I pulled into the parking lot at 10 a.m. Sunday morning. Before even getting out of the car, I noticed the bike with the fendered 26-inch wheels, old-fashioned handlebars, overstuffed seat and more improvised saddlebags than I thought a bike could hold. It occupied a good portion of the sidewalk leading to the front door of the restaurant. It was a slightly odd sight in this neighborhood, one comprising almost entirely middle to upper class residents. And within three seconds of entering the establishment, I could identify the bike’s owner.
There in the northwest corner of the place, sat a wiry, 40-something caucasian male with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and matching stubble. He wore stained khaki workpants, a greasy t-shirt, worn cross-trainers and a weak smile he flashed intermittently at the service staff as they moved between the kitchen and the dining area, shooting not so subtle glances at him. Upon seeing his smile, the thing that struck me was how straight and clean his teeth appeared to be.
It made me wonder where he’d come from – more demographically than geographically. Against the backdrop of a fairly upscale Sunday morning crowd mostly attired in church clothes, he struck me as someone who could rather easily be transformed into one of them, at least on the surface.
Was he a recent victim of the economic downturn, or was he a foreigner to this middle class world? Did he look at the rest of us, knowing what our lives were like? Did he flash that fleeting smile because he knew the restaurant service staff and patrons who seemed to look down on him were really only a few steps from his circumstance?
Being only ten years younger than him at the most, I thought about how slight a twist of fate it would take to find myself in his tattered shoes.
I stepped up to the counter, 9:15 on a Saturday night. Not having eaten since early that morning, I was unusually hungry, and I probably should have been somewhere other than the local McDonald’s with the kind of hunger I was feeling. But I was in a little bit of a hurry, with less than a half-hour until I was supposed to meet a couple friends at the local cineplex. read more
The pretty brown-haired girl across the way keeps looking at me and smiling. read more
“I’m thinking of a word that has been knocked up and over-used.
You could say it’s lost all meaning from so much abuse.”
-Over the Rhine
First the girl.
She was eternally sunny, like the summer afternoon I made her acquaintance on a rural hillside. She was driven by passion, but still slightly guarded. She noticed things that other people didn’t, and she wrote them down – she said it was just to remember. As opposed to me. I wrote things down partly to remember, but also to exhaust the mental faucet that ran forever in my head (- if they were the demons, writing them down was a sort of exorcism).
She wove craft bracelets and necklaces, she wore pants referred to as “clam diggers” and she re-animated crinkled straw wrappers with a drop of soda while sitting in the seventh row of any given movie theater.
I thought she was a distraction, but she became a friend. One that would weave in and out of my life for the next half of it. read more
We met in front of the north face of City Hall that day. It was late January, but not very cold. We decided to have lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. While we ate and talked, she combed over the movie listings for a decent matinee. There were several playing that I would have been okay with seeing, but she spotted the new Julia Roberts movie, Sleeping with the Enemy, playing in Old City.
Our preferred show time wasn’t for another hour, so we settled on a leisurely stroll of fifteen city blocks or so, east on Market to Second, then over a couple blocks south to the AMC just a stone’s throw from Penn’s Landing. We bought tickets, popcorn and soda, then meandered into the theater with about ten minutes to spare.