- Philip Hertzler
Carter Graham walked with a heavy step, as if trying to put his stamp on the world.
He was a stump of a man, seemingly firmly rooted to this life. Those who felt his footsteps believe him impervious to the peril that seemed to waft around him like incense.
When moving heavy vending machines, stage gear or perhaps a safe, he grabbed it like Ken Kesey's Randle P. McMurphy, as if everyone else should move back in case his exertion starved them for oxygen.
And he did it in pink flip-flops.
You might not have known him. But you probably saw him walking to the 821 Cafe, Willow Lawn, through the Hill and the Bottom, chatting with anyone whose footsteps intersected with his.
"He was 'Jackass' before there was a 'Jackass,'" longtime friend Max Henkel says.
There was a restless vitality about Graham that burned: The bicycle trip to California to appear on "The Price Is Right," only to find it wasn't taping that season. Drinking black coffee because that's the way he had it while crewing an Alaskan fishing boat. Pimping "Star Wars" geekdom well before it was cool. The bottomless pit of television trivia and random knowledge.
This product of the burbs of Chesterpatch could make a sleepless night of doing nothing in the city seem essential. His friends could warm their brains beside him, like holding your hands out to a fire.
It was a fire that got him. Right there in that upstairs flat at 605 Chimborazo Blvd., which had been a crash pad for so many.
Tyrone, who lives below, heard Graham's heavy footsteps thumping on the floor above the night of Sept. 17.
Durn, he thought, he's really stepping and banging tonight. But he shrugged it off, thinking, that's Graham being heavy.
Not long after, neighbors banged on the door saying the upstairs of the house was on fire. A good neighbor tried to go upstairs to get to Graham, but it was too hot and smoky.
Three Richmond firefighters got him out, barely burned but overcome by smoke.
Fire investigator Mike Martin believes the thumping sounds Tyrone heard weren't footsteps, but the cabinets falling of the walls in the burning kitchen, where the fire started.
Graham's life force was such that his friends figured he'd come tromping out of the hospital in his pink flip-flops, filled with new stories and trivia and laughter.
He'd just turned 40. A memorial gathering will be held Oct. 6 at Plant Zero.