By T.A. Akimoff
Walking through the canyons of downtown Dallas on a cold-for-spring morning, I splash through obvious streams of runoff from the newly watered flower boxes, while dodging obviously yellow runoff from the guy in the hoody and camo pants who leans up against the wall like he has a migraine. The grackles mimic sirens as the besuited men are led into high towers to finance their dreams as the restaurants lie dormant mere hours after bustling with late-night crowds, the detritus of which is now blown away by an army of men with leaf blowers so the city sounds like a suburban neighborhood on a Saturday morning in June.
A security guard notices me and falls in beside me.
That’s a nice camera,” he says, pointing to the Canon 5D Mark IV swinging from my shoulder. “Be a shame if that got stolen, my man.”
I don’t say anything.
“What size is that, anyway?” He says.
“What do you mean by size? The Lens?” I respond.
“Yeah, is that like a 50 millimeter or something?”
“It’s a 400 millimeter,” I said.
“OH, shit, what are you shooting with that shit?” he says as more of an expression than a question.
“Tiny birds that are nearly impossible to see with the naked eye,” I said.
It was then he lost interest completely and shortened his stride to allow me to leave him behind, which I gladly did. I don’t like conversing with people first thing in the morning.
I walked down toward Commerce Street and passed The Eyeball, a sculpture I struggled to come to terms with. A little further, and I ended up in a city park and walked through it hoping to maybe see one of those tiny birds. The park was full of the usual suspects, grackles. Though I have not grown tired of them yet.
A man in a wheelchair charges for me through an intersection. I expect him to raise a lance at any moment to knock me out into traffic, but it is just his racing posture as he works to beat the traffic light.
A man is fixing his wife’s mask as he prepares to send her on the bus to some distant destination at the Grayhound station. He kisses her through her mask and spins her around and pushes her through the door. I shiver out loud as I walk by them.
I pass a series of busy streets that require a lot of concentration to cross without exposing myself to unnecessary death. I make eye contact with drivers hoping they’ll stop but realizing I’m in a state where life is only precious if you’re still in the womb.
I pull up in front of the address indicated on my bus ticket. It’s a Mexican cocktail joint, and I look around for some indication of a bus stop. There is no sign, no visible information. Just an address. I wait.
The Internet says my bus is arriving on time, but nobody is there, so I take a walk around the block and see a line of people. A Sikh kid asks the others if they’re in line for the bus to Austin. Someone says, “Houston/Austin, yeah.”
I drop my bag and watch the other passengers. They’re mostly young, I realize. I’m probably the oldest person on the bus, which hits me a little harder than I would’ve thought. A couple of college kids on their way home or back to campus after Spring Break. A lady who is maybe my age but probably a bit younger. She’s just lived a little harder than me.
Down the side walk, a little child is playing with two Women of Color. They’re speaking an African language, I suspect, and laughing together as the child mimics their words.
The child runs back and forth and is full of joy. The women encourage the joy, prodding the child on with booming, beautiful sounds. I am mesmerized by the beauty of it in contrast to the cold, unforgiving heart of the city I just walked through.
A bus pulls up, and we all line up to get onboard. Halfway through the boarding process, the driver says, “Y’all going to Houston, right?”
Half of us pick up our bags and move to the back of the sidewalk as the driver goes through his pre-flight check, loads the luggage and promptly, five minutes before 9, drives off with his passengers toward Houston.
I stare hard down the street wishing for the Austin bus, which does not materialize as I hope. The other passengers are a little restless as we wait, wondering if we will leave on time. It’s 8:58 a.m.
I see a red bus two lights down. As the lights turn green the bus cruises toward us at a fast clip and comes to a halt about 20 feet from where we stand.
We all grab our bags and shuffle to the door. Told to have our photo ID and our ticket, the driver just asks us what seat number and waives us onto the bus. I take take seat 2C, a single seat near the front of the bus and think about how long its been since I’ve taken a bus trip anywhere.
One of the two ladies with the small child sits across from me, and plops the child in the seat with a bunch of toys. I pull my cell phone out and shoot my sister a text that I’m on my way. It’s 9:04 am., everyone is loaded, and the driver pulls out quickly into traffic.
As we leave downtown Dallas behind, the world opens up a bit, the sun shines brightly on a concrete world that stretches on seemingly forever.
Next to me, the child practices some combination of words that sound maybe like she’s referring to a daddy. Her mother or guardian is animatedly encouraging her, sprinkling in a yes once in awhile. I could sleep to the sound of that babbling, gurgling baby talk, the round, delightful sound of the words, but I put my headphones in and listen to a friend’s album he texted me a link to a few minutes before we boarded.
As the Stockyard Playboys music starts to fill my ears, I put my seat back and close my eyes. Just over the twangy country/rockabilly sounds, I can hear the child speaking rapidly, and I drift off to a classic traveling sleep that is interrupted here and there by quick pressure to the brakes, swerving motions or the machine-gun sounds of hitting the divider strip.