Walking To South    © 2000 Pete Smith

     My feet are freezing cold, going squishy-squash with every frantic step. Damn! Now my sneakers are really wet! Don't run. It doesn't look cool. There's a couple of girls up there, and you're gonna look silly rushing past them. You might have to even say 'hello'. Just play it cool. You're not gonna be late. You can make time once you get under the bridge. Run, even. No one will notice. Damn my feet are wet. I hate it when my socks are wet like this. All day! I'll be sitting in class with wet socks and sneakers and cold feet. And my hair. I'm gonna look like a real doofus with water dripping off the tip of my nose like I just stepped out of the damn shower. Why can't I get up earlier? Why can't I eat breakfast? And why don't I have a damn umbrella?! This sucks!
     That was me, maybe 25 years ago, walking to school. Yea kids, we used to walk to school. Now I'm really starting to sound like an old geezer, but it's true! Today, my kids don't even walk one block to the bus stop. But we - me, my brothers, my friends, our neighbors, all of us - walked to school. And it was kind-of a long walk.
     We lived on Evergreen Ave, a good block and a half up from Watsessing Park. So we'd walk down, meeting right around the park entrance at Maolis and Glenwood. Someone would be up ahead a few hundred yards, or trailing back a few hundred, but you didn't wait. You either caught-up or stayed behind. No waiting - the clock was ticking. Straight across the park about 600 yards to the bridge.
     The bridge was cool. There'd always be someone hanging on the bridge... maybe someone who didn't really plan on making it to school that day. Maybe someone smoking a joint, or a bum from the park drinking a beer at 7:30am. Always someone. And you'd cross over, looking down into the brook as you went. Maybe a new piece of a shopping cart, or an empty six pack, or someone down there screwing around doing who knows what. Maybe you'd notice some new graffiti. Lots of Led Zep stuff; and The Who. And lots of local nicknames. "Kye" everywhere; and "Lunk", my older brother. A few steps more and you walked under the other bridge. Both bridges were considered "the bridge", but this was the metal one going under the tracks. Stomp your feet, let people know you're coming and you're not afraid. Sometimes there'd be people up in the "cage" above - a little, metal fenced cubby-hole tucked-up above the bridge, and directly beneath the underside of the tracks. Spooky little cage. You had to be really hard-core to be hanging up there that early on a school day. No daylight up there. So you'd walk across and come out on the other side, and you had crossed the bridge.
     I wonder what school's gonna be like today? Oh yea, it's gonna suck because it's raining and my sneakers and socks are wet, and I'm freezing. But anyway, you keep walking. Up the path. There's the PAL on the left. Dumpy little building. Had a boxing Ring at one time; and a pool table. Smitty can box. I'm a Smith but I'm not Smitty. Some good pool players came out of there too. It's closed now anyways. Besides that was when we were younger. The basketball court's still there. Mostly black guys use that now.
     Up the path. I can see Bloomfield Ave about another 500 yards ahead... or is it 1000? I don't know. It doesn't matter. I'm walking, and I gotta get there, and knowing the exact distance isn't gonna make it any better. I can see the town hall out there towards the left. Cars are rushing by up on the Parkway to my right. And a big puddle right in front of me. Dance around it. Do it fast enough and maybe only my sneaker-toe will get wet. Nope. All wet. Keep walking.
     Bloomfield Ave. The light. Wait. Who else is here? That girl, and that girl, and that guy, and oh yea, there's those guys over there. All of us converging. Drawing angles. Cross to Franklin Ave or whatever the hell the street is. Don't really need to know the name of the street, just that it'll take me there. To that big brick monster of a school. More convergence. Cross. Cut. Cross. Dodge the cars. Wait. Don't wait. The trucks. There's the Short Stop. I'd be going there when I got older, late at night/early morning after partying too much. High on God knows what. Eggs on a skillet. Joke around with the cool waitress. She knows we're high. But I don't go there yet.
     Still got a good... I don't know, it's up the hill. A pretty good walk still. More people walking. Avoiding some - a cool nod "what's up" to others. I look like crap all soaking wet. And these damn sneakers and socks are gonna bug me all day. Wet. I hate the rain. Wish I had some different pants. Or a cool jacket. But I don't. So I'm cool with what I have. Well, not really, but it fits. Well, it doesn't fit really, but it kinda "fits-in". I think. No, it doesn't fit-in, but it's a "look" I guess. Jeans and a shirt and a sweatshirt, and sneakers. Yea. But the jeans don't fit. Damn! These things are like floods! Ha ha! Floods! And it's raining! What a riot. Man I hope I don't see Maureen. I'll look like such a goon. I wish I could talk to her. Why can't I say anything? Shit! Is that her? Slow down, you're gonna walk right into it, man. But I'm late! But I can make time... damn, how can I make time... You gotta break to the right man. Just do it! You can't see her; it's raining. Pass-em. Go! Good. You're past. Wasn't her. Now get moving. Up this hill! Walk man, you're gonna be late! What time is it? I should get a watch. Ha ha! A watch! Me? On my wrist? Ha ha ha ha! Man, I'm lucky I got a damn belt and wet sneakers. Watches aren't cool, and I wouldn't
know what kind to get. Who would wear a watch anyway? Hey, that kid's got one. Ask him. "Hey, you know what time it is?" Ok thanks. What'd he say? Oh, ok, translation: you're not late. Hey, he's still walking and he wears a watch, so I can't be late.
     Ok, almost there. There it is. Here's the Tech. Some mean dudes in there. Hanging out working on cars already. Don't mess with them. They got mustaches. Ok, I'm in. Got a minute to comb my hair. Got a flat black comb in my pocket. Dry my
hair with some stiff paper towels in the "Lavatory". What the hell is a lavatory anyway? Well, I made it. My sneakers and socks are wet; I look like crap; I walked a couple of miles in the rain, and it's not even 8 o'clock in the morning yet. Hello, South Junior High!

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