“Major accident on Bruckner Expressway northbound just south of Middletown Road,” Travis heard Phil Wright, Sky-king, the am790 WNBT traffic reporter say from his chopper a thousand feet over Manhattan. Travis made a mental note to tell his driver to take Hutchinson to his home on Highbrook Avenue just off of Colonial in the Mt. Vernon section of The Bronx. A slight detour, but acceptable. Travis could have moved from this area a long time ago, but he was comfortable there and completely knew the neighborhood. He heard Sky-king finishing up his report, followed by the familiar jingle leading into his last segments of the day for him on his syndicated radio broadcast, “World Traveling.” He heard the post of the music hit, and he was on.
“Welcome to World Traveling. I’m your host, Travis Tripp, good to have you with us this afternoon. On the remainder of today’s program I want to spend some time telling you about my recent adventure to London, England. Now, many of you may have already been there, but I’d like to address those who have not yet visited, and maybe help you have a good, general adventure that will cover some of the important highlights. On this last trip I did the things that someone like you would have done, only with the knowledge that I, an experienced traveler, would have. This is going to allow you make informed decisions without wasting vast amounts of research time.”
Travis continued by describing a number of walking tours he had experienced the week before. One was a general tour that covered places important to the royal family including Buckingham palace. Another walking tour was called the Harry Potter tour, which included the phone booth that was used in the movies. He was especially descriptive when discussing the occult walking tour, which spent a considerable amount of time looking into various locations that Aleister Crowley frequented. Travis then described the London cast’s version of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Then he talked in depth about what to look for while walking through Hyde Park, the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people.
After a four-minute commercial break, Travis came back and started taking calls from faithful, long-time listeners.
“Julie from Yonkers, you’re on World Traveling, what’s your question?”
“Thank you so much for taking my call, Travis! I am a HUGE fan and have been listening since you went on the air twenty-three years ago!
“Thank you, Julie! Always great to hear from listeners like yourself. What can I do for you?”
“My question is about the food. The word I heard about England is it’s awful. But recently a friend of mine visited there and came back with glowing reports about all kinds of places to eat. What has your experience been?”
“Great question, Julie.”
Travis went on to explain how the reputation of food in England as a whole had changed over these past several years. He then talked about enjoying quick breakfasts when on the go to start your day in the newer chains of Pret a Manger and the kinds of foods available at their counters. He gave recommendations for six out of the ten restaurants he’d visited last week and talked about the better dishes he’d sampled, along with some of the places the locals frequented.
This is how his show unfolded two hours each weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00. His fans were faithful, and many. His knowledge was first-hand and well informed. At 5:56 he finished his last segment and signed off for the day.
“Until Monday, this is your traveler Travis wishing you many and safe travels.”
He potted down his microphone, took off his headphones, and stretched back, relaxing. The weekend was here and he was ready for it.
“Got a call for you on line six, Travis,” Connor, his engineer, said from the other room.
“Thanks. Got it.” He grabbed the phone and hit a button, “This is Travis.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line, then a low, hushed voice spoke, “I know your secret.”
Travis sat there for a moment saying nothing. He thought he may have recognized the voice, but he wasn’t sure. “What secret?”
The voice replied, “Since you and I both know it, I’m assuming you’d be willing to discuss it with me. Would this be correct?”
“I don’t know who you are or what you want but I do not appreciate what you are trying to do. And, no, I don’t want to discuss anything with you.”
The voice then said, “I was there, twenty-two years ago.”
Travis was stunned. This man knew. “What do you want?” he asked.
“I want nothing from you,” came the reply, “and I wish no harm to come to you, quite the opposite in fact. I only ask for ten minutes of your time, that is all. During that time I only desire to give you something and take nothing from you. Afterwards I will be gone from your life. Forever.”
Travis thought for a moment. “OK, I’m listening.”
“I believe you are familiar with Jimbo’s Coffee Shop on Amsterdam off of 126th.”
“Yes, I’m familiar with it.”
“Would you mind meeting me there for coffee thirty minutes from now?”
Travis knew the area well. An open public arrangement would be best for a situation like this even though it seemed as if this person meant no harm. “I’ll do it. How will I know you?”
“I will be wearing dark blue medical scrubs and a Mets baseball cap. I am here right now sitting by myself. There are two empty seats, one for you and one for Eddie, your driver, who is welcomed to join us.”
Travis was becoming less alarmed and more intrigued. “Alright,” he replied, “We will be leaving in five minutes.”
“Thank you. I look forward to speaking with you. Goodbye.” The line went dead.
Eddie walked into the studio. “Eddie, we have a slight detour before heading home,” Travis said while gathering up his things. He continued to explain as they took the elevator down to the parking garage.
“I don’t like it, Travis,” Eddie said. “Knowing your secret doesn’t give this man a right to try and extort something from you.”
“This doesn’t seem to be the case, Eddie. I didn’t get the sense that he wants to do any harm. At any rate, you’ll also be there and we’ll be seated in a crowded coffee house with quite a few witnesses. I must say that I am curious.”
Travis climbed into the passenger seat of the Lincoln Continental, and Eddie took his place at the wheel, started the car, and they drove out into the late afternoon.
It was a fifteen-minute drive. They were early, but that seemed reasonable knowing that this person was already there. Eddie found metered parking just around the corner on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and pulled into an empty spot. They got out of the Lincoln and walked around the corner to Jimbo’s “Eddie, you’ll need to stay sharp on this. If you see anything at all that alarms you let’s end this thing immediately.”
“Nothing will happen to you, Travis. Whoever this guy is, he’ll have to go through me first.” Eddie looked formidable, and was. At six feet five inches and two hundred and forty pounds of solid muscle, very few would try their luck at taking him down.
They entered Jimbo’s and, as mentioned in their phone conversation, a man in dark blue scrubs and a Mets cap sat in the corner. He was on the phone and as they walked up to the table Travis heard the end of his conversation. “Yes, I’m sure. Ten minutes from this moment. You know where I am. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I’ll never be able to repay you.” He hung up the phone, stood, and said, “Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Tripp. I’m Clark Finney. Please take a seat. I asked the barista to bring an espresso over for you, and Eddie, I believe you take your coffee black, is that correct?”
Eddie nodded but said nothing, eyeing Finney cautiously as they took their seats. Seconds later a uniformed Jimbo’s employee walked up with three drinks and set them on the table. The three sat in silence for a moment. Eddie reasoned that Clark looked to be in his sixties, but he had a face that belied his real age that was probably younger. Time must have taken its toll on this man and the story was told simply by looking at him. He kept his hands above the table, but Eddie would not relax, ready to pounce on him if any sudden moves were made. Clark began to speak.
“Mr. Tripp, I have been a fan of yours since the time you cracked the air waves twenty-three years ago. I am a pediatrician and had started my practice a couple of years before your show began on WNBT. The moment I tuned in I was hooked because my wife and I loved to travel. There was no part of the world that we would be unwilling to go and our bucket list of visits was deep. Your descriptions and explanations were second to none. You were great at your job…and even more so now. Twenty-two years ago all of your listeners were aware of an unexplained hiatus of six weeks you took, and even though we were content to listen to reruns, many were curious. The talk around town was that you had taken a longer than usual trip and would be back with captivating stories from every corner of the planet. None of us were disappointed. You were better than ever. You knew things from each location you visited, details that only a local person could know. I had friends who taped episodes each day so that they could listen again, countless times.”
He stopped for a moment and ran his finger along the rim of his coffee cup. It wasn’t that he was thinking about what to say next. It was that he didn’t want to hear the words that were to come out.
“I mentioned my wife. She left me twenty-two years ago. We had married when I was in the midst of med school, which probably wasn’t wise, but we loved each other. She didn’t leave me because her love ended. She simply couldn’t see me drinking myself into an angry stupor every night after a hard day at the office. She put up with me for five years and finally gave me the ultimatum of her or alcohol. She left our apartment on January 4th, 1990. Later that evening I ran out of bourbon and felt it necessary to drive to the liquor store in spite of being blindingly drunk.”
Travis knew the date well. Clark continued.
“I was driving down W. 126th and blew the red light at Amsterdam, just outside of this place where we are sitting…and hit the car you were driving.”
He stopped again. Travis was stunned. “…what…?”
“When our cars came to a halt I stumbled out to see if you were OK. I ran over to your car, looked into your shattered driver side window and recognized you instantly. You wouldn’t know that I would have been one of the few to have known your face, but I was such a fan I had done extensive research on you, using friends of mine inside the police force, earlier discovering that your real name is Joshua Weintraub, and that you keep your identity hidden in order to travel free of the hindrances that celebrity often brings.
“And when I looked at your face I knew that the glass from the window hitting your eyes most likely blinded you. I found out later that it did. That is your secret, and now I told you mine.”
“You did this to me?” Travis said through gritted teeth, “You took my sight! All these years…” He stopped.
“I told you at the accident that I was sorry and that I hoped you could forgive me. Then I ran back to my car, which was still running, and sped away. No one saw the accident. I was lucid enough to drive to a little known section next to the bay, and then push my car into the deep water. The next morning I reported that someone had stolen it in the night.”
“Why are you telling me this? I could have you arrested on the spot!” Travis hissed.
“I am ahead of you on that,” Clark said, looking at his watch. “I was on the phone with my sponsor when you arrived. I have been clean and sober for twenty-one years and this man has been there every step of the way. He knows where I am right now and I had instructed him to call the police within ten minutes of our call ending, and alert them as to what I did and where I will be. Which is right here, with you, three minutes from now.”
Clark leaned forward closer to Travis. “What I want to give you is my sincerest apology for what I did you, and the satisfaction of you witnessing me being arrested for it.” His voice caught. “I won’t ask you or expect you to forgive me. I am so sorry.” He put his face in his hands and Travis could hear muffled sobs coming from across the table.
How was he to feel? The initial anger was subsiding, but only slightly. He remembered the night of the accident, of the emergency room. No doctor or nurse knew his celebrity identity so the media wasn’t alerted. He had no immediate family anymore so the only person he knew to call was Eddie who he had hired earlier in the week and was set to begin employment as his driver and personal assistant the following Monday.
The first week of his recovery was filled with complete darkness, both literal and figurative. How would he ever continue this career that had the best of everything? He saw the world and spoke about it. He had fans that adored him.
At the end of a week in the hospital Eddie had driven him home. He had alerted the station that he was sick with a bad flu, and that he also needed a leave of absence to take care of a private emergency. The station understood and was always prepared for these kinds of absences. Part of Travis’ work was being gone for extended periods of time in order to get his travel in that would ultimately be presented on his program. They were used to airing reruns and his listeners didn’t really mind because of how entertaining each program was. They entered his house and Eddie helped him to a seat at his dining room table, then sat down across from him.
Travis finally spoke. “Eddie, I had a week of being alone in the darkness at the hospital. I’d like to do something that may work beautifully, or fail miserably. I’m going to try and continue. If you will stay with me, I think I can do it.”
“Travis, I’m here for you, you know that. But this seems like a tall order. Whatever the case, I’ll help,” Eddie replied.
Over the next five weeks Eddie secured audio books on five locations: Sydney, Hong Kong, Seoul, Fiji, and Cambodia. Every waking hour Travis listened. Each recording he heard no less than ten times. He imagined those images in his head, what the sounds were like, the smells, the people. He listened to recordings of different languages. He pondered varying and clever ways do describe all he was hearing, and really discovering. The challenge was there. He’d only been to Sydney, not the other four locations. He chose those places on purpose, knowing that if he couldn’t pull this off at the beginning, it would be over for him.
When he returned to the station he had a new “look” which included sunglasses and a tam he wore backwards. From that point on this would be the only way people would ever see him. Eddie helped him get around in such ways that no one knew he couldn’t see a thing. When he first cracked his microphone and started his program on Sydney, Australia, reviewers were astounded as to the differences between Travis six weeks ago and Travis now. They knew he was good, but he had taken things to a level much higher. Information poured out of him, seemingly coming from an endless well. After two years of this, “World Traveling” was syndicated, eventually being aired on over two hundred stations up and down the east coast. No one knew that he had never left New York City after that cold, January day in 1990.
Clark had quieted down by now. He looked at his watch and saw that the police would be arriving any moment. “If I could take your place those many years ago,” he said, “I would. Living with the guilt of what I did to you has haunted me, and will haunt me until the day I leave this earth.”
Another minute passed in silence, Travis unable to speak. Then Clark said, “I continued to listen to you faithfully each day. I didn’t care that you were probably not going to any of those places. I just wanted to support you somehow. I was astounded as to how electrifying your program became and it just showed me again how talented you are. I hope you continue your work. No one will ever hear this story from me. I owe you that at least.”
Travis heard movement at the door and could tell from the change in the environment that police at arrived. He heard their footsteps stop at their table.
“Clark Finney?” he heard one of the officers say.
“That’s me.” Clark said.
“Clark Finney, you are under arrest for leaving the scene of an accident, and attempted manslaughter. You have the right to remain silent…”
Clark stood as the officer continued his reading of rights and allowed the handcuffs to be placed on him. Travis and Eddie sat quietly. They didn’t move while Clark was led out of Jimbo’s and placed into the squad car.
Clark Finney had just finished the first year of his fifteen year sentence and was sitting in his cell at the Lincoln Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison on West 110th that looked out onto Central Park. His cell door was open. They only closed them at nights. The judge had been lenient in sentencing, fifteen years with the possibility of parole in five. Clark had turned himself in and had been a very productive member of society, and why keep a good doctor out of practice that long? He sat reading at his desk when a guard stepped into the frame of his doorway.
“You’ve got a visitor, Finney,” he said and waited.
Visitor? Clark had no friends now, except for the ones he’d made in prison. He set his book down and followed the guard out the door and down the hall to the visitor’s room. The door opened and what he saw took him by surprise. Seated at one of the tables at the far wall were Travis Tripp and Eddie. He stopped. What did they want? He hadn’t expected to see them the rest of his life. The guilt that he carried underneath the surface at all times grew larger in an instant.
“Please come over and sit down,” Travis said toward Clark’s direction.
Clark slowly walked over and took a seat across from his unexpected company. He didn’t say a word. Travis seemed to be looking down. To Clark it seemed like just yesterday they were sitting across from each other at Jimbo’s Coffee Shop, the memory so fresh in his head. Travis looked up.
“Clark, I can’t let you carry this burden anymore,” he said. “Last week I laid mine down and I’ve been, well, released. Your burden is your guilt. My burden was the hate I felt toward you. I carried it for well over a year and let it work its talons into the heart of my soul. One day, during a moment of sheer reason I began to think objectively about all that had happened. Here is what I discovered.”
He leaned closer. “You made a mistake. Period. Sure, a pretty bad one, but a mistake nonetheless. You chose wrong and it hurt me. Now there’s nothing you can do about it. After the mistake, I had to make a decision. I chose the life that I had, though I had to change a few things. Do you know that I love what I do? When I listen to the recorded information and read the books I have in Braille, images flood my mind like they never could have before. My imagination turned into a canvas, hundreds of square miles in size, and the paint that I use could never be sold in any store. It couldn’t even be found. I even have difficulty sometimes using words because English is a poor means to communicate what my mind sees. Your mistake took my sight…and gave me vision.”
He paused for a moment allowing his words to sink in.
“You need to unload your burden, it is going to bury you and I don’t want to see that happen. You need to know that I forgive you. I have to forgive you. Now I’m asking you to forgive yourself.”
Clark was stunned, mind spinning. He had no words for what was unfolding. He had been content to carry his burden and pay for his crime in prison, now this. Travis reached his hand across the table and found one of Clark’s hands and grabbed it.
“But I need to make a change. Next week I am giving the first interview that I’ve given in twenty-three years. In the interview I’m going to tell my full story. I’ll not mention your name, only the circumstances surrounding my blindness and subsequent work on the radio. I will ask forgiveness from my fans and from the radio stations, and the chance to continue my program as one who does what I do without the benefit of travel, but I have no guarantees. That’s OK. I could have been up front at the beginning but like you, fear held me back.”
He paused a moment, and even though Travis was blind he seemed to be looking right at Clark.
“Do you have any friends, Clark?”
“Except for Eddie and his wife, I don’t either. They’ve been really good to me over the years, even letting me spend holidays with their families. But I think I’d like one more friend. Would you be my friend?”
“I…don’t…” Clark stammered.
“You don’t have to tell me now. I’ll come back next week for another visit if that’s all right. I’ll see you soon. Goodbye, Clark.”
Eddie and Travis rose and started to make their way toward the exit.
“Wait,” Clark said. He stood and walked over to Travis and Eddie. “Yes, I could use a friend. Thank you.”