Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Advancing Fairy Army

Painting by Paul Resika

The drivers of the #6 bus hate me. Biking home after work, I hug the curb and block access to their stops along 12th Street. I feel them rush to overtake me, to beat me to their stops. The bus wheezes to accelerate and creaks when slowing down. The drivers are instructed to stop at the railroad crossings, which I know they hate. Few trains cross these days, stopping to look both ways at the tracks is a mere formality.

I saw a country band tonight, of course they had a song about trains. Let the midnight special, shine a light on me. I think the story goes that if the light between train cars would shine on a convict in the chain gang, for that brief moment, his soul would be free. It strikes me that the bus is my train, and that perhaps as it lumbers by me, and I see the harsh lights and numb passengers inside, some extra freedom shines into my heart. Because I am on my bike, able to stop and investigate the black snake flattened on the shoulder, allowed to inhale the wind, embraced by the warm humid night. My freedom is the opportunity to intermingle with nature in a way that brings me out of the neighborhood, away from the garbage strewn streets, beyond the grievances of the ghetto.

Beyond the grievances, there are good things about the neighborhood, which I will probably reminisce about more once I move out. Even the rhythms of the drug trade can have a romance, if you can distance yourself enough to see it. Last night, for example, something was going down. I felt it as I turned on to 12th Street from Comal. Unfamiliar faces, loitering by the corner store. Three cop cars passing me in 2 minutes. Traffic, unrelentingly flowing east on 12th, dog-legging down my street, turning again on 13th. Jamey and I sat out on the stoop, drinking lime soda and tequila. Don't the junkies realize how transparent their excuses are, as they wait for their pick ups and drop offs? "I'm just waiting for my cousin." "No, I'm meeting a friend here." "Yeah, my car just needs some water… no, there's nothing wrong, I'll be moving on in just a second…" and the most audacious one of all, the plea for fix money, which comes up remarkably regularly: "My mother/sister/brother just died in Brackenridge Hospital, I just need $5 to catch a bus back to San Antonio, can you help me out?" So let me clarify... your family member dies, and you decide to walk for a half hour into the poorest part of town, the opposite direction from the bus and train station, to try to bum enough change to amass what has to be at least a $30 fare? I guess it's like the first grader who imagines he's the first person who ever thought to tell the teacher, "You see, Miss, the dog ate my homework."

Listening to their excuses is exhausting. And that is not the good part. There is a good part here, I'm just having some trouble locating it tonight. Maybe the good part is when I sit on my stoop, and watch the lightning flash in northwest Austin, illuminating the sky over the forest at the far side of the park. The raindrops start, like tip toe feet of an advancing fairy army, rustling the leaves of the newly planted trees across the street. Someday these trees will be as big as the ones that line the avenues downtown, and I will be far, far away from here.

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