by Carter G. Baker.
Nashville was a very different place when I worked downtown during the early 1970s. There were some real characters on the streets. These weren’t your low-grade panhandlers. No, the misfits and down-and-outers of those years when law enforcement and mental health services were a little less mindful really knew how to get your attention.
There was Shorty, sometimes known as Scooter, who had somehow lost both legs and had to push himself around on a little cart that looked like a skateboard. He could generally be found around Church Street and Seventh Avenue. Shorty had a drinking problem and would sometimes be found tipped over in the gutter where he’d run off the sidewalk; the steep hill on Seventh was his nemesis.
A more malevolent stalker of the downtown streets was the well-known and dangerous Foot Stomper. His predilection for stomping women’s feet with his size 12 brogans as they walked down the sidewalk was infamous. Many an unsuspecting woman had her foot broken by him and was no doubt crippled for life. He’d be taken to jail but after his release would go right back to his ruthless habit. He just couldn’t seem to stop himself.
But my favorite of all the downtown denizens was the Shooter, a heavy-set guy who hung around the bus stop at Union and Fourth Avenue North. His favorite time to come out was rush hour, when there was a steady stream of buses heading up Union and he could perform his magic. He’d stand in front of a bus and pretend he was shooting the driver. Holding his hands in front of him like a kid playing at shooting a pistol and making bang-bang sounds, he would dance around until a bus started moving toward him. Then he’d quickly scamper to the sidewalk and wait for the next one.
There was one bus driver who just couldn’t stand him. This driver was a very tall man – at least six feet, six inches. I’d known him since childhood, as I rode the bus all over Nashville in the ‘50s. I was most surprised when we moved over on Richland Avenue to discover that he lived just a block away on Central.
One warm afternoon, the tall driver had finally had enough of the Shooter jumping away from his bus at the last second. He arranged for a supervisor to be there with a policeman, and when the shooter performed his act, the officer arrested him. Much to my sorrow, I never saw him again.
The driver told me this story one afternoon as we cruised out West End toward my stop. Whatever happened to him, I wanted to know. The story was that some relatives from down in the country came and got him. They took him somewhere that didn’t have buses to tempt him. I still sometimes wonder whether going cold turkey helped him, or whether he went completely over the edge after he was bereft of his beloved Nashville Transit Company buses. Or maybe he discovered school buses in that small town and had a happy retirement. I hope so.