Mr. Cincinnati

Mr. Cincinnati died today. He was 92. If you have never heard of Mr. Carl Lindner Jr., you probably never lived in the city of flying pigs and you’ve probably never been to the banks of the fair Ohio River waters.

My encounters with Lindner were occasional at best. During my days working as a journalist in Cincinnati, I’d see him now and again at various press conferences. Maybe at the Reds’ ballpark when he was the team’s owner for a stint. That’s about it. He shook my hand a couple times, though our conversations never once extended past a polite, “Hello”.

Once, at the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, I got a glimpse inside his banana cream-colored Rolls-Royce Phantom. Rumor had it the car was so rare it came with its own driver, but what impressed me most was the umbrella that popped out of the door for quick necessity when it was raining.

Patrolling downtown one day as a staff photographer for The Cincinnati Post, I noticed a street performer playing his guitar for spare change outside a drug store on Walnut St. I was trying to juxtapose the smiling faces on the wall with the forlorn man trying to earn a buck. I worked on it for some time and eventually one of my colleagues at The Post, a Cincinnati legend himself, Melvin Grier stopped to talk after seeing me.

Melvin and I chatted for a few minutes and if it wasn’t for him, I would not have noticed Lindner pull up in front of the musician. Melvin pointed him out and I quickly snapped two frames before Lindner drove away. It never ran in the paper, but like many images, this photograph has layers that might not be obvious to the masses.

At a time when the populace seems extraordinarily attuned to the vast differences between rich and poor in this nation, this type of photo may have some added significance. Lindner was among America’s richest with a net worth reportedly in the billions, and while I’m not here to suggest he didn’t earn every darn dime of that, it is nonetheless striking to see the range in prosperity even in a modest Midwestern town like Cincinnati. Occupy what you will.

You’re worth what you can earn in this country. Still, the difference between rolling around town in a $500,000 convertible and strumming your way to your next meal can appear as narrow as a one-way city street. Where pigs fly and a river runs through it.