Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Wander streets aimlessly

It’s one of those days where you wish you could wander the streets aimlessly, with no purpose or goal. It’s cold enough outside to make it prohibitive yet seductive. Not like a hot and sunny summer day, where you biologically feel a need to escape and have fun. It’s more like a day when you wish you were clutching your coat against you, a wind blowing fliers and dead leaves down the street, and you watch the city as it works during the time you’re a part of it and working. You wander into a mall and it’s some geriatric ward, with the worst of the worst at the counters and muzak blaring in at 11. The small stores are empty, too. It’s all about the weather, though. It’s telling you “summer’s over”, like waking up with a hangover the morning after a party, your house filled with stale bags of half-eaten potato chips and mostly empty beer cans. It all sucks, but there’s something about that complete silence that tells you it’s over, but you survived it.

I once read a Bukowski poem where he describes the same feeling, where he sits in an attic drinking a beer and thinking that there’s all of those construction workers building houses or whatever, while he just sits there. My feeling is some of that, but also based on having such a weird student schedule for 6 years. I’d catch a couple classes or a shift of work at IUSB and then drive to Scottsdale Mall to blow my paycheck. The feeling of only me and my tape deck in the car, mixed with a city so busy at commerce, felt almost haunting, like being on the crashed Titanic’s hull, except it’s all alive.

The other strange thing about Michawaka and South Bend and my year their was that driving in downtown South Bend felt like really being in a city. There were buildings taller than 3 stories high, you had to parallel park in places, there were 6 lane streets and one way streets and overpasses and highways. Once I learned how to really drive around that mess of cities, I felt like it was better than being in Bloomington in some odd way. There was more going on in Bloomington, but it’s a small town compared to South Bend – compared to Elkhart, even.

The flipside to this is having the weird student schedule and being awake at 4 or 5 in the morning, and seeing the same city asleep. This happened to me almost every day back in school, and still happens sometimes now. It’s strange, but I think Bloomington had more stuff open late than Seattle. There are clubs and bars open past midnight, but you’re stuck with Denny’s or IHOP otherwise.

I just looked up some population stuff from the census page. My dad lives in Millersburg, which had a 1994 population of about 900. The city, or rather village, where I spent my time from age 1 to the first grade (Edwardsburg, MI), has a population of 1141. My birthplace, Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, is not listed, although the city of Grand Forks is around 50,000. My old hangout of Elkhart was 43,000. The city of Seattle itself is around 500,000. The greater metro area is about 3 million though. The strangest fact I’ve learned – there is a city named Starbuck, WA – population 170.