Charlie Phillips usually makes the people on his Meals on Wheels route smile.
Whether it's the lady who is nearly blind in the apartment on West Eighth in Covington or the Vietnam vet in Ludlow that has a place wall-to-wall with Bengals paraphernalia. And there's the guy who has no legs with the dog that senses when Charlie is coming and announces the arrival of the food with welcome barks.
But on Tuesday, Charlie also made a pair of young Bengals smile when Andre Caldwell and Rey Maualuga joined him on his daily 10.5-mile trip to 15 homes to deliver hot meals from Northern Kentucky Senior Services.
"He shows up and he makes people feel good. They say, 'Hey, Charlie!' " Maualuga says. "You take a look at that, and here's a guy that could be retired and sitting at home on the couch watching TV."
"They talk about how Charlie brings a smile to their faces every day," Caldwell says. "He's actually 87 years old and he delivers to the elderly and he sits and talks to them."
Older than his clients, Phillips doesn't need any help but he had some Tuesday. Every day he loads up the back of his car with two hot boxes of meals, a cooler of milk, and connects his cigarette lighter to the hot boxes to make sure they stay warm on the drive.
But this time Caldwell drove him in his SUV and Maualuga followed. On Monday, Phillips told his clients he might have two Bengals with him the next time and so there were grandchildren and other family members to greet them.
"They were great; very humble," Phillips says. "They talked, signed autographs, they took pictures. They were beautiful."
Caldwell and Maualuga are about the same age as Phillips's grandson and their friend Phil Lipschutz, owner of Cincinnati's downtown clothing store Unheardof on Fourth Street. Which means the three of them combined are 76, still a sixth-grader shy of Charlie.
**The store is Skateboard City and an obvious attraction to guys like the California cool Maualuga and the Tampa hip Caldwell and they hit it off immediately with the 26-year-old Lipschutz, a rare mover and shaker actually young enough to move and shake things up.
"I wanted to do something to give back and seeing what my grandfather does, yeah, that is inspiring with what he does with Meals on Wheels," Lipschutz says. "So I started to put something together and Andre and Rey were great giving me some help."
Lipschutz put a couple of garbage barrels in the store with the offer of a discount with canned goods donations. Charlie saw him backing into the Senior Center in Covington on Tuesday morning with what Caldwell figures was five dumpsters worth of canned goods. Lipschutz figures that had to be about $2,000 worth. Plus, the three kids chipped in a cash donation while visiting the elderly that get fed at the center before heading out on the route.
"I don't know exactly how much it was," Phillips says, "but it's going to make a lot of people happy this Thanksgiving. My grandson ... he's a great kid."
That's how Maualuga and Caldwell were treated Tuesday at every stop on a tour that usually takes Charlie about two and a half hours. They were everybody's favorite grandchildren and they found out there's no age limit to being a Bengals fan.
"I must have had four elderly women say something about my touchdown," says Caldwell, who hauled in a 49-yarder Sunday in Baltimore. "I thought that was pretty good."
"They're 70, 75 and they still follow us and cheer us on," Maualuga says. "They said it was a heartbreaker this weekend, but they're still with us all the way. It shows they're up-to-date and they still follow the Cincinnati Bengals."
They will now for sure after the visits. And, as usual, other Bengals were out in full force the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Eric Ball, the club's director of player relations, led the annual contingent to Cincinnati's Freestore Foodbank to hand out turkey dinners and defensive linemen Michael Johnson and Frostee Rucker went to the Hype Park Kroger to shop for needy families.
And then there were Maualuga and Caldwell helping Charlie.
"The great thing was how positive everyone was even though they lost on Sunday," Lipschutz says. "They were telling them to hang in there and how happy they were for them. It was nice to see."
This may have been one of Charlie's last trips. He's talking about retiring at the end of December. It's hard to believe, but it's already been five years since he saw the sign at one of the senior centers looking for help while he was walking down Scott Street in Covington.
"I've done a lot of things in my life and I'd been a realtor, but I was looking to get out of that," Phillips says. "I was looking for a ministry and this is a very nice one, the type of thing I was looking for. They knew me in there and they hired me right away. I enjoy it. We have some shut-ins and I like to be able to visit and help give them some peace of mind."
Charlie didn't mind the help Tuesday. This time the kids got the smiles.