Monday, January 22, 2007

Ups and Downs

After the miserable weather of the past few days, the sunny Sunday was a welcome change. The people returned to the streets once again to enjoy the passing of another day. One bit of West St. running behind Austin Community College saw a surprising number of visitors for a weekend afternoon. At first glance, the street seems like any other, but after careful observation, a gentle rise in the road can be detected. Like a water droplet hitting the surface of a pond, this subtle change in the path is one that has far reaching effects.

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.

1 comment:

awhong said...

I found it interesting how a dip or hill in the road can affect people differently. If you're thin or heavy, you would view the walk uphill either easy or difficult. The rise in the road seems so insignificant but once you experience it, whether it's by foot or on skateboards, then can you only truly feel its effect.