At the busy intersection of U.S. 321 Bypass and West Liberty Street in York, there have been for so long a gas station on one corner, a motel on a second corner and, on a third corner, an ice cream place, then restaurant, and now doughnut shop.
On the fourth corner, for years, a car wash has sat. But not right at the corner.
Between the wash bays and the tiny sidewalk and street is a hilly spot where, for hours a day, in all weather, stood a man. A man named Ronnie Eugene Simpson, whose real name was known to almost nobody except cops who had to fill out dozens of arrest reports.
He would wave to all who passed by. He would call out. He would sometimes, if he was in a sour mood and less than thrilled with the police on a given day – well, the wave had fewer fingers raised.
People would buy him beer, as he sure would ask for one, and give him a cigarette, as he sure would ask for one of those, too. He would drink the beer somewhere close by, and he would smoke the cigarette, and he would go back to waving.
Sometimes he would do more than wave.
Once in awhile there would be something small – his mother called it minor things – and the police, all of whom knew this man, would come, and they would leave with the back seat of their car heavier. The officers would charge him with trespass or disorderly conduct, that kind of thing. The cops would feed him a hot meal at the jail, and the verdict would be guilty.
Fifty-three times, in the past 20 years in York alone, he was found guilty.
The man would spend some time in the jail, and when he got out, he would be back at the corner. Yet there were times when it was raining or snowing and the cops would keep him until the weather broke because Nukie was still, above all, a human being.
His name was Ronnie Eugene Simpson, but people called him “Nukie.”
Even his rap sheet has the nickname aliases on it.
And now he is dead.
A memorial on the very spot where Nukie stood so many days was built in a hurry Thursday into Friday. Balloons, flowers and a sign that said, simply, “RIP Nukie.”
Nukie had not been seen for a few days and finally, because people knew his haunts, officers from the York Police Department found his body Thursday in an abandoned house behind the gas station, across the street from the spot where Nukie stood for so long.
A car stopped at the light.
“What’s with the balloons?” called out the passenger.
“The guy who stood here all the time died.”
The passenger and the driver both called out, “No!”
The passenger’s face fell.
“I never knew his name, but he waved to me every day,” the man said. “For years.”
A guy named Andre Guinn, 48, pulled into the gas station across the street Friday. Everybody, white, black, young, old, was talking about Nukie dying. After all, Nukie had been across the street from the store for countless hundreds or thousands of days. He was more identifiable than trees or street signs or even stores.
“Nukie was a nice man, a good man,” said Guinn, owner of Dr. Dre’s Tree Service. “He had his problems like anybody else. His might have been harder to deal with. But I would give him some money, help him. He was nice to people. He was a good person.”
Nukie was no dummy. People said he knew math, trigonometry especially, extremely well. He could work as an electrician some and lay bricks, too. He learned bricklaying where so many young men do.
Nukie served a stretch from 1989 to 1995 for burglary, State Law Enforcement Division records show, and his mother confirmed. Then, when he got out, there were many other arrests and convictions. Yet all were for minor offenses.
Nukie’s mother, Maddie Mae Good, said her son “had mental issues” for many years and never sought the treatment he needed. The family tried to get him to see the right doctors, do what was needed, but he would not.
He would go back to the spot and wave.
“Everybody knew him,” his mother said. “He didn’t bother anyone. That is just what he did.”
Even the cops who knew Nukie so well said he was not a bad guy. Sure, Nookie knew which finger was the middle one and he waggled it at more than a few police cars in his years.
“He was Nukie,” York Police Department Lt. Rich Caddell said.
The death is not being treated as suspicious, said Caddell, a detective. It is the death of a man who had courted death for years.
Nukie could be belligerent at times, said Lt. Dale Edwards, who dealt with Nukie countless times, but he was not a threat.
“He was Nukie,” Edwards said.
Many of the last arrests show no current address on the report. That means voluntary homeless. Nukie had chosen his life, his family said, and others said so, too. Then death chose him.
He was flawed as all men are flawed. His flaws were on display, publicly on that corner, for so long.
Then somebody – no one is sure who – built the memorial for Nukie when Nukie died because even the flawed are men.
“My daughter saw someone had put the memorial there,” said Nukie’s mother. “It touched my heart that people cared about him.”
People still bought gas and cigarettes and beer at the store across the street. They washed cars at the car wash.
But the corner was not the same. It was somehow cold on a warm day. It was silent.
Because Nukie didn’t wave anymore.