On Wheeler Street, between
Cullen and Calhoun
January 2004–Walking down the long sidewalk, I focused on each individual rectangle of concrete to keep my mind off of the scorching afternoon sun, pounding down on my back. With each step I took, I felt the ball of sweat dropa little farther down the side of my face. I was pushed to the side by each individual car as it passed by and stirred the air on the two-lane street called Wheeler.
As I approached the grungy bus stop, that looked almost identical to every other one in town, I realized I still had about a twenty-minute wait. There was a bench. No, itwas a poor excuse for a bench. Just two two-by-fours lying across metal bars, to sit on, and another of the same size to lean against. I sat down. I was alone at the moment, but I knew that my fellow bus-riders would join me soon.
Glass walls surrounded the bench. All the different names of the people who had previously sat on this bench were scratched into the glass, and fingerprintspranced across the windows at about the height that a bored child would stand, starring anxiously out the windows at the people passing. And next to that were the remains of a used Band-Aid, stuck on the glass, despite the existence of a trashcan, located less than a foot away. I look around to realize that there was a lot of trash thrown around the trashcan. An empty soda bottle, about thirty cigarette butts, a Styrofoam cup with a bite out of the rim, and an empty mayonnaise packet, flattened by the many people who had stepped on it polluted the healthy green grass. An older man on a bicycle rode by me, and as he passed he turned back and smiled at me.
I heard the deep, rhythmic pounding of a car’s bass growing closer to me. I waited intently, wondering which kind of car would match this music. A few seconds later, my curiosity was lifted by the old, blue Cadillac, that proved to be closer to the ground than most when it scraped along the pavement as it crested the bumpy intersection.
A white wooden house stood across the street. The overgrown bushes, which concealed unclean windows made the run down house look abandoned. Shingles from the roof littered the patches of dead grass around the house, and a porch swing with one chain missing creaked back and forth in the dry wind. I could imagine an older woman swinging in it, surrounded by her many cats who were more like companions to her. Despite the run-down impression the porch gave, the house was still very comforting and inviting. The paint on the house had chipped in many places, and a light brown color was showing through. Tarnished and off centered, a metal plaque displayed the house number on one of the house’s unsteady pillars. I determined that the house was probably built in the 1960’s. On the street in front of the house there were five large construction cones. A few of the cones were knocked down and it looks like they were just left behind from an old construction job because there was no sign of ongoing work.
A teenage boy in a red t-shirt and black pants that were about two sizes too big walked by quickly, obviously in a hurry to get somewhere. I turned and looked behind me to see a small, steep hill leading down to a parking lot. It was the kind of hill that I would have rolled down when I was seven. The grass was very green and healthy, and I suddenly got the urge to roll down it at eighteen years old as well. But there was a police officer writing a ticket for a car that was parked in the wrong area, and I didn’t want to attract attention from him. I turned forward again to see the same teenage boy, walking much slower in the opposite direction, but this time carrying a 16 oz. bottle of Coca Cola.
Down the block there was a ragged, older man walking intently towards the bus stop. As he approached he nodded in my direction. Every move his lanky body made was slow and belabored. His long, dingy jeans creased as he lowered himself onto the other end of the bench. Without starring directly at him, I tried to estimate his age by examining his wrinkles. I guessed 38, but who knows what life troubles he has been through that had shown up as lines. He turned and I could feel his eyes on me, “D’ya have any spare change?”
Startled by his address to me I stumbled over my reply: “I dunno, let me check.” Knowing my pockets were empty, I leaned back on the bench so I could reach into both pockets at once. The bench creaked as I returned to my normal position as I shook my head and mumbled, “Sorry.”
Pondering whether to continue the conversation, my thoughts were interrupted when he inquired, “Where ya headed?”
“I’m just going to the store”, I replied, not wanting to give this stranger too many details. I started fumbling through my purse, not sure what I was looking for. I wasn’t used to making conversation with people at the bus stop. When I found some chap stick, I smeared it across my lips a few times, and then held it in my hand with the lid still off for a little before I re-applied it, trying to keep busy to avoid conversation with this man. I wonder why I feel so uncomfortable talking to strangers, especially when they are obviously of no threat.
A young girl who I recognized sat down between the old man and me, relieving the awkwardness. I thought I had met her before at an event in my dorm. She glanced in my direction and smiled as she realized that I was familiar as well.
“Hi, I’m Brittany. I think that we are in the same dorm,” I said, hoping that I wouldn’t have to continue conversation with the man on her other side.
She smiled again, “Yeah, I live on the floor above you, I always see you get off the elevator before me. Where are you going?” Why did talking to her feel different?
Feeling more comfortable in this situation I said, “I am running to the grocery store to get some things. I am completely out of everything.” I offer this information without hesitation, even though I was so reluctant to before.
She responded with a simple, “Oh”, not caring where I was going.
I leaned back, not having much more to say to the people sitting with me. Some squirrels caught my attention. One was chasing the other up the trunk of a nearby tree before they both stopped suddenly. They looked like they had heard something that I wasn’t aware of and were stopping to observe the noise. They looked so happy and playful and seemed to have no worries as they played in the shade.
As I grabbed the rim of the bench to rest for a little, my hand landed in someone’s previously chewed gum. It was fresh, sticky and unpleasant. The whistle of the buses brakes as it pulled to a stop ended my search for something to wipe my contaminated hands on. Grabbing all my things, I waited as the door shook as it slowly opened. The sign on the front of the bus said in all capital letters “WHEELER”. After climbing each steep stair, I sat down in the first seat. There were only three other passengers, all sitting separately. The girl that I had recognized came in after me and threw all of her belongings into a seat a few behind mine. The old man, who walked past both of us and went to the farthest seat in the back of the bus, followed her. I wondered why everyone sits alone on a bus unless it is crowded and they have no other choice. The chairs were blue and had some red and orange stripes on them. They reminded me of tacky carpet you would see in a cheap motel.
I leaned back into the seat and started to relax, enjoying the cool air blowing on my face before I remembered that I still had someone’s carelessly placed gum all over my fingers. I rummaged through my crowded purse again, but this time for a reason. I was unsuccessful in finding something to clean my hands on so I guiltily put the gum onto the bottom of another seat before I once again leaned back to relax and wait to arrive at my destination.
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