When I hear people say that Cincinnati is a friendly town, I usually roll my eyes and say, "Yeah, right." I don't think people are friendly here at all.
Most people I come in contact with seem uptight. Most won't make eye contact when you pass them on the sidewalk. Most generally don't trust or won't help anyone they encounter or don't know.
But there are exceptions, like Miss Jake.
Some days back, I had an early morning appointment downtown and I'd gotten up late. I hurriedly showered and dressed. I'm a diabetic and, after checking over some e-mails, I gave myself an insulin shot.
I made a few phone calls and then looked at my watch.
I saw I had only a couple minutes to catch the bus that would take me to my appointment. I ran out my apartment door.
As I approached my bus stop, I could see the bus coming up the hill. I pulled a buck out of my wallet, caught my breath and waited for the bus to pull over.
The bus was almost deserted. When I got on, I noticed a lady sitting in the front and sat opposite her in one of the horizontal seats.
She was an older woman, a little heavy, and she was wearing a long, blue winter coat. Her face was full, and she was wearing a lot of eye shadow. She made eye contact with me briefly, then went back to reading a book.
After a few minutes on the bus, I started to sweat. I wasn't feeling well. I looked at my hands and they were starting to shake. My eyesight was becoming what I call "shiny."
I was in trouble. I had done the cardinal sin that a diabetic can't ever do: I had given myself an insulin shot, then forgotten to eat.
Diabetics give themselves insulin shots to lower their blood sugar. Now mine was going to go down much too low — dangerously low. I was afraid I might go into a diabetic shock. I had no food in my bag or pockets, namely no sugar, to help bring my blood sugar back up.
The lady opposite me on the bus wearing the blue winter coat looked up from her book. She could see there was something wrong.
"You're really sweating," she said to me.
"I'm diabetic," I replied with a shaky voice. "Blood sugar is dropping."
She quickly closed her book, got up from her seat and sat next to me. She opened her small, brown purse and dug into the bottom of it and pulled out some Hershey Chocolate Kisses.
"Here, eat these," she said. "This will get your blood sugar up."
She handed them to me. My hands were shaking so badly I couldn't unwrap the kisses.
"I'll help," she said. "Let me get that unwrapped for you."
She unwrapped the first kiss, handed it to me and, as I was chewing it up quickly, unwrapped the other one.
"You'll need to tell me when to stop," she said. "I got a bunch of these things in my purse, but you probably shouldn't eat too many of them."
I think I ate four of those kisses. After about 5 or 10 minutes, my hands slowly stopped shaking. My sweats were gone, and my eyesight started to return to normal. My blood sugar was back up to what it needed to be. I looked at the woman and smiled.
"I don't know what I would have done without you," I said.
"My mother was a diabetic, knew you had to get something sweet in you and quick," she said, taking my hand. "You want some more of these kisses to take with you?"
"No, I'm fine now," I replied. "Thank you."
She let go of my hand and returned to the seat opposite me. She reopened her book.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"People at work call me Miss Jake," she said, looking up at me, smiling. "My real time is Jackie Campbell."
"Why do people call you Miss Jake?"
"Honey, I don't know, I can't remember," she said. "It's just what people call me."
That's what I'll call her the next time I see her. It's possible this woman saved my life that morning, just by paying attention and reaching out to someone whom she could see was in trouble and needed some help.
Thank you, Miss Jake. I hope you're a reader of CityBeat, and I hope you read this. You're truly a good, caring person. We need more people like you.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross(at)citybeat.com. Living Out Loud runs every week at citybeat.com and in the paper the second and fourth issues of each month.