Walking is my social media. Meeting people on the street, I get my status updates. It’s how I “facebook” with the village. And this column is my “wall.”
So much happens on a walk. You never know what you’ll come across. Recently I passed a boy who couldn’t have been more than 10 years old, walking down Oak Park Avenue with his grandmother, who wasn’t in the best of shape, moving slow, all bent over, not saying much. I know she was his grandmother because he chattered away amiably to her until he suddenly snapped, “Grandma, close your mouth for God’s sake!” Then he continued talking to her as if nothing had happened. Family dynamics are fascinating.
During a power outage on the 100 block of South Oak Park Avenue last week, I strolled past Pagani Hair Salon and noticed the two stylists had moved their customers into the bay by the front windows in order to get enough light to finish cutting hair. They stood elbow to elbow with their backs to the street. Good thing those chairs aren’t bolted down like they were in the old barbershops.
At Lake Street, I watched an ambulance turn onto Oak Park Avenue heading north, siren blaring. As it passed the car in the left-turn lane facing south, the driver made the sign of the cross. Such an old-fashioned gesture — part compassion, part superstition — a throwback to another era.
A power outage can be a blessing in disguise. It eliminates the background mechanical hum and makes you realize how little stillness we experience in this environment. A worldwide power outage is the premise of my favorite sci-fi movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still. It got everyone’s attention. You suddenly have time to think and to observe — except for the guy at the bus stop who’s staring into the addictive glow of his magic rectangle. If he only looked up, he’d be amazed by what he’s missing.
On my Saturday morning walk, sunlight streamed through the thinning trees. Thanks to all the honey locusts on the parkways, our gutters are literally lined with gold leaf. Other trees show yellow, orange, and crimson, sometimes within a single leaf.
Farmers’ Market abounds with apples. Only two Saturdays left in the season. At the “dozens” table, a volunteer warns her customers, “It’s a long winter without donuts.” An older woman asks a younger one, perhaps her daughter, “You still have tomatoes coming?” The other replies, “Oh yeah, I want you to take some more.” We should organize a village-wide giveaway for excess homegrown produce.
Last Thursday evening, the sunset kept me maneuvering west, zigging and zagging to find an opening through which to view the spectacle, colors tinging the topsy-turvy landscape of cloud formations.
I finally ended up in the middle of the River Forest Town Center parking lot, a still point in the turning retail world. Green Line commuters marched single file along the frontage sidewalk, heading west toward home. This is a strange place to find beauty. I kept comparing it to the abbey in Iowa, standing among the rolling fields, shorn of crops, bathed in stillness and receding light, the largest church in the world.
The open sky surrounding me dominated the urban sprawl, but only momentarily. The deep orange band above the glowing blue faded fast, but while it lingered, it made everything man-made in the foreground seem shabby.
On my walks, I see stories I haven’t written yet. There’s the old man in Oberweis most Wednesday mornings, sitting at a table reading what appears to be a Bible. Or the veterans who congregate by the front door of The Vet Center, 155 S. Oak Park Ave. In the evenings, they sit inside sharing what I imagine are some pretty raw feelings. Their combat is internal now, but they seem to have each other’s back.
Another community forms in the plaza outside the main library at dusk, all ragtag and rough edges — men of means by no means, as Roger Miller put it, kings of the road, waiting for the PADS shelter to open.
Each has a story to tell no doubt. Not all want to tell them. Not all want them told. I wonder sometimes why we hold our stories back from one another. On social media we mostly post descriptions, to-do lists and have-done lists, but we rarely tell our story. That we keep very, very private.
Sometimes even from ourselves.