Generous man gets wedding ring back in round-about manner

Bridge regulars return $1,000 item

A man who loses his wedding ring should at least have a good story about how the disaster happened.

Chris Bires has one of the best.

Bires, who is 41 and works in the financial industry, was hurrying across the Madison Street Bridge to catch a train several weeks ago when he heard a saxophonist on the sidewalk. He reached into his pants pocket, grabbed a handful of coins, tossed them into the sax-man's box and headed home to the northern suburbs.

It was only once he was there, changing his clothes, that he realized he wasn't wearing his wedding ring.

Figuring he'd forgotten to put it back on after his hasty workout that afternoon, he called the gym. No ring. He searched his home. No ring.

He avoided mentioning it to his wife. It would turn up.

The next day, the truth hit him. After his workout, he'd done something he never does. He had put the ring — a platinum band, worth more than $1,000, inscribed with the words "I love you" — in his pants pocket.

The pants pocket where he keeps his change.

For the next week, every time Bires crossed the Madison Street Bridge, he looked for the sax guy.

Have you seen the saxophone player?

He asked the StreetWise vendor. He asked the other regulars who eke out daily livings on the bridge.

No, no, no.

Then he asked Bonita Franks.

Bires had barely noticed her before, except maybe to notice, vaguely, that she seemed a little different from the other peddlers, performers and beggars on the bridge.

A short, solid woman with smooth skin, she always had a smile for the throngs of passing office workers, and she was always neatly dressed, as if she, too, was on her way to work. As she asked for money, she often handed out her resume.

When Bires explained his problem to Franks, she said she hadn't seen the sax guy lately but would keep an eye out.

Soon after that, Bires went on vacation. He made peace with the fact that he would never see his wedding ring again. His wife, Mary, made a sad peace with it, too, but was glad that the ring might bring some money to someone in need.

Vacation over, Bires came home. He got back on the train to work. He crossed the Madison Street Bridge. He happened to pass Franks.

He stopped.

"Hey," he said, not hopeful. "Did you ever find the sax guy?"

Franks remembered Bires' first name — Chris — but couldn't have told you exactly what he looked like. He was just another fit, well-groomed guy in the hordes of fit, well-groomed guys who hustle day after day between their Loop high-rise offices and the suburban trains.

But now he was back, asking about the sax guy, and she recognized him.

"I've been looking for you," she said.

She unzipped a small gold coin pouch. She reached inside. She pulled out Bires' wedding ring.

She had found the sax man up on Michigan Avenue, she explained, and asked if somebody had dropped a ring in his box.

"Yeah," he'd said.

The sax man was keeping it on his key ring. He took it off and gave it to Franks.

And that is how Chris Bires' wedding ring took an unlikely tour of Chicago and finally came back to him.

"Two people on the streets asking for money easily could have hawked the ring," Bires said one day this week.

He has been so touched by the fact that neither of them sold it, by the fact that Franks worked to return it — carrying it around for weeks, worried she would lose it — that he wanted to share the story, which he and Franks did one afternoon this week, sitting at a cafe downtown.

Franks, in a bright red coat, came lugging the two bags she had carried with her that day to the bridge, where she typically arrives at 7 a.m., stays for 31/2 hours, then returns at 3:30 p.m. for the evening rush, standing the whole time.

Since she found Bires' ring, he has tried to help her out, and she has told him a little about herself, that she's 61, has been coming to the bridge since 2010, when she lost a job, that she lives with a daughter and a granddaughter, and that she was shuttling between cheap hotels until her recent move into an apartment.

I asked her if she ever considered selling the ring.

"Oh, no," she said, as if the question was too odd to even pose.

In the city, we barely see the strangers we pass every day. Bonita Franks and Chris Bires might never have noticed each other if it hadn't been for the wandering ring that, if only for a while, brought them together.

And Bires hasn't taken that ring off since he got it back.

mschmich@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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