Watching the wheels

One of my favorite things to do as the mania of summer slips into the contemplative season that is fall is to ride my bike at dusk and play the eavesdropper, the trickster, the would-be peeping Tom.

Silently through the neighborhoods I cruise, the Ghost Rider on his horse, down King’s Highway and Aldrich and Bryant and Sheridan and Colfax and Grand and Blaisdell and all the rest. “Cars Are Coffins,” goes the bicyclist activist adage, sung like a dirge in these river grave days; not only that, “Cars Are Holding Cells That Keep Us From Knowing One
Another.”

Which is why I do a lot of biking. And nodding.

To other bicyclists, of course, but also to the laid-back leaners who practice the sacrament of chill-out known in some cultures as “windowing.” It’s an ancient and cheap form of entertainment, which I’m sure is why it is so prevalent in the neighborhoods around Lake Street and Franklin Avenue and downtown, where whole families sit on porches and steps and stoops and stare off into nothing (something), and on the corner of 15th and Nicollet, where all the Somali men hang outside the International Center and watch all their Type-A North American neighbors rush to and fro.

Poetically enough, most of the world knows the word “windowing” as a networking tool and a computer device meant to connect us. Now we find ourselves adrift on a sea of technology and communication and activity that has led to all sorts of disconnects and strife and subqualities of life. But before Bill Gates owned it, windowing was used to describe the ritual of hanging out; the non-activity of having a glass of lemonade or something stronger, and watching the world go by.

“I want to join that club so I can have exciting conversations like ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Sittin’.’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Sittin’,’” said Katie Couric, a professional calmer amidst the storms, after a segment on “The CBS Evening News” last week. The in-depth piece for “Eye on America” was about something called The Professional Porch Sitters Union, which was started by Claude
Stephens (porch-sitting alias: “Snickers McFlurry”), who tapped into something primal and lost when he and some of his corporate meeting-fried friends started the Professional Porch Sitters Union Local 1339 in Louisville, Ky.

Not much else to report here, other than the group’s credo: “Sit a spell. That can wait.”

The worker in me suspects that sitting around doing nothing is a sin at worst and sloth at best, but the wise guy in me knows better. I sit on my porch all summer. I read, sleep, hang with my wife and kids, listen to the crickets and rain, play my guitar, people-watch, and harass my neighbors and strangers. All of which, come to think of it, sounds entirely counter to the porch sitters, whose raison d’etre is closer to the Buddhist sayings of,  “The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything”; “The greatest action is not conforming with the world’s ways,” and, “The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.”

Kingfield’s Jay Walljasper knows something about all this. Dude just wrote a book called “The Great Neighborhood Book,” which outlines how neighborhoods change the world. In the introduction, he testifies, “The neighborhood is the basic unit of human civilization. Unlike cities, counties, wards, townships, enterprise zones, and other artificial entities, the neighborhood is easily recognizable as a real place.

“It’s the spot on earth we call home. It’s where our lives unfold day after day — meeting friends at the coffee shop, chatting with neighbors on the street, going about our business in stores, parks, gathering spots and our own backyard. Some people may be indifferent to events in their city, or even the nation, but fiercely engaged in their neighborhood because what happens there affects them in direct, personal ways.”

Not exactly porch-sitting, but close. Now if you’ll excuse me, after all that typing, I need to go sit a spell.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.