Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Pulling for their fallen friend
By Ramona Shelburne ESPNLosAngeles.com
SAN JOSE -- For the past two weeks, Bryan Stow has been known to sports fans across the country as the 42-year-old San Francisco Giants fan from Santa Cruz who was brutally attacked in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium on Opening Day.
Greg Bowers, left, and Brian Green make signs to help raise money for colleague Bryan Stow, who was beaten outside Dodger Stadium on Opening Day.
We've seen pictures of him with his two young children. We've heard from his grieving parents from outside the hospital where Stow is fighting for his life. We've debated the social, political and cultural factors that may have contributed to the attack. And we've rallied together to do what we could to prevent it from happening again.
He has become a symbol, the public face of senseless violence. His story, his tragedy, is a shared one.
But for the men in this nondescript office building in San Jose, he is a lot more than that.
"To us, he's Stow," said Greg Bowers, a paramedic with American Medical Response who shared a rig with Stow.
"He hated when anyone called him Bryan. He'd always say, 'Just call me Stow, you know, like Prince or Madonna.'"
Bowers, 48, has been off work since the attack. Monday was his first day back.
He'd only been Stow's partner for the past nine months. But some people have a way of coming into your life at the right time.
"I've been doing this for 18 years, going on 19," he said. "When we started working together last year it was kind of nice because I was kind of crispy. That's the term we use for being burned out. And Stow was just so much fun. He made work so much fun.
"That's the really selfish part of this. The tragedy, on my end is that I just miss him."
He kept his head down as we talked, focused on the task at hand.
Bowers and about 80 colleagues from local AMR offices were getting ready to attend the Giants-Dodgers game at AT&T Park to collect donations for Stow and his family.
They wore hats and T-shirts supporting their fallen friend, taped the logo of the Bryan Stow Fund to their work boots. Cut, tape, fasten, repeat with another pair of boots. Doing something to help, when really all there is to do is pray for their friend.
"It's still the same place," said Brian Green, one of Stow's closest friends at work. "But we're missing somebody.
"It's just hard for us to sit on the other side, to watch one of our own be in that position. We take people with injuries like he had to the hospital, you know?
"I guess you just never think you're going to be the patient in the back of the ambulance."
Green has known Stow the longest of anyone at the office, about eight years. Until the attack, they spoke almost every day.
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"Bryan and I had a lot in common," Green said. "We kind of pursued the same path in life. We both did construction and then we both became volunteer firefighters.
"At one point, he lived within walking distance from me. Literally half a mile away. I have a 10-year-old daughter. His kids are 12 and 8.
"I mean, 30 minutes before the game he called me and told me he had to get back first thing in the morning because he promised to take his kids to the Sabercats [San Jose's AFL team] the next day.
"I told him to call me after the game and tell me all about the game, but he never called."
As we talk, both men constantly correct the tense they use in referring to Stow. Present tense, not past tense. They all know how serious his condition is. But Stow's still here, still fighting, and they expect him to walk back into the office one day.
"Everybody here loves Stow," Green said. "He's a total people person. Avid sports fan, loves his kids. He's the type of person who would make a bad day turn into a good day.
"He'd always have his hair perfectly done in the morning and his sunglasses either on or on his forehead, and he was always worried about getting sun on the weekends. That's why he worked Monday through Thursday, so he could get his summertime suntan Friday through Sunday."
They all laugh when they talk about his hair or his tan or his sunglasses. It's clear he's the kind of guy you like so much, you have to find a few things to tease him about.
"I give him a hard time every opportunity I get," Bowers said. "That's my goal."
On the surface, the two men seem very different. Bowers is a serious guy who commutes from Stockton -- a working class, farming town in California's Central Valley. Stow is a laid back, sunglasses-wearing guy from the beach town of Santa Cruz.
But they shared more than a rig these last nine months.
"I still have his coat and his helmet in my car," Bowers said. "When I drove down to L.A. to visit him last week, I told him I was keeping it for him."
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.