Sunday, December 11, 2016

Rick Johnson

I've been in trial for the past week, so I'm very late in posting about the passing of Rick Johnson.  As sad as I was to learn of Rick's passing, I'm glad that the Harris County legal community and the local media took the opportunity to let him know how much we all loved him.

Despite the tremendous amount of media attention that Rick got in his last days, I wanted to share just a few words of remembrance about him.

I don't remember exactly when Rick started showing up outside of the CJC.  It seems like it was shortly after the D.A.'s Office and the courts moved back into 1201 Franklin after being displaced in the wake of Tropical Storm Allison, which would have been around 2002 or 2003, I think.  The news reports about him said he had been a fixture outside of the CJC for ten years, but it seems like longer than that to me, for some reason.

Courthouses tend to attract a lot of people asking for money (besides the lawyers).  Over the years, there have been plenty of familiar faces.  Some were quiet and passive.  Some could be downright aggressive.  Rick was different then all of them because he made a point to let people know that he wasn't begging -- he was selling something.

When I first met Rick, he was selling tokens.

Nobody seemed to know what the tokens were for, but he was always out there selling them.  He was friendly and smiling as person after person politely declined buying a token.  Most of us knew him as "Token Man" for the first few years of knowing him.

Around Christmas time, a few years after he had made his first appearance, "Token Man" handed out Christmas cards to people walking up to the courthouse.  They weren't cards so much as black and white copies of a Christmas card that he had signed with the name "Rick (Token Man)".  Everyone I know called him by his proper name after that.

He upgraded his merchandise as time went by -- moving up to umbrellas and then candy.  Nobody that I know of ever referred to him as "Candyman" like the news media has called him.  He was Rick. The following Christmas, he had upgraded his Christmas cards to actual cards that he had signed.  Clearly, business had been good that year.

I'm not sure when exactly he went full-scale into the candy business, but he had adapted an old newspaper stand to be his store.  He was there every morning with a good word to everyone who passed by.  He would hold open the mail box slot for us when we needed to drop off something and he helped people parking at the meters figure out how to do it right.  His morning greeting of a fist bump was how we started our day.

He wasn't a high pressure salesman.  "Come get you some," was pretty much his sales pitch.  When you declined, he always responded with "That's alright, I still love you" in his raspy, familiar voice.  If you hadn't bought anything in a while, he would let you know that it had been a long time since you had bought anything.  He was such a nice man, that you felt bad enough to buy something on the spot.

He seemed to know quite a bit of what was going on in the building.  Somehow, he knew when I was working on Cold Justice, and he would lobby for me to get him on the show.  Every once in a while, he would pop in at Char Bar when I was there.  He wouldn't drink anything, but he would come in and just chat for a bit before heading off to wherever he was headed.  I always enjoyed those little talks.

Whenever I brought my oldest son to the CJC, Rick always handed him a bag of M&Ms without missing a beat.

"You can get me later," he would tell me about the payment.  And I would -- with a self-imposed markup on the asking price.  When I told my son about Rick's passing, he was genuinely sad about the loss of a man who was always so kind to him.

There was something about Rick that always reminded me of Santa Claus.  His build, his beard, and the twinkle in his eye just invoked that image to me.  Even seeing him in the last few months, skinny and leaning against his truck for support, there was still that twinkle in his exhausted eyes.

Whenever a person passes away, they leave a void.  The void that Rick leaves with his passing is tremendous.  So many of us come in and out of that building, and he knew (and greeted) us all.  The mornings just seem off without him there.  As sad as I am about his passing, I'm so glad that we all had the chance to let him know how much we loved him and how much he made a dark place brighter.

Rick Johnson was one of those people (and reasons) that make the CJC such a quirky and memorable place.  He is a character that will long be remembered.  We will all miss him very much.

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