I’m standing outside my girlfriend’s apartment off Hennepin Avenue near dawn when a cab pulls up and a diminutive blond woman steps out, wrapped in every available protection from the cold.
She passes by, I wonder if she sees me, she’s talking on her phone, she’s saying, No, it’s okay, I was, well, I was, well, I’m okay now, I’m good, I’m okay and I’m going home and I’m almost there.
I don’t turn, I hear her trip on the sidewalk and catch herself, she stays upright long enough to accomplish the steps leading to a nearby apartment building.
She says, I, she pauses for a long while, I, she says again, and then the wind picks up and skitters the rest of her sentence through dying leaves and carries it into the brightening sky and soon she opens her front door and steps inside and is gone.
Could have been two more words, could have been several, could have been nothing at all.
Five minutes after bar close and two cabs swing up to the bar along Lyndale Avenue, stop in the right lane, lights on, engines running.
This guy with a black crewcut stumbles up to the first cab, he bangs on the closed window, the cabbie slides the window down, the guy leans inside.
The guy says, You available, he hears what he wants, then he says, Wait a minute, let me get my girl.
He retreats to the sidewalk.
Some other guy steps outside, he stumbles south. Another guy stumbles after him. He says, Hey, wait.
The other guy turns around, What, he says. What do you want.
The second stumbler, he says, I’m with you tonight, I’m your bro, where are you going.
The first stumbler says, You ain’t my bro, you ain’t nothing, I don’t want nothing to do with you.
The second stumbler swears and disappears north, walking alone.
A couple passes, arms wrapped around each other. The girl says, Let’s go home. The guy just nods and pulls her closer.
The guy with the black crewcut returns, girl behind him. He slides into the cab’s backseat, she follows, pulling her winter coat close around her arms. The cabbie puts his car in gear and a quick U-turn and he’s driving south into the October blackness, the meter running.
One night last week, in the vacant time of night when everyone is either in bed or in bars, a friend and I stood in the alleyway between Lyndale and Garfield and talked.
I remember no details of the conversation, no names or plots or sentence constructions, the conversation centered around cast-away observations and constructions, it was entirely unremarkable. Except. Except there was this feeling, languid but tenuous, the feeling that always precedes the vague regret and restlessness I can’t shake come fall. A summer feeling, about to turn color.
My friend was ready to leave. We said our goodbyes. Just then the noise began, soft but persistent and clear, a single staccato tone practically mellifluous, the first note of an aria abandoned to a vast and empty auditorium.
A bike, a noisy junker of a bike with a twentysomething astride who’s halfway between nowhere and somewhere else.
A junkman, I thought, a junkman with his shopping cart headed for the recycling bins.
We had our backs to the street and never saw the car as it passed by along 26th street, slow and deliberate, three tires good, the fourth an insistent whap whap whap warbled under the trebly tone of wheel on pavement. The car passed by and passed straight through the red light at Lyndale Avenue without a single flash of brake lights.
My friend and I, we continued talking, about the car at first and then again about the same small, forgettable things, neglecting our agreement to part.
Two minutes later the sound returned, this time coming the other way.
Again we had our backs to the street as the car passed by, this time headed the wrong way down 26th street, slower this time, practically a parade pace.
My friend started laughing, he could hardly stop, he turned and walked toward the street and called back to me, I’m going to walk after that car, it’s going so slow I bet I could catch up.
I let him go. I didn’t ask why he needed to see it.
The car, the flat tire, it was unremarkable. Except.
That feeling of it all. Not sad, not pitiable in the least but indifferent, irreverent even, the car and its ghost driver amicable and prepared for October winds blowing in any direction.
26th and Lyndale is an attempt to capture life at a busy southwest Minneapolis intersection, through essays, observations, conversations, overheard dialogue and other storytelling forms. To check out Brian Voerding’s blog, go to www.26thandlyndale.com.