Stories Along The Way   Leave a comment

From late summer of 2002 through autumn of 2018 I worked in various capacities for the University of Arizona. Since I lived all of four miles from campus, I avoided the hassles and expense of parking there by making the daily commute via bicycle. It was more than a merely financial decision. The ride each morning worked with the first cup of coffee to put me in a relaxed mood, awake and alert without any edginess. It was a ride through quiet neighborhoods, just long enough to make it feel like I’d gotten some exercise, but not so long that I started the morning tired. I almost always arrived in a calm enough mood to handle those days that make you doubt the wisdom of working for a living. And although the return trip in the afternoon or evening could be on the warm side in the summer, the return trip often – though not always – made it easier to leave the job behind for the night or the weekend.

I followed the same route to work every morning for almost all of those years, minus a nine-month episode that encompassed the last laboratory work I ever did. Even then, I merely turned westward half a mile earlier than usual. It comes as no surprise, then, that I became very well acquainted with the neighborhoods through which I traveled. Streets, houses, and landscapes all became as familiar as the street on which I lived, recognizable aspects of my work week world. Some of what I encountered was ephemeral. A particular vehicle would overtake me at about the same time each morning, and do so for weeks or months. A cyclist, usually a college student headed to campus, would pass me on the way for a semester or two. Then they wouldn’t, and I’d realize one morning that this particular bit of familiarity was gone. Sometimes the absence was temporary, more often it was permanent.

There were people I saw every morning for much longer periods of time, in some cases many years: joggers, dog walkers, and drivers backing out of driveways to start their own commutes. Those with regular morning routines left the clearest impressions on me. Those who walked or rode past me for years at a time waved or said good morning. We didn’t know each other, and yet in a small way we did, being part of each other’s daily routine. The near ritualistic “good morning” and “have a good one” as you pass each other by.

As I write these words it’s been almost two years since I last made that commute, but some of those faces have remained in my memory. A man and a woman and their dogs stand out most clearly, because of the way they inadvertently connected with the storyteller in me.

For several years I found myself headed toward campus in the morning, passing a middle-aged couple and their dogs. There was nothing outstanding about them, just a couple walking happy brown and white dogs that looked so much alike I assumed them to be littermates. Some mornings I exchanged cheery good mornings with the four of them. Now and then it would be either the man or the woman, walking both dogs. The dogs always led the way with that restrained pace dogs have when they wish their humans would walk faster. I rode past this couple and their lookalike dogs on a regular basis for years, long enough to see the dogs slow down and, in one case, develop a limp.

Came the morning there was a couple with one dog. That arrangement persisted for a year or two, then it was just a man with a dog. Neither seemed especially cheery, and the morning greeting was returned with a distracted nod. And then, after seeing none of them for a while, I said good morning to the man, who walked alone. He returned the greeting politely and walked on. That was the last I saw of him.

There is a story implicit in what I saw over the years. A melancholy tale of lives lived and seen by me only in passing. But there they were. The storyteller added it up to something plausible, if sad, and filed it away in memory for safe keeping.

The world is a kaleidoscope of stories, happening all around us. All you need to do is look away from yourself and be properly attentive. Some of these stories will involve you. Others will merely unfold in your sight, and of these there will be many seen in passing. Storytellers can’t help but notice the stories around them. They notice, and they remember.

I commuted to and from campus along that route for sixteen years. I rode through stories, some merely glimpsed in passing, one that quietly haunts me. I can’t help wondering if any of the long-time walkers, joggers, or cyclists ever pause to consider, from time to time, whatever became of me.

Posted October 15, 2020 by underdesertstars in Uncategorized

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