Reflection on James Alan McPherson’s “A Solo Song: For Doc”

I’ve been reading the short story collection Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson with the idea that the entire book was new to me. So, I was stunned when I remembered the story, “A Solo Song: For Doc.” It has more than one layer of meaning, but on one level it’s about a Black railroad train waiter named Doc Craft who is forced into retirement. The narrator tries to teach a young waiter he calls youngblood learning the ropes about how the old school waiters made their work not just a job but a way of life.  I was surprised to learn there was a television adaptation of the story made in 1982.

I must have read it in an anthology when I was a youngblood myself. It’s about racism but it’s also about aging, retirement, and change itself. It makes sense that I would feel differently about the story now that I’m older and retired.

I’m about a year into my retirement now and it has not been easy to adjust. Boredom and the search for a new meaning and purpose in my life still challenge me. While racism did not play a part in my decision to leave my profession, there is no doubt that things changed over my three-year phased retirement starting in 2017, dramatically so since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

I thought I was still maintaining my skills as a psychiatric consultant in the general hospital. I was physically fit, in many cases better able to run up and down the stairs for 8 flights than the youngbloods. When they asked me why I became a consulting psychiatrist, I often told them that I “did it for the juice.” I guess that’s why Doc Craft did it.

Maybe I retired because I didn’t want to be pushed out. Doc Craft didn’t retire because he just wasn’t made for it. Sometimes this doc wonders….

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