.  He painted cars on the weekends, cut grass (this was before anyone landscaped, at least in Harvey County) and operated a front end loader with the touch of a violinist.

       Bill is now my bionic man.  I won’t detail his medical problems because it would be a privacy violation, but he has seen many surgeries and has a number of artificial body parts.

       We’d meet at the shop at the bust of dawn.  Bill and I were the first ones there.  Bill’d light up a Camel, and we’d have a cup of coffee and a pack of Nekots.  (I still love Lance crackers)  We’d go crank up the truck right about the time the sun crept up over the horizon. 

        The grass was still wet from the dew.  I still recall the morning doves and the chirp of the crickets.  The dress code was jeans and a T-shirt.  Those were hot sticky Carolina muggy mornings.  By the end of the shift, we’d take off our shirts and leave them in the truck.  There ain’t much hotter in the South than asphalt in the summer.  By Friday I always prayed for rain.  If we got an afternoon thunderstorm after three o’clock, we’d call it a week.

        Bill drove the truck.  He liked me, so I got to ride in the front seat with him.  It didn’t hurt that I brought my harmonica to work every day.  I was like a pied piper.  We’d drive through the tough section of town and try to round enough men to make a crew. 

       Bill’d knock on the door and ask, “Joe here?”

       “Nawh, sir.  Ain’t seen him in a while.”

      We’d go from house to house.   “Play that harp boy,”  Bill would say.  “They’s more likely to go to work if they know there’s gonna be some music.”  I wasn’t much of a harmonica player, but I was all we had.  

        Once we had a truckful of folks we’d go to the job.

        After a couple summers, I got a promotion and they let me drive the little jeep that said ‘Follow Me,’ but I had already decided my Dad was right.  Compared to asphalt paving, chemistry wasn’t all that hard.  I went back and made an ‘A’ in Organic the last fall after I worked with Bill.

         I saw Bill not long ago.  “Lot of water under the bridge since the paving crew, huh Doc?”

        “Yeah, boy.”

        “I knowed you’d make a good doctor.”

        “I wasn’t much of an asphalt man.

        “You was good with that harp, though.”

        “You heard Buddy Greene?” I asked.

         “Who-whee, now he is good.  Don’t give up your day job, Doc.  Besides, we need you too bad.”

        “Don’t worry Bill.  I’m gonna stick with the doctor gig.  It’s the only thing I was ever any good at.”

       “I’m glad.  None of them other boys I knew ever made a doctor.  I wouldn’t know who to go to.”

        “Well, I sure am honored to be your Doc.  You were a heck of an asphalt man.”

       “Thanks, Doc.  I done my best.”

Dr. B

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2 Comments on “Play that Harp Boy/The Asphalt Man”


  1. Dr. B,
    These glimpses of people in your life and your line of work are just… I don’t even know how to explain what they do to me. You truly touch my soul with these stories, and you tell them in such an eloquent manner that you bring tears to my eyes. The fact that I know that these stories are true makes it even more special – you’re really sharing these people with us, your online friends.
    Thanks for giving me something to smile, a little sadly, about.

  2. drtombibey Says:

    ms slightly,

    It has been a great honor to be a doctor, ’cause you become a best friend to a lot of good people. As in writing, I learned more from them than they learned from me.

    One thing I like about your writing (and interpretation of mine) is you have a heart for the unsung heros of the world like my friend Bill.

    Dr. B


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