Monday, July 18, 2005

Karate Elvis and Other Suburban Delights

I have just returned from taking a bicycle-seat census of the first-ring (geographic), first-rung (economic) suburbs. Here is my preliminary report of the first hour.

Five women walking their infants in strollers. Three couples doing the same. One father with a toddler nodding off in the bicycle seat. Older kids on the loose. A nubile young woman gets into a red pickup that doesn't even pull to the curb. Do mom and dad approve?

I meet two other cyclists on my winding course, a commuter and a small girl with a tennis racquet.

Four houses for sale rest on girders, ready to be moved from a redevelopment area. Suspended in the air, devoid of siding, grass and shrubbery, they seem impossibly small. I circle around the back to make sure I'm not missing something, but there's not even whiff left of the American Dream.

A few adults watch a youth karate class work out on the lawn of a community center. The black belted teacher is surprisingly bloated, a karate Elvis, from the Las Vegas years. Do the parents their money back?

Three preteen girls perch on skateboards in the middle of the street, lined up as if to race, but poised without a hint of motion.

I exchange smiles with a young woman crossing the street to church. If she only knew.

A man in a hairnet and green coveralls walks away from a low industrial building... Something Farms. The flat, graveled roof of the building across the railroad tracks was once a giant seagull nesting area. I imagine processed seagull, fresh from Something Farms.

A rental truck sits at the far end of a parking lot serving a small commercial strip, next to an abandoned pickup topper with its glass broken out. Some people have unloaded a mattress and four bicycles. As I pass, a man says, "We have come all this way from Guinea..." Was he talking to me?

Townhouses spring up along an intersection where Jiffy Lube once ruled. Earlier I passed by Presidential Estates, condominiums from the '70s, 1-bedroom units for sale with no money down. Why are cheap housing complexes and trailer parks always called "Estates"?

Crossing the street just ahead, a ponytailed dude in a sleeveless t-shirt strides back toward his driveway after checking out a white Oldsmobile with a For Sale sign in the window.

Suddenly every face on the street is black. Just as abruptly, like venetian blinds opening and closing, they all turn white again.

Outside an assisted living home, a man sits on a bus stop bench talking to a frail woman in a wheelchair. I think of my mother. And I think of my son someday.

At 7 pm, three Hispanics are still at work renovating the exterior of a small house.

Four buff Chinese play basketball in the park. Elsewhere, soccer teams scrimmage and a girl's softball team takes infield. On a tennis court, a man hits a condescending stroke and the woman drives the ball into the net. Small groups of intent young men hoisting identical shoulder bags stalk among the trees. From a distance they appear to be on some kind of naturalist field trip, but no. They are Frisbee golfers between shots.

I watch a dog running loose in a yard and prepare my defense. It dashes toward me and I stop. The kids in the yard laugh and say, "Her name's Allie."

"Stay, Allie," I say.

"No, Sally!" they cry. "But watch out for the house at 3800 Vera Cruz. That dog will chase you."

I think I've just toured a great country, but I don't think most of the official American patriots have any idea.

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