Something I’d forgotten over the years: cities are NOISY! I sleep here in the hotel with earplugs on, but I can still faintly hear the roaring of engines, screaming and yelping of sirens, occasional yells and swearing and shouting, the constant low-level hum-throb of traffic… if I wake up around 4 in the morning it’s mostly quiet, but the yammer of life and traffic only fades around then, and it starts up again early in the morning. I have an 8:30am wake-up call, but I don’t need it — I always wake up sometime between 6:30am and 7:30am. Admittedly, that’s somewhat due to nervous excitement on my part. :)
Strolling down the sidewalk to class, I admire the aikido studio’s elegantly spare altar in front of the big window. I can see a tiny tea set, multiple potted succulents, a nice if faded looking Persian carpet, a small metal gong-style bell, a low table and some chairs and much more… beyond that lies the clean, spare white dojo. I am curious: the dojo is always closed when I pass by, and the schedule hanging in the window states they’re open only for two or three hours each weekday. How do they stay in business, I wonder?
I daydream, wondering about the people I pass on my walk. An Asian woman passes me without meeting my eyes; she’s plugged into her headphones. What has her attention so dramatically? Her lovely long skirt flutters and bells around her legs in the wind as she passes out of my sight, and I glance at the next person headed towards me. An immaculately dressed business man with an impatient expression is carrying a pot with a brilliant, multi-flowered orchid blooming in it. I wonder: is the plant a gift? A thank you? An expensive but ultimately insincere apology?
At the corner I blink: a dark-haired woman in a bright red pants suit is walking by. She looks somewhat disgruntled, and she’s carrying a pair of equally bright red, costly-looking high-heeled shoes as she walks barefoot along the pavement. I wonder at her choice of attire, and hope for her sake she doesn’t hurt her feet or step in something nasty. Shortly thereafter I have to laugh as a man bicycles by, smiling and waving to everyone. He’s got a suit-coat on, a guitar slung across his back, and a cute panda hat on his head.
Almost every doorway I pass, and many of the windows as well, are covered with metal barring. Frequently the bars are decorative, with repeating motifs of bamboo, or flowers — but they’re still bars. More common are the folding metal grate gateways. One of them has the door number welded to the top of the barred door, placed so the number can be read when the grated door is open, and so it’s backwards when the door is locked closed — an efficient use of resources indeed!
Another folding protective gate is green with polka-dot holes punched in alternating lines. Its tidy, almost light-hearted pattern is echoed in the green logo painted up high on the windows above where taggers ordinarily can reach: a rather grumpy looking circus bear standing on a big painted ball. I notice it’s common for back doors to be left open for the air, with the grating locked closed; it’s always cool and pleasant — if also often quite windy — in the mornings and evenings when I walk.
There’s the occasional fenced and locked empty lot between buildings as well. One extends down a floor deeper than street level, still lined with concrete and with bits of rebar and wooden lathing sticking out on the sides — as if the building suddenly decided, late one night, to take off for the stars! Amusingly, someone has neatly painted a graffitied word on the far wall — but the individual letters are so stylized as to be illegible to me.
The other empty lot is more the traditional type, lined with dirt and weed-filled. The chain-link fence’s long gate is locked to an upright bar, but it’s clear people have tried to bend back the links enough to wriggle through, since there’s a spiderwebbing of actual chains binding the links to the bracing poles. Glancing at it with amusement, I spot several: a slender-linked, still-bright, silvery-aluminum chain; a small chain with all the shininess worn off; a rusty chain with big honkin’ links! I wonder what sort of mechanical spider would produce such varied webbing, then grin and shudder — I am not fond of arachnids!
This empty lot has two levels: a narrow end that’s just barely wide and long enough for a mobile home and three cream-painted, former U-Hauls of varying sizes to be parked in a line there, nose snugged up to bumper — and then a steep slope down to the rest of the lot’s dirt floor. As a child I used to love hillsides like that; my sister and I would roll down them together, racing each other to run back up the hillside to roll down again, until we were both gasping and dizzy and laughing, with grass sticking to our hair and clothes. I smile at the memory and wonder what treasures or dangers could be stored in the trucks; what a great story it would make! On the day I spot two men using weed-whackers on the raggedy weeds, I watch with interest for a few moments. Alas for my curiosity: they do not pause to open the vans while I am there. :-)
Even though most of the windows in the buildings I pass are papered over, or somehow blocked so you cannot see in easily, in some places you can see over the blockage to the walls within. Studying the grimy windows of one building, I smile ruefully at the exasperated sign declaring the business a non-profit which does not have the budget to clean up after graffiti. It seems to have worked; while the windows are smeared with what I’m guessing are the remains of former tags, on the whole there appear to be no more. Glancing up higher over the paper that lines the inside of the windows, I catch sight of a very large sign on an inner wall: “If you don’t see me as an object, I’ll see you as a human being.” I can live with that message. I wonder what non-profit works within, though. A little further down the street is the Center for Sex and Culture. There’s a single door on an otherwise blank building, and a very neatly lettered sign — that’s it. I always smile, as I pass, at the thought: ‘Some sex and culture? Yes, please!’