The morning walk thing, I sometimes leave my iPod behind. The pre-dawn Austin is a raucous place if you live near a highway...I suspect most towns with bad traffic problems are like this. Everyone scrambles to escape traffic by leaving early. The people who have to be to work at 8 or 9 are the kind of people who live in the subdivisions, in the dread hinterlands between city center and village. They clog the highways starting at 5:30am or so, and they do the same at 3:30pm on the way back to their gated ghettos.
I live in one of those. Not gated, mind. My neighborhood demographic is solidly working class hispanic and black, with a few of us child-less white couples who can't afford to live downtown, and a cluster of Vietnamese who live near the local Vietnamese Catholic church. It's a quiet neighborhood these days, but it has its moments. Recently there was a kidnapping, previous to that a shooting, and there are always robberies and domestic disputes. The police helicopter lights up the streets every other week or so.
The morning is a stuffy sort of quiet. The heat never really goes away, though it may be in the 80s at 6am it still feels like a warm wet towel around your throat. The pace I walk, I tend to work into a sweat within a half mile or so, and am drenched by the time I get home.
Our resources in the neighborhood seem as tied up in our lawns and external appearances as any suburban neighborhood. The vehicles are mainly SUVs. The houses are well tended, lawns green and expensive in this heat and drought. A few of us have dead lawns...we water twice a week, which isn't enough to keep the grass alive but keeps the trees from dying. The houses that are the most well kept have sharp edges, bright green lawns, grease and oil free drives and burglar alarm signs everywhere. Motion sensing lights. Big well-bred well-fed dogs. Gloriously expensive trucks.
Ten of the houses I walk by are rentals. They are shabby, in need of paint and lawn care and heavy maintenance. Cars crowd around the driveways, garages stuffed with stored artifacts of mid-American life or roommates. The cars are, if anything, more beautiful than the ones at the crisp new-looking houses. A brand new Porsche SUV sits in the driveway of a house that needs drapes, a house that until recently had a dog chained to the front tree. That's illegal now in Austin, so they turned the dog over the the shelter.
In the mix of houses are a few hippy places, overgrown with herbs and local plants, bees and bugs. Veggies, organic gardens bursting with chaotic life. Children tend to rule those places. Sidewalks in front of them are chalked to a rainbow of child graffiti. Ricky stinks! in big bright multi-hued letters gone over at least six times. I Love MOMMY! in a pink and blue flower with a bespectacled bee nearby.
Three different kinds of houses, four if houses with neatly pressed but slightly dead lawns are different than houses with neatly pressed but totally green lawns. Four different builders twenty years ago, so there are only eight basic floor plans, maybe three basic facades with minor variations. Every sixth one with at least one silver vehicle. Every third house has at least one kid. Some, more like ten, but minimum is one kid every three houses. A few, like my next-door neighbors, are multiple families: seven kids, four parents, two grandparents. Some are single parents. Some of us are just couples. Most of us work. All of the houses are six to ten feet apart, with back yards that vary in size but keep a neat row of cedar fence and dog, cedar fence, dog, cedar fence, trampoline, cedar fence, dog....
Out of all of us in our subdivision, 83 houses contain sex offenders.
Today, I walked by one of them and said hi.
To just be alive, despite whatever is lacking. To be alive and walking and breathing, pain free, un-troubled by the best of the worst. I know of too many that would give anything at all to be right there, walking. Because even the worst of that is better than the suffering last second too many of us have dealt with too often.
I'm here, now, and working on my head and my heart and the rest of it will have to wait until the fall. Right now I'm counting footsteps, and waiting for nothing.
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