Break on through

Standing outside the Old Spaghetti Factory, I was several people back in line in front of the larger table of volunteers. This table had a cover, shielding the volunteers from the warm late summer sun. The other table, smaller, uncovered, also had volunteers, but fewer people in line. Those people, at the smaller table, were bent over, filling out forms, and writing checks. This table had piles of t-shirts stacked up.

Was I in the right line to pick up my packet? There were no signs directing me to one or the other. I had just joined the longer line in front of the larger table on a guess. I felt an internal resistance to asking anyone around me. I wasn’t in a hurry. I’d find out soon enough.

The evidence seemed to suggest the smaller table was for people registering today. I had registered online, days ago. I was probably in the right line.

My line of sight to behind the smaller table cleared for a moment and I spotted more baskets filled with envelopes, named and numbered. Those were the packets I’m used to receiving for all the past races I’d done. My momentary doubt turned into action. I left the line I was in, and joined the line in front of the smaller table.

Two things happened as soon as I did. The line I had been in got longer, and I noticed the five or six baskets under the tent that held many, many more packets, each basket clearly marked to show which numbers were sorted into said basket. Damn. I had been in the correct line.

Sheepishly, I re-joined the longer line, now behind an auburn-haired woman, an inch or two shorter than me, slender underneath her red silk-y tank top and blue jeans. My guess as to age (based on factors that would likely embarrass her if I wrote about them) was that she was in her late 30s or perhaps even early 40s. My age, or thereabouts. For some reason I glanced down at her feet and saw high-end flip-flops and meticulously-pedicured feet, with bright red toenails covered in hand-painted flower designs. Not necessarily the feet of a hard-core runner. And yet she was standing in line for a 10K.

She turned to me, looking back over her shoulder, her eyes hidden behind not-overlarge sunglasses. “Were you in this line?” she said, gesturing ahead of her. She seemed to be offering me my place back in line, or at least ahead of her.

“Oh, yeah, I was,” I mumbled, “but… well… I got confused. I’m OK. I’m not in any hurry.” Sweat was pooling under my fedora from the sun. Yes, from the sun.

“OK,” she smiled, and turned back to face the front, her arms linked across her chest.

“I…” I managed to push out of my mouth “I wasn’t sure which line… was… right.” Suddenly I realized that I had just had, and missed, the opportunity to see if she was wearing a wedding ring, when she had indicated I could re-join my place in line, before she had hidden her hands by crossing her arms.

She glanced back at me. Smiled. Nodded. Turned away again.

I felt an internal resistance against speaking to her further.

My mind kept proposing, and rejecting, ways I could further the conversation. The sun. The heat. The line. The race. Her pretty feet. Her auburn hair. My hat. But nothing seemed able to pierce the resistance that had now overcome me.

I thought of a friend, telling me about this moment, and it’s importance. After the ice is broken, and simple pleasantries have been exchanged, the very next thing that is said becomes the linchpin of the entire relationship. The foundation of all that happens afterward. Kevin said this with a sense of playfulness but I believed him to be essentially correct.

Was this sense of importance that I now attached to my next utterance the reason for the resistance I felt? Fear of poisoning whatever might unfold after this point? Or was it something else?

I won’t know, because I waited in line in silence, and as Dylan sang, she went her way and I went mine. I walked to the streetcar to take me back downtown. She got into her Lexus SUV and drove past me as I walked through the parking lot. I console myself, even encourage myself, with the idea that she will be at the race tomorrow. But has the moment, whatever it was, passed?

I had felt an internal resistance against speaking to her further.

Later, after lunching on pizza and a salad, I made my way to a bus stop on the park blocks. As I approached, I saw a pair of cowboy boots and a glimpse of smooth tanned leg sticking out of the shelter. As I got closer I saw, above the tanned legs, a bright red skirt, and a sleeveless shirt, and a cute round female face, her mouth punctuated with an offset piercing, eyes brought into focus with glasses, and warm brown hair. I walked past the shelter, stopping on the far side, turning to look in the direction the bus will be coming, but also looking in the general direction of the booted girl.

I felt an internal resistance against speaking to her.

Two young, tall, black men approached the bus stop, joking with each other. They stopped right inside the shelter, next to where the girl sat. One pulled out his phone and called a friend, the other one read aloud from the schedule inside the shelter.

The girl shifted on her seat. Then she pulled an almost empty water bottle from her purse. She drank the rest of the water, started to put it away, stopped. Her purse had been at her side; now it was on her lap. She stood quickly, stepped past me to the garbage can. I didn’t turn my head but I heard something dropped into the garbage.

The two young tall black men shifted so that they took up all the space inside the shelter, between the two of them, without any apparent conscious thought.

I stayed where I was. I pulled out my own water bottle, shifting my messenger bag around and then back again. I sipped from the bottle. I thought of raising my bottle in cheers to the girl. But, no. She’d thrown hers away.

A bus came, and the two young tall men got on, along with everyone else waiting at that stop. Everyone except for me, and the cowboy booted red-skirted girl.

I shifted around, looking more towards the street, and now had the girl standing to my right.

I felt an internal resistance against speaking to her.

A light breeze came up. My mind, seeking to overcome this resistance, produced the words “That breeze feels nice.” But as the thought became words, the wind grew stronger. The flap on my messenger bag now became a flag, fluttering in the strong wind. I was actually rocked on my feet a little bit. I could see the girl’s skirt pressed against her legs and waving behind her, exposing only a little more leg.

I laughed. “I was going to say ‘that breeze felt nice’ but…”

She laughed, too. “It’s a bit more than a breeze, now!” She raised her voice as the wind continued. “It’s kind of cold now, too.” She started to cross her arms across her chest, stopped herself, held them resolutely at her sides and along her legs, keeping her skirt from raising any higher.

“Yes, it is!” It felt as though I were shouting, though considering my soft-spokenness I was likely just at a normal conversational volume.

The wind died back to a breeze.

“Are you waiting for the 19?” I asked.

She looked sad. “No. The 17.”


She walked past me, sat down in the shelter again.

I felt an internal resistance against speaking to her further.

I pulled out my phone, called Tri-Met’s automated bus schedule. As I did that, the bus I was waiting for, the 19, appeared two blocks down. I put my phone away. She glanced up, saw the bus approaching, looked at me, gave a sad smile.

I nodded. Yes. My bus is coming. I am going now. Not another word was spoken between us.

I had felt an internal resistance against speaking to her further.