Monday, January 29, 2007
Redshirt60M snagged his leopard print shirt last night on a chain-link fence in the alley when the wind shifted and blew the cold wet gusts down on him between the buildings. He awoke to find, to his dismay, the damage he had caused in the night. He gathers his belongings and makes his way out of the alley. When he hits the street the sun hits his face and he realizes, like we all did that morning, that the sun was out in the middle of January and if felt good. This turned the man’s sprits. He would search out a nice spot to enjoy the sun and mend his garment. As he walks down the sidewalk in the direction of the library he decides that the tables there will suit his needs. He decides, weather consciously or sub-consciously is unknown, to sit on the sunny side where the sun is the most direct. He chooses to sit under a tree, which filters the light making it the perfect quality for close detail work while letting enough light through to keep him dexterous and comfortable. The table he chooses is the one nearest my camera setup. He loses himself in his work, randomly speaking to himself in hushed whispers.
Greyshirt65M wakes late in the day surprised to have the sun bearing down on his face. He spent his night shivering on the courthouse stairs and expecting a dreary Sunday. He wanders the streets of downtown peering into the various news stands until he notices the game he had heard about earlier that week. The game is on and he is intent on hearing it. He digs through his bindle and pulls out a cheap handheld radio, in which he installs mismatched AA batteries. The batteries work and the game is at hand, he now needs a place to relax. He makes his way to the park on 9th and Guadalupe only to find the grass wet from the previous day’s rain. He leaves the comfort of the grassy park and searches for a warm dry place where he can share the joy of his boisterous battery-powered treasure. He takes a seat in the second table away from my camera setup and relaxes. He sits and listens as he carries on with passers by. Most ignore him some reply with an unrehearsed line of assurance while others enjoy his company and join him at the table ( e.g. Bluehoody?M and Greenjacket60M). He has enjoyed his day feeling satisfaction with his social achievements and sense of acceptance which is inherent to outgoing and enthusiastic sports fans.
Brownhat45M stayed up late last night in his home, alone. He watched television with envy as the characters live out their ideal existence. He thinks back to when he was younger and would sit in the park and read alone and undisturbed while surrounded by people. Being around people would always make him feel good, yet he never mastered the simple social graces of the average citizen. He went to bed with a plan to find a good reading spot, one that would be public but quiet, sunny but not in the sun, and near an unlimited supply of reading material. He awoke with the perfect location. He makes his way to the bus from his East Austin flat and within the hour he is on the south side of the library, book in hand. He sits at the third table from my camera setup and reads contently until his nicotine to blood level diminishes. He lights his cigarette and begins to observe those around him. His eyes shift from here to there in suspicious jerks as his discomfort becomes more obvious. He shifts in his chair and hotboxes the remainder of his loose before going back to his book, but it is all different now. He is uncomfortable now and feels that he is being watched. He reads in increasingly shorter intervals until he abandons his book in lue of staring at the ground. After a long stint of what appears to be self-council, the man lifts up his book and begins reading again. He has rediscovered contentment for the moment.
Friday, January 26, 2007
At first glance, the actors in this story are bound to three major groups: Adults, children, and dogs. While all are interesting in their distinctions, and certainly worthy of acknowledgment as such, to limit their descriptions to mere observations of demographic detail would be to blind myself to the magic of imagination.It seemed that every observation left more to discover
The dogs in this setting were interesting in their mannerisms.We tend to think of animals as acting purely on instinct, unaware of meta-physical notions of happiness and enjoyment. But the way they interact with each other and their surroundings seems to contradict this notion. My experience offers me no other word to describe the phenomenon but as "playing." They were not looking for food, protecting their territory, or searching for a mate (ok maybe there were looking for a mate; I know I was). What they were engaged in was something more. They were exploring and wrestling, and their demeanor was cheerful and whimsical. They were having fun, much the same as children, without regard to whatever else was going on the world.
The adults in this story are worthy of more analysis than is possible in this essay. Nonetheless, there is a great deal to be explored.The adults that were engaged in interaction with the setting did so in a number of ways. Some were observers, watching their children play amongst the rocks, envious of the freedom that accompanies youth. Some were younger – both couples and individuals – and they seemed to just be enjoying themselves, trying to escape the monotony of their daily activities by just sitting and appreciating a beautiful day. But no matter the role, one thing seemed to be a constant; that as adults, it becomes difficult to completely escape the harshness of reality. Even when enjoying a gorgeous day we find ourselves regretting that we can't do it more often, or lamenting, even if only to ourselves, that soon the day will be over, and we will be back to the same old grind. I could not help but wonder when it is that we lose the brilliance that the children around us posses.
The children in this setting were the most amazing, and the main reason that this analysis could not manifest itself into the form of a single narrative. As actors in this story, each small band of children created its own particular narrative, with dozens of stories taking place in the same setting at the same time. While the rock formation as an object was unchanging, it was something different to every child. Small children who were able to crawl in the tiniest of crevices were transformed into prehistoric explorers, discovering shelter and imagining that the place was theirs to make of it what they wanted, completely free of creative hindrance. One young boy – barely old enough to explore without his fathers accompaniment – invited other children to come visit "his house," while a group of older boys used the varied elevations of the terraced form as an arena for a ball game they had invented. Each child seemed to have a different definition of what this place was, and to each it was magical. All the while, their parents stood on the periphery, acting as omnipotent agents whose presence was always known, but not in the forefront of the children's thoughts. It was amazing to me that they could lose themselves completely in the worlds they had created. As far as they were concerned nothing else existed, and nothing else mattered.
This place, whose explicit form and function came to be only through the natural processes of the earth, has proved itself to be a versatile instrument.Its qualities as a character in the landscape can be defined in as many ways as there are people to think of them, transcending notions of time and culture. Seeing the role it plays in the lives of the various actors who exist with, in, and around it, and considering the wealth of knowledge that my years on this earth have afforded me, I can't help but look at the dogs and the children and think, "Damn, I wish I knew what they knew."
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Jeff Black finally reached his hidden parking spot about a block away from the ACC campus. “Late again, and I can’t believe that little twerp who jumped out in front of my car,” he thought. His mind was racing through possible excuses for being late this time and he tried to remember which ones he hadn’t already used. He finally decided he would declare that he almost ran into a little kid and was grilled for about ten minutes by an angry mom who just wouldn’t take an apology. “Whack!” Jeff was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he had walked right into one of four new little trees that were imposing on his accustomed path. The stress build up was too great, Jeff did his best to mutilate the trees to let off his steam. After a while he noticed a little boy had joined in copying his move for move. In fact, he noticed it was the same little boy he had nearly run over a couple of minutes ago. Anyways, Jeff decided to jet when he overheard an angry man shouting into a phone and frantically pacing around in a nearby office.
Mr. Edwards has been wearing the same brown coat to the same little office on West 12th Street for eleven years now. He thought surely the new little trees he had planted would keep those punk kids off his tiny lawn in front of his little passport making shop. Eventually, he thought, they would give him privacy and shade as they grew tall. Suddenly, he noticed a young man with huge pit stains doing an outrageously awkward style of Kung Fu right on his precious new trees. Like punching bags, the trees swung back into place after each blow because of the white strings holding them in place. Mr. Edwards reached for his phone and yelled in rage as he slammed his free hand on his desk and kicked over the trash can. “Those kids have vandalized my property for the last time…” After Mr. Edwards hung up the phone, he thought about his son, Bobby, sitting safe and sound in a classroom right across the street.
The phone suddenly rings and the man nearly knocks over the booth as he snatches the phone off the hook. The woman still staring, notices a change in the man’s composure as he speaks on the phone. He no longer appears hostile and begins to blend in with the rest of the people in the parking lot. The woman got into her car and pulled off, but her car stops just as she reaches the light at the intersection. She slowly got out of her car and walked toward the pay phone. The man was still occupying the booth, so she stood back and waited.
The man was having the time of his life. He was stranded at the gas station with nothing to do. The phone had been ringing off the hook all night. Each time he picked it up, he talked to someone new. This time the person was a woman. Someone had called from the pay phone number and she wasn’t sure who, but she decided she’d return the call anyway. The woman was very lonely, so she was also excited when someone picked up the phone. The man at the booth fell in love with her voice. He wondered what she looked like and if he’d ever run into her on the streets.
The woman waiting behind him was getting a little impatient. She knew the man didn’t know who he was talking to and figured he was just playing around, so she tapped his shoulder and said, “Sir, I really need to use the phone. It’s an emergency.” The man sadly look at the telephone cord and then told his mystery woman that he had to go. He sat on the curve next to the booth while the woman called a tow truck. He got a little excited when he overheard the woman shout, “What! 50 bucks just to move a car out of the street!” The woman slammed the phone on the hook and walked away frustrated. The man was nervous about leaving the pay phone. His mystery woman could call back any second, but he decided to help the woman at the intersection anyway.
Together, they pushed the car into the parking lot. The woman then used the pay phone to call her brother. As she waited for her brother to arrive, she noticed a sad look on the man’s face. He was sitting on the curve with his elbows on his knees. The phone suddenly rang and the man jumped up to answer it. Unfortunately, it was a wrong number and the other person on the line did not want to talk. He sat on the curve again and looked up at the phone. The woman noticed his actions and made a conclusion about the man. She decided he was lonely and that the phone was his way of escaping his situation.
When her brother arrived she ran over to the man and thanked him. Then she reached into her pocket and gave him four quarters. The man slightly smiled. He appreciated the change, but he really didn’t know any numbers to call. As the woman and her brother drove away, the woman noticed that the man began to pace back and forth again.
An hour had passed and the man was still sitting by the booth. He was ready to call it a night, when the phone rang again. He frantically jumped up to answer as he thought, “Could this be my mystery woman.” It was not his mystery woman, but the man decided talk anyway. This time it was another woman. The man was delighted because he recognized the woman’s voice on the phone. It was the woman that needed help at the intersection.
The urban environment is filled with characters that come and go, but some never leave. Sometimes individuals find themselves stuck with no place to go, so they search for comfort in the objects around them. Its amazing how one device can perform such a service. The pay phone at the gas station brought characters from the outside world into the urban environment as it served as a source of entertainment for a lonely woman returning a phone call. It served as one man’s way of escaping his troubled situation, and it was another woman’s way of reaching help. This device had the power to change the situation of its environment, as it encouraged the interaction among the actors around
It’s just a little past 5:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, just the hour when people have begun to grab their coats and head for the door, ending yet another taxing day at the office. One man in particular steps out of his door at Guadalupe and 9th street, but before he heads to the bus stop to enter a still more chaotic evening with his three super-active small boys and ever busy wife, he heads toward the park on the northwest corner for a quick stroll around the small grounds. As he rounds the corner with the bench that faces in toward the picturesque white gazebo sunken in the center of the park, he contemplates a short rest on the bench but then decides against it as soon as he sees the two men who now occupy it active in lively conversation. Instead he stands a couple meters behind the bench, staring idly toward the people gathered around the gazebo, a contented outsider casually observing the activity in the park that is bordered by the bench.
Now back to the two men occupying the bench. Judging by their appearance they seem to be homeless but perhaps acquaintances who often take advantage of the greenery the park offers as a contrast to a fairly built-up city. However, the interesting thing is that the two are utilizing the bench in different ways. One sits and the other stands. Their focus is not at all on the center of the park or the surrounding park as was the focus of the other individual man. Instead they are engaged only with each other, though I can imagine that their setting plays a conscious or perhaps only subconscious role on their experience.
I can imagine that the different positions of the two men, though, greatly influence their experiences as well. The man who is sitting, for example, must look drastically upwards to see eye-to-eye with the other man. Therefore, should his eyes start to wonder at all, the background is only the sky, the upper levels of surrounding buildings, and perhaps a few tree branches. On the other hand, the man standing uses the bench only as an object of security, something by which he can stand. Looking down toward the man sitting on the bench, he can look easily from side to side to see passers by or cars coming from either side that pass through the intersection. He experiences a fuller interaction with the site.
In conclusion, the bench is used by various actors in many different ways; some don’t even realize they are using it. It is an object that in many ways brings people together, though can also serves as a barrier in some circumstances.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Monday, January 22, 2007
Outside of the library, much of the same took place. People approached the library by bus, by bike, on foot. All had the same purpose, which was to utilize what the library had to offer; its knowledge. Despite the similarity in intent shared by these people, the confrontations which took place in front of the library were uncomfortable ones. People walking by one another either glanced at one another making the least bit of acknowledgement possible, or ignored one another altogether. One unexpected encounter did occurat the library, and its story took place at the bike rack before it.
Being used more infrequently than normal with the cold weather, today the bike rack was filled with bikes of those who were in library, as well as those were down to the street. A man who had likely spent some time in the library exited the library making his way towards this bike rack. At about the same time, another man approached the block heading in the same direction. The second man recognized the other and yelled out. They both acknowledged one another, but continued towards the bike rack before fully meeting. Here, they stood, the first by his respective bike and the other just beyond his. They exchanged the usual greetings exchanged by friends who run into one another unexpectedly, and continued talking. A few minutes passed, during which a third man had approached the bike rack. Being polite, he stood somewhat back from the other two, waiting patiently to get to his bike. The two, realizing what the the third man was waiting for, moved out of the way and ended their own encounter. Two of the men exited in one direction, and the third in the opposite.
It was after this encounter that the bike rack arose as a hub for social interaction on this quiet street, with this quiet location. A group of three students rode up together shortly after the three men left and spent what seemed too long, attaching their bikes to the rack before proceeding into the library. It was because of the inherent time lapse between parking a bike and heading inside that they had a moment to talk about their day and selves before entering into the library for their real purpose – to study.
Shortly thereafter, another encounter took place. This time, a woman wearing headphones and carrying books left the library and was taking her bike off the rack. In the mean time, a pedestrian was walking behind her passing her. Because of the proximity of space, they exchanged hellos and a few words before the pedestrian continued his walk, and the woman, too, took off.
Comparing the three scenarios, it became evident that this bike rack invoked interaction, desired or undesired, all day. Within a short period of time, an unexpected encounter between old friends had found its way there, people in acquaintance with one another arrived there together, and an exchange between two strangers was made.
The moonlight tower I chose was on 22nd and
It is the law of course for pedestrians to cross within the lines and for cars to stop before the first white line. The standard of this “custom” only strengthens the insecurity felt by the person or group of persons who created this law while experiencing their walk through intersections.
I felt secure while walking on the sidewalk because of course cars are not allowed on them nor can they fit. There was never a chance feeling that I would get hit by a car on the sidewalk. As I approached the intersection of 22nd and
The lines, I thought, also introduced the system of stop lights and stop signs. These signs are for the pedestrians, for me and everyone else – to give us a chance to cross without harm. When a car drove up to the stop sign and saw that I was waiting to cross, he allowed me to cross. This split second of interaction between me and this stranger in the car created unconsciously a language between us. It was like we both knew that he was to stop and I was to cross – no dispute about it. It was definite.
As time passed on, I observed a couple walk down the same street. They were totally engrossed in their own conversation that they didn't even see me only glimpsing the passing cars ahead of them. The approaching car stopped, then the couple crossed the street without any sign of insecurity. The moment passed by so quickly and smoothly like it was a habit. It seemed so effortless.
But then I thought, how hard is it to cross a street? It’s something no one would think about. But in the depth of it, a crosswalk is not just two painted lines. It’s a transportation and security system. It acts as a conduit for people and cars to travel from one street to another.
Immediately, we face an unfortunate obstacle: my little brother finds his front tire flat on his bike. Eager to get on the road, we improvise; he hops on the back of my bike—and all four of us role out of the driveway. Our neighborhood is very active—joggers and bikers fill the streets. Everyone roaming the streets seems happy to finally escape from inside their homes.
My oldest brother leads our pack of three bikes towards our new home. We follow the convenient bike route that goes straight our neighborhood down Speedway. After less than a few minutes of riding, we near our new home, marked by the intersection of two streets and a 160 foot tall moonlight tower. The construction definitely progressed over the past week. As my eyes fixate on the newly installed wood siding on the back house, waves of excitement roll from head to toe. Images of my family playing together in the new home fill my mind. I can’t wait until the day we move in! But until then, we’ll continue visit and explore the home, using it as our playhouse.
We speed faster and race to the driveway. My little brother and I jump off and throw the bike down on the cement in a mixture of complete anticipation (of exploring the house) and neglect (of the bike).
“Hide and seek!” yells my brother.
“You’re it!” another one screams, pointing to me. The boys all run off in various directions, and I begin to count with my eyes closed.
Bored of counting and covering my eyes, I start to peak. I continue to count, but peer outside the front window and watch what will soon be my front yard and streets. Buses go by on the street ahead, cars on the street to the side, and a couple lingers next to the moon tower in our neighbor’s yard. Sorority girls jog and just barely miss the novice cyclists biking through the intersection. People turn the corner, edging the curb, just barely brushing shoulders with one another. That curb welds the two streets together. Everyone is going their own direction, yet their paths clash at that one point. I stare in observation of their interactions until I hear a loud and rather annoyed “Helloooooo?!” by my impatient brother who decides he doesn’t want to play hide and seek anymore. Oops…I kind of forgot about the game, anyway.
The moonlight tower shone from up above. Justin was drunk. It was 4:00 am as he walked out of the party. Everyone was already heading home. Stumbling down 22nd Street he wondered if he could make it back to his dorm in one piece. It’s just a short walk from here to my place, he thought. He smiled to himself, as the buzzing in his ears still continued. Justin swaggered down the street until he felt something coming up his throat.
“No, I can’t make it!” He saw a stop sign up ahead. It’s telling me to stop. Justin stopped as he neared the sign. The bold red seemed to be commanding him. He clutched the pole as his head whirled. It ok, there are bushes at the base of the sign, he thought. Justin lurched forward and vomited.
6:54, she was late for work again. Marissa jumped in her car and turned the defrost to full blast in order to remove the winter from her windows. The radio hummed and started with a shout. She turned the volume down.
“More ice and snow,” she mumbled to herself and sighed. What was going on with Austin weather? Just then the traffic update came on. I-35 was backed up again. Great just what I need, another delay, she thought. At this rate, I’m bound to get fired.
She pulled out of her spot and rushed down the street, determined to try to make it to work as quickly as possible. Marissa decided to cut through West Campus in order to make it to the highway, less lights that way. Its just a stupid part time job at a coffee shop anyway—why did she care so much? As she sped through the intersections she thought to herself, maybe its better I get fired. She would definitely have more time for school.
Keyshia slammed the door shut. Last night had been exhausting and never ending. She needed to go out and run. Just her and the pavement. She didn’t want to think about the fight she had with her boyfriend last night. It was too emotionally draining. What was she doing? Why was she even in this relationship? The semester hadn’t even started yet. She thought she would’ve been happy to see him after coming back from the break. But here they were fighting again. She didn’t care, she didn’t want to face it.
Keyshia started running. Tears started rolling down her face. I’m just going to run away, she thought. She ran harder and harder down Nueces, until her mind grew blank. She turned the corner down 22nd past the long steel gray of the moonlight tower. It still wasn’t daylight yet. The lights still burned dimly. She grabbed the pole panting. She looked up at light but her gaze was averted by the sign. Stop. One way. There is only one way she realized. She would have to stop and think. She couldn’t just run away from her problems anymore. Just then she looked down at her tennis shoes.
“Ew disgusting, someone threw up here—and now its on my new shoes!” she exclaimed. She decided to cross over to the other side of Nueces and go back home.
Marissa fumbled with the dials, growing annoyed at hearing the traffic report. She turned the corner rolling past the stop sign unaware of Keyshia crossing the street.
Marissa looked up and turned the wheel to the right trying to avoid the jogger. The car swerved missing Keyshia. It hit the stop sign with a thud. Marissa reeled back and looked at her car. Now it would cost money to get it fixed and she’d be fired. If only she had stopped. The moonlight tower shone from above.
Library as home…
Perched on the edge of a planter, a man in sweats holds a rose and a small bag of his life possessions. Much like one would spend an afternoon on a porch swing of their own house, he spends an afternoon observing others and sharing his opinions with strangers. He has chosen to sit on the planter at the place where the sidewalk is the narrowest, and as a result he has a very commanding perch. People who pass him cannot ignore him. In this way, he has taken control and ownership over the environment, just like a homeowner would be the controlling person on the property. He shouts to an approaching friend how great church was last night and they discuss plans to eat dinner at the salvation restaurant later. These two men treat the library like their own home. They know every detail of the place. They chat about how someone moved their favorite table on the second floor to another area, but that apparently it should be replaced in a few days. They know the locations of the police officers in and around the building, and the names of the countless men who sleep around the library. The friend, about to leave, asks the man how long he will be there. The man reassures the friend that he will be there the whole afternoon, no worries. He’ll be home.
Library as obligation…
A young woman complete with ipod and messenger bag in tow, rides up to the library in a hurry. She pauses to take her keys out, pulls her bike into the rack at the front of the library, and locks it up. After taking a few gulps from a water bottle, she briskly enters the building. A short while later, she exits the building, unlocks her bike, and quickly pedals away.
A patient looking woman directs her two children to the front of the library. All three carry large canvas totes filled with books. The small boy excitedly asks her if he can put his stack of books in the return slot. He says it’s his favorite part. She says yes and helps him reach the slot, and in turn, each canvas bag gets ridded of its contents. The three enter the library. Half an hour later, the three loudly exit the building, consumed in conversation. All carry canvas totes filled with books. The girl informs her mom which book she wants to read first, while the boy stops to pick up a leaf on the ground, dropping a few books in the process. He gets a little upset at his mistake, then plops himself down on the concrete to put the spilled books back in the bag. The mother and daughter wait, and then all three slowly meander back to their parked car. Mother walks on the sidewalk while children opt for the dangerous route, balancing themselves as they walk along the edge of the curb. They pile into the mini-van, all smiles, and drive away to continue their day.
sunday has never been a good day for me. my dad left us on a sunday. i broke my leg on a sunday. my dog of thirteen years died on a sunday. and finally, my would be fiancé just dumped me…on a sunday. there is nothing left inside of me. i just want to end it all. my life is over. i might as well make it official.
i live in little neighborhood in austin, tx just off of rio grande. i’ve always lacked an imagination so the best way i can think to kill myself is to step in front of a car. i’ve heard of people being run over by the ut buses, being hit by inattentive drivers, or even clipped by bikers (not killed, of course). if it could happen to them, it could happen to me.
so, on this gloomy sunday i decide to walk down to the intersection of rio grande and 12th street. i figure the best way to get hit is to go to a busy intersection.
i’m here. i’m at the intersection. i’ve been standing here for ten seconds and i’ve already seen four cars fly by. those seem like good numbers to me. now all i have to do is get hit by a car. i figure the best way to get hit is to stand in the middle. i’ll do it. i just have to work up the nerve.
two runners are jogging toward the intersection. probably shouldn’t try to off myself with pedestrian traffic. they might try to stop me or save my life and that’s the last thing that i want. i’ll wait a few minutes until i’m out of their view.
no pedestrians. a couple of motorcycles. both yellow. that’s kind of weird. a handful of bikers. they wouldn’t try to stop me. not a single person has looked at me since i’ve been on this corner. i guess now is the time to dance with the cars.
standing in the middle of the median and it seems like everyone is driving around me. it seems like everyone is staying straight. absolutely no one is turning through the median. it must be a sign. i’ll wait a few more minutes.
two girls just walked up to the corner. one black girl and one mexican. looks like they’re waiting for the bus. buses don’t run on sundays. why is she looking up at the moonlight tower? the black girl just pulled out what looks like a sketchbook. oh no. they just noticed me. the mexican girl is taking pictures. what kind of person takes pictures of someone trying to kill themselves? is that girl sketching me? does she see the pain in my eyes? probably not. she’s kind of far. the black girl is screaming something at me. what is she saying? i can’t really hear her over the traffic, or lack thereof now. what is she saying? looks like the mexican is crossing the street. i should probably move. i don’t want her to get hit. traffic is waning. i might as well take a break.
that car got really close! i could feel the heat of the radiator on my leg. now would be a good time to run.
on the curb!
the two girls are heather and marissa. turns out that they are architecture students at the university and they are perched at the corner of rio grande and 12th street for an assignment. something about the moonlight tower. i don’t understand. i don’t think they do either. i take a peek at heather’s sketchbook, she’s taking tallies of how many cars, bikers, mopeds, and walkers move through the intersection. no wonder i haven’t been hit yet. not too many people. maybe this isn’t the best way to commit suicide.
even though this is the weirdest thing i’ve ever done, i’ve decided to sit here and count cars with heather. she and marissa seem really happy, and it might be rubbing off on me. maybe.
heather is getting kind of restless. and maybe a little upset. one guy has driven through the intersection three times. heather seems to think that he is messing with her statistics. she has decided to name call him marcus. marissa thinks he looks more like a curtis. marissa laughs.
why doesn’t anyone drive through the intersection south on rio grande?
i kind of need to pee. so i say goodbye to the girls. i’m kind of tired. i guess i won’t kill myself today. i can put it off a couple of days.
On the first sunny day in weeks I drove across I-35 to sit under the moon tower at Chicon and East 15th Street. A busy intersection with a bus stop bench at each of its four corners and two competing convenient stores, the site bustled with activity and I sat down on one of those four benches opposite a forty-something man drinking a forty ounce beer in a brown paper bag. He told me I just missed the bus. I said it was not my intent to ride the bus and he replied the same.
I inquired as to his purpose for sitting on the bus stop bench if he did not intend to get on the bus. The man countered that he hoped I would not be put off, but he was a bum, and did I mind if he drank his beer in front of me? I said no, as long as he didn’t mind my cigarette and he turned me down when I offered him one. Drinking was his problem, and I should quit smoking.
With that humble introduction we passed two hours on that bench with hardly a lapse in conversation. My project intrigued him and as the man helped me observe the neighboring activity he told me stories from his life and how he came to make the city his home. He launched into his dissertation with this one thesis: being a bum is the hardest job he’s ever had.
Episodes of paranoia riddled the man’s thoughts but I suppose that comes with the territory when one makes a home on the street. First he said that he cannot sit at any one bus stop for too long because if a police car drives by and sees him on the same bench for an hour they would indict him for public intoxication or loitering. I wondered where a man without a home is supposed to sit and enjoy a cold beer, alcoholic or not. He told me about cameras in stoplights and cameras at bus stops. I guess I always knew of the possibility of cameras but like the moon towers I was oblivious to their existence until today. The man sat at this stop because there weren’t any cameras here and he could drink his beer. As time passed I noticed that most of the people perched on the surrounding benches were not getting on the buses, and the people coming out of the convenient stores came out with beers in brown paper bags and joined the ranks of us loiterers. What this area of east Austin lacked in public spaces the public substituted with the city bus benches. It seemed I’d inadvertently come into contact with a significant object in the urban landscape of east Austin: the homes of the homeless.
So simple are the who, what, when, where, why of this urban object. Who: the homeless or anyone who just wants a place to relax outside with a beer. What: a place to sit, which happens to be a bus stop. When: all day every day. Where: any bus stop without cameras. Why: because being homeless is the hardest job you can have and everyone needs a place to pass the time.
We talked about the government, and how when he votes for Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election it will mark the second time he’s voted in his life. He told me about serving in the military and living all across the United States, how he hates Austin because it has only brought him bad luck, how his bad luck involves a woman hyped up on methamphetamines, and that he used to make pistons for $851 a week before drinking became a full time job. He showed me the seventeen stitches he got last week when a gang at the bus stop up at 38 1/2 and I-35 beat him up for his military sleeping bag. He told me about panhandling and that he can make fifteen to twenty dollars in a day from complete strangers who happen to be feeling generous. If I wanted a real experience to write about, I should try panhandling because you can meet some crazy people that way. I said I’d try it then and there, but apparently 15th Street is off limits. We talked about Quentin Tarantino films and his alleged 5,000 movie DVD collection in a storage unit in Dallas. He read seven books last month and can finish a novel in two days. He tried to quote Dante but couldn’t remember the Italian unless he wrote it down, so when I gave him my notebook he filled it in with some words I didn’t know: “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate,” said it meant “Abandon all hope ye who enter here,” and I believed him. He was right. He then chastised me for not asking his name yet, and I said he hadn’t asked for mine either. So I came to know him as Roger.
How apropos that Roger should admire Dante’s Inferno. The man had in one sitting relayed to me his own past initial joy and final damnation and I could not ignore the somewhat glorified metaphor of the bus stop as his own personal gate of hell. After all, it epitomized his lack of direction or reprieve from a life of unending boredom and untapped potential, not to mention his enslavement to alcohol abuse and an unsympathetic government system. Roger’s bleak outlook on his life situation recalled Inferno’s Opportunists: the souls of the people who in life did not commit evil deeds, as Roger had never even gotten a misdemeanor and did not believe in injuring another person to boost his own prosperity, but also lost sight of any valid or righteous cause for living. In no way would I condemn Roger as a lost soul in Hell Proper; rather, he stood outside the gate with an astounding insight of his position and an immense accountability for how he got there.
I did not tell Roger what I was thinking, only that I was enjoying the time spent observing people when they didn’t know they were being watched. The longer I sat and observed the more validation I got for my own thesis. Nearly every person littering those four benches sat there only to sit. The buses came by and stopped, but the people never got on them. They merely took a moment to slip their brown-bagged beverage behind their back, only to pull it back out after the bus had moved on without them. They were people with nowhere to go and only a bus stop bench to sit on. In this way, the bench as an urban object connected a demographic of people I had never come into full contact with before today.
I was feeling pretty fucking smart with all this Dante’s-Gates-of-Hell-metaphor-for-an-East-Austin-bus-stop shit when Roger went into the convenient store to buy another beer with the two dollars I’d given him for his help on the project. A cop drove by for the second time and I was glad Roger had gone inside at that moment. I guess I don’t look much like a threatening loiterer. Roger came back to the bench and I told him about the cop, that I’d feel terrible if he got in trouble because of me, and that we should both probably move on. He fellated my ego by saying this was the best afternoon of intelligent conversation he’d had in a while, and could I spare just another eighty cents?
I was handing over the last two bucks in my wallet not knowing whether to feel like a hypocrite when my friend Roger uttered the sentence that would repute every piece of this bullshit pompous self-glorifying essay on Dante’s bus stop I had so proudly constructed in my mind. “Emily, I’ve got to tell you because I think you should learn from this: I was just panhandling you.” I said, “Wait, no, we were just talking.” And he said, “Yes, but how much money did you give me? All the money in your wallet. You didn’t have to give me anything. I would have talked to you whether you gave me the money or not. I just thought you should know what I did to you and learn from it.” I had to give him credit; he had to work for those four dollars. And with that I walked away completely dismantled and wondering how many other people he’d talked out of four dollars on a lonely bus stop bench.
Sue feigns interest; Sue actually has a very short attention span, something doctors are looking into. This is the most attention the tower has gotten in a while. Across the intersection to the east, two neighbors are having a conversation on their lawns. Barbara and Hillary had come out at precisely the same time to check their mail. They each stay on their own side of the lawn and exchange small talk regarding junk mail they both are sick and tired of receiving. In the meantime, Dianne refuses to stay in one place. What should she photograph? Is she going to write her story in first person or second? Why are all her assignments so ambiguous and vague? She notices the bike route and has found her subject. A phone rings. No one actually hears it ring because it is on vibrate, in Bob’s pocket. Sue cherishes the call; Bob has finally stopped talking about the mercury something lamps. Bob talks on the phone. Forever. Or at least that’s what it feels like for Sue. She was happy at first that he quit lecturing, but now she’s just bored. A father carrying his daughter’s scooter is approaching, but that’s not amusing enough for Sue. She fiddles with her hair. Though there is no troublesome humidity, the beautiful day doesn’t stop Sue from letting her hair down and gathering it back up again. Actually, it doesn’t stop her from doing it at least four times. Now what? Sue just stands there, awkwardly, pretending she doesn’t notice Dianne photographing her. Bob has no intention of hanging up. He also goes completely blind to whatever is going on around him. Red sports car with two girls taking notes and photographing him: not there. Dianne walking back and forth taking pictures: non existent.
Barbara and Hillary are nothing like Bob. They are engrossed in a conversation; in fact, Hillary has now relocated to Barbara’s side of the lawn. They are not oblivious to their surroundings though. In fact, their conversation’s foundation is built upon what’s going on around them. They’ve finished discussing Bob and Sue, and have moved onto discussing the most adorable couple passing them on an evening stroll. Actually, the couple isn’t so adorable, the girl could do better. The couple passes Sue eventually. After adjusting her pants, she leans against the tower and glances at them. No comment. Once out of site, Sue gets even more restless. She swings around the pole of the tower. Will Bob ever finish? Someone approaches. A walker, she’s wearing her headphones, and she notices Sue. Sue decides to stop pole dancing and watch the woman. The woman only looks left before crossing the street; hope she makes it to the other side safely. When is Bob hanging up?
Barbara and Hillary spot the woman. She really should look into getting some more sun. There’s a Darque Tan on Guadalupe near MLK. Sue is bored out of her mind. She plays a game where she guesses what color the next car that passes is going to be. She guesses white, it turns out blue. Now she’s bored again. Not for long though because Bob decides to end his call. Sue and Bob waste no time heading north. That’s not along the axis Barbara and Hillary have been discussing. It’s alright though, because they’ve spotted Dianne. Why is she standing in the street looking at her digital camera? Does she want to get run over? Her top is cute, isn’t she cold though? Hillary is… she’s got her arms crossed; her tank top isn’t cutting it. She goes inside. Barbara throws her junk mail away and enters her own home.
The sound of plastic rolling along the asphalt echoes off the surrounding buildings. Three adolescent boys come surfing down the paved hill. They weave from side to side on the two-way road, unimpeded by stop signs or oncoming traffic on the almost deserted street. On this lazy afternoon, the boys are headed toward the nearby elementary school, where steps and handrails are plentiful, to practice their newest skateboarding tricks. They all wear the same uniform: black t-shirt, jeans, and cap. Despite their need to rebel against the establishment, they still have the need to be accepted by their peers. Each tries to outdo the other by showing off his expertise. The youngest boy eagerly takes the lead, coasting speedily down the hill. He is followed by his best friend, who is trying desperately to keep up. The last boy is clearly the leader of the three. He rides down the street like a master surfer savoring his last wave.
Five minutes tick by. A squirrel pounces on an acorn and scurries up a tree. In the safety of the tree branches, the squirrel begins to gnaw ferociously at its newfound snack.
A couple of twenty-somethings cycle up the street. The young woman, seeing the obstacle looming ahead of her, prepares herself for the journey by pumping her legs vigorously. Up. Down. Up. Down. She and her companion are not dressed for strenuous activity. They had just spent the afternoon at the Austin public library, and they had not anticipated the arduous ride home. The decision to borrow twelve books from the library suddenly seemed like an enormous error in judgment. As they slowly make their way up the hill, her companion tries to make encouraging remarks. Hey, we’re almost there… Look at how far we’ve come… At least you’re not the one carrying the books. But alas, to no avail. Halfway up the street, the couple surrender to the forces of gravity. They make a quick U-turn and head back down the street, looking for easier roads home.
Another few minutes pass. The street is silent. A lone pedestrian crosses the street.
A man on his daily jog appears at the top of the hill. He has been taking the same route every day, come rain or shine. His rhythm is steady as he makes his way down the incline. His arms and legs move in unison, propelling his body forward. The fact that the ground beneath his feet is changing does nothing to change his pace. He has the controlled movements of a well-oiled machine, and he has worked hard to acquire them. Growing up he was an overweight child, and he was often teased about his weight. He finally decided to take control of his own life. Since then he has lost over 200 lb. Now when he runs, the world around him falls away, and he is left only with the sound of his footsteps hitting the pavement.
Now, just as it had been before this terribly unfortunate event, things were running their normal course and at a speed that only regularity can bring. This intersection of 22nd and Nueces is just any other intersection to those unaware of what happened, but those closest to her will never forget it.
Three years. Even so the events of that night run through my head so often I don’t think I could forget any detail if I tried. It was a typical Saturday night of not knowing what we were going to do and only at the last minute finding a party through a friend’s friend. We promised each other that if the party just wasn’t for us that we would just go home and relax, perhaps watch a movie. After being at the party for like 15 minutes or so I really didn’t feel very comfortable so, reluctantly, she agreed to leave. This is the part of the story that really gets me because both of us had walked this route hundreds of times both during the day and at night with little or no incident. Come to think of it neither of us had ever witnessed any major problem at all at this particular intersection. This intersection was a typical west campus intersection, a one way street intersecting a two way street and with stops signs in all directions. Some people said at the time it was the fault of the construction company near by, seeing as there were signs all over the street warning of the dangers of the construction site. It was one of these signs that was said to have slightly hindered the driver’s sight from seeing the stop sign. All I could think was that these signs had been there for months so surely he would have already driven through and known there was a stop sign there. Later we would find out that the driver was severely intoxicated from a night of partying as he had just turned 21 and was using his newly acquired ability to go down to 6th street and buy himself as many drinks as he wanted. This in the end was the final reason for his conviction of manslaughter.
It was these events, when we actually got to the intersection, that I would run through my head the most. Why did we step out into the street so assuredly the car would stop? Why didn’t we even take the time to look at the oncoming car? These are the questions that need no answer. In any other circumstance there would be no problem, there would be no question that the car would stop. In any other circumstance the driver could have not been drinking or he could have seen the stop sign and stopped or the construction sign would have been farther back as to not get in the way of the stop sign but on this particular day none of these were the case.
Every once and a while I will go to that intersection and just sit to observe the way the intersection runs so smoothly. I see a constant interaction between the people walking, the people just meeting up with friends, people on bicycles, the cars and any other object or being that is joining in the everyday interaction of an intersection.
These are the simple facts that one sees at an intersection that is guided by stop signs. Cars yield to other cars that were there first. Pedestrians have the right of way. In the end it was these simple rules of the stop sign that ultimately lead to her death.
Emily walks towards 22nd and Nueces, in search of the Moonlight tower. As she approaches, she feels a little silly that she’s passed the metal structure so many times without even acknowledging its presence. However, this story is not about the moonlight tower. It is about her sitting on the bench near the bus stop.
Since she plans on sketching, Emily looks for a comfortable place to sit down. “Great”, she thinks to herself, “The bench is on the sidewalk. Apparently there is construction going on right in front of it.” The bright plastic mesh was supported by rusty poles, creating a rectangular fence around a plot of mud. She tried to get comfortable as she began sketching.
YOUNG MAN (ACTOR 2) ENTERS THE SCENE.
As a young man walked on the cracked concrete sidewalk, he asked Emily, “Excuse me, how long have you been waiting for the bus?”
“Oh! I’m not waiting for the bus… I’m doing a project… But the last bus passed about 15 minutes ago. It wasn’t a Dillo though. You can look at the schedule on that bus pole, over there, to see when it’s coming however.”
“Thanks- good luck with your project!”
“Thanks. I need it.”
YOUNG MAN (ACTOR 2) EXITS THE SCENE.
Emily felt awkward the whole time she sat on that icy bench. She starts to sketch the first thing she sees: the tacky orange fence’s pattern. She tried to move her feet under the bench when people walked by, to help them pass by more easily. She noticed how the only light source (besides the homes) was the moon light tower. The tower didn’t really create a light, but more like a haze as if she was in a dream. Although emergency call box close by, it did not make her feel particularly safe as the sun set. She was tempted to get The Daily Texan from the news stand, but decided against reading it. So far, she had only drawn the overflowing trashcan which strangely resembled the UT tower (Did the designer of the trashcan do that on purpose? Or maybe she was overanalyzing the purpose of the trashcan by then.) She looks up from her work as another man passes by.
OLDER MAN (ACTOR 3) ENTERS THE SCENE.
Older man is carrying CVS bags in each arm. He sees the little Asian girl sitting on the bench, blocking the pathway on the sidewalk. In most cases, he would be able to pass her, but the temporary fence makes the pathway narrower. Older man decides to walk in the road rather than clobbering her in the head with his groceries. Emily, the little Asian girl, is appreciate.
OLDER MAN (ACTOR 3) EXITS THE SCENE.
Emily is ready to leave now. She’s drawn a collage of objects that she’s “interacted” with during her short stay on the lovely bench. She decides to draw a quick perspective of the scene since her camera’s battery is low. She realizes that the bench is in a stupid location, because it’s not even close to the bus stop pole. She leaves before it gets any darker.
EMILY (ACTOR 1) EXITS THE SCENE.
The sun is shining brightly for the first time in a week, warming the air surrounding the ACC Rio Grande Campus to an almost spring-like 65 degrees. It seems all too perfect. This is the type of weather off of which the city of Austin thrives. But something is different here. Whereas the rest of the city is probably alive and well, this intersection is abandoned, forsaken…dead. All that seems to be missing is tumbleweed and the music from an old western film playing softly in the background.
A few blocks down, Creighton hovers over his bicycle, carefully pumping air into each of its two tires. Just as he screws the cap onto the valve of the back tire, his girlfriend, Felicity, emerges from inside the house, strapping her helmet onto her head and flashing a wide grin. A single glance at her, with her hair being pushed into her face by the large object on top of her head, sends Creighton into hysterics. In one swift motion, Felicity removes her helmet and hurls it at her boyfriend. The two share a laugh for a moment, then grab their bikes from the floor of the garage to set on Rio Grande Street for their weekly downtown ride.
On campus, Jeremy, a sophomore at UT, locks the door to his apartment on Rio Grande, hops into his SUV, puts the key in the ignition, and buckles his seat belt without once removing his cell phone from his left ear. He laughs aloud as his best friend reminds him of what he did at the party the night before. Suddenly, he hears a beep and glances at his phone. It’s his mother. After cutting the conversation with his friend short, he answers the call, apologizes for running late, and assures her that he will be at the restaurant within ten minutes. As he quickly approaches 12th Street, he hangs up the phone, turns up the radio. and slows down as the light turns yellow.
With a bag in hand, Hubert makes his way back home from Lamar. Remembering all the unfortunate events of the prior week, he frowns and begins to stomp his feet. After being fired from his job and the car being rear-ended by some moron college student who was driving too fast on the ice, all he wanted was a bagel from Einstein’s for breakfast. A simple bagel with cream cheese…is that too much to ask? Apparently so because he awoke to find a note from his wife saying that she took the car to go shopping. Perfection! Deciding there was no way a lack of transportation would keep him from getting that bagel, he laced up his tennis shoes and walked. Sure, the trip to Einstein’s was an easy one. Each step brought him closer to his tasty reward. But now? Now that his stomach was full and his goal reached, all he had left to do was return home…on foot. Not even an extra bagel for the road could make this enjoyable. As he walks up 12th Street towards Rio Grande, he sees a car at the stop light and a young couple riding up on bicycles. At least they have a mode of transportation. How wonderful. With this sudden jealousy, Hubert picks up his pace, hoping against all odds that he will be able to cross the street before the light on 12th turns red.
When Creighton and Felicity pull up to the intersection, they are forced to come to a halt, the red light blaring at them. There is no traffic on 12th Street, but they stop anyway. Almost immediately, the light turns green and the car next to them speeds off. From across the street, Jeremy watches the couple, waiting for them to cross the street so he can turn onto 12th. He drums his fingers on the steering wheel as he sees the young woman struggle to start pedaling, wondering to himself if he should have just gone on red. Once she crosses, he quickly turns and speeds toward downtown, wishing that he hadn’t stayed at home that extra 15 minutes to see the end of the last episode of “The Real World”.
As the car’s taillights disappear and the young couple rides off into the distance, Hubert finds himself alone, cursing the fact that he didn’t make it to the light in time to cross. He waits for a few moments, shifting his focus from the red hand staring him down on the other side of the street to the barren intersection. Finally, he decides he has had enough and crosses prematurely. Striding swiftly and gracefully, he glances suspiciously at the two architecture students seated at the otherwise deserted bus stop. As the space between him and the intersection increases, all movement ceases once more except for the changing color of the traffic lights. Green, yellow, red: three simple colors; three separate messages; a worldwide understanding.
The quintessence of contemporary urban thought relies on activity, bustle, and the progress. This manifests itself best in its most obvious and effective form of the road—an urban conduit designed to transport people from A to B. The city is overwhelmed with streets, and manytimes are they the most recognizable thing about an area. I observed a regular Sunday afternoon’s happenings between Guadaulupe and 8th and 9th streets.
The actors are most commonly the car, the biker, and the pedestrian—all of course linked by their means of transportation, and their contribution to the urban spirit. Their interaction, as did their personal narrative, diminished with respect to size and speed.
Myriad pedestrians used the streets and sidewalks, although rarely following traffic laws, to get to their destination. Some, however, were simply walking for leisure. A man was walking his girlfriend’s dog with little idea to where he was going--a local nomad who had recently moved downtown to be a part of the very urban dream which he helped sustain. He followed the encircling path of the nearby park and strolled past the city library twice before heading back home. The dog wouldn’t do its business, and so the man’s only response was to continue walking it with plastic bag in hand. The couple stopped and waited at a “do not walk” crossing signal as the ever-present traffic streamed through, and a pair of bikers unsuccessfully kept with the pace of traffic on their uphill struggle.
The street in an urban context has become more than a suggested path of travel; it goads the “en route” notion of urban doings on several levels. It is obvious where the pedestrian came from, what he is doing, and where he is off to next. The biker still retains a sense of personality, but for a brief period of time. The automobile, given its inhuman shape and speed, loses all effects of personal presence. These three means of movement co-exist at different tempos and scales under the prescribed direction of traffic to make Austin a rhythmically diverse city.