By Andy Mitchell
Walking home tonight there was a guy in a pickup who tried to run me down. Well, he didn’t make much of an effort to avoid me as he burned rubber around the square. The Confederate flag covering his rear window completed the stereotype. There was a couple swaying out of one the bars, and some grizzled guy who’s probably not as old as he looks standing beside the door smoking a menthol. A kid on a skateboard glided by. His wheels sounded like galloping hooves as they crossed the sidewalk cracks in a rhythm not unlike that of a train car moving along the tracks. Everywhere there is movement, seemingly in concert with my own movement.
Of course there are the regulars besides these interlopers. There’s the schizophrenic man with whom I identify most. (I say this with neither irony nor disrespect. I’m merely calling a spade a spade.) Taking swigs from a brown paper sack, he mutters obscenities to himself. And yet he always reserves a smile for me, his nocturnal acquaintance, one of the unholy brethren sharing his street, stretching out from The Cathedral of the Ultimate Deception. Decked-out in all the season’s finery, the local liquor store serves communion day and night.
Then there’s the little girl outside her broken home. Literally its windows are broken and the front steps of the porch are missing. She’s maybe eight or nine. The first time I saw her she asked me where I was going. I said, South Jacksonville. She said, “All the way out there?” I said, “Yeah, it’s not that far.” “Don’t you got a car?” “I’d rather walk.” “Don’t you got a bike?” “No.” All the while I was still walking as she tagged along. Then she stopped. We were getting close to the big intersection. She said (get this), “Be careful crossing the street, Mister.” “Okay, Mom,” I replied, continuing on, struck by this urchin’s concern for my safety. This unsupervised child, who seems to have walked off the stage of a Dickens play, out of what does her concern for me arise? It seems unlikely she’s ever been told to be careful crossing the street.
Soon thereafter I was known, at least to her, as South Jacksonville. “Hey, South Jacksonville, how’s it goin’?” That was in the summer. These days I don’t see her out. Owing to the colder temperatures I suppose. I don’t see the people across the street from her either. All summer-long they grilled-out in the front yard, swearing at each other, their kids, and the neighbors, parceling out their hostility in a most generous fashion.
People ask me why I walk. I do have a license. And I really can drive. I’d just rather be out in the open air taking in all my surroundings. If I drove, sure, I would save some time. But I wouldn’t have much to write about.