Stranded

I have forgotten the joy of being stranded.

Because I don’t know how long it actually takes to walk a mile and a half.

People tend to look at me like I have two heads when I tell them I’ve never owned a car. I only got my driver’s license a year ago. I enjoy feeling superior and thrifty when I ride the bus, bike, and hoof it around town. A car is a steel microcosm inside which we are armored and invisible, but I like the outside elements and am constantly prepared for all weathers. My backpack has in it, among other things, a change of socks, an umbrella, and at least one Russian novel. I’m always prepared to get left behind somewhere, and to get myself somewhere else.

When you willfully lay yourself at the mercy of the schedule of an indifferent world, your time becomes elastic. Your time does not matter. The destination is what counts, is the only, the end. You will sacrifice everything, even the most precious resource of time, to get to where you want to go. You will spend hours waiting at bus stops. Waiting for friends to pick you up. You will get off at the wrong place, you will miss a connection, misread a timetable, forget your quarters. You will be faced with strange choices of time vs. energy, whether to wait for an hour to get on the right bus or simply walk the distance in the same amount of time, risking tired feet and bad moods and wasting ever more time.

The other day, Eric was due to pick me up from the coffee shop around 3:30pm, but he got stuck at the auto repair shop and couldn’t reach me until sometime after 4. Sundays are terrible days for bus kids. Busses tend to run once an hour, if at all, and take strange detours to maximize something I think city planners call efficiency. The #44 wouldn’t come down my street for an hour yet. I could wait or I could go somewhere. I could stand or I would walk. I always prefer to go somewhere. I started walking.

Late November afternoons in Spokane are covered in a thick layer in gray and black and brown. It was starting to get dark. I turned up my collar and crunched the dead leaves underfoot. I peeked into orange-lighted windows, thought through a story. Dead flowerbeds curled and shook in the wind. In about twenty-five minutes, I walked from 18th and Grand to 10th and South Monroe on the South Hill. A little under a mile and a half. I went inside the grocery store, where I spent another half hour wandering the aisles, memorizing flavors of salad dressing before Eric arrived to take me home.

One hour of my day, spent on no purpose other than getting me somewhere I wanted to go. Home, in this case. I used to love spending my time that way. It made my days feel full, productive in a meaningless but oh so satisfying way. I could write, read, and ride on busses and subways and trains for hours, shimmying and bouncing along uneven roads, wearing what my mother calls my game face and reading my long Russian novels.

I thought I had no time for such things anymore. I am a typical twenty-something, type A grad student. Each day is planned, sectioned, and scheduled from 7am-11pm. Chopped up into little bits and meted out among my various projects and deadlines like bits of bread to paupers. Everything gets its allotted hour, its designated time slot. Grading = 15 minutes per paper. Teach prep = half hour before teaching, and one hour after. Read = two hours, reject slush pile for one. Edit piece for workshop, 45 minutes; write other work, side-projects and half-ideas, in any and all gaps between, hopefully two hours a day but often far less, or not at all.

I know how long I have to cook an actual dinner instead of making a sandwich. I know how much time I take to talk to my mother about my day/life, twice a week. I know how long I have to take a shower, how long it takes to have sex, how quick I can run to the grocery store for a bottle of wine. How much time we spend at my friend’s house eating bagels and purging our stressful and endlessly fascinating lives to each other before we actually sit down to write, for our — scheduled — two hours. If it weren’t for accidents of abandonment, screwed up schedules and busses that never run when they should, I would never schedule time to stride through gray wintry air, coveting beautiful houses I will never own and tracing the dead dried vines creeping up their fences.

It takes twenty-five minutes to walk from Grand and 18th to Lincoln and 10th on a darkening sidewalk. But in the moment it wasn’t not just time but me, myself that felt elastic: stranded yet moving, abandoned yet mobile.

7 Comments

  • Fitz says:

    I love a lot of this (even though mostly I recoiled in horror and thought “Thank goodness I have a car” and then, “I’m embarrassingly reliant on modern technology – Laura would be ashamed of me”), but my favorite part was “dead dried vines.” MMMMM those sounds.

  • Karen Maner says:

    “I would never schedule time to stride through gray wintry air, coveting beautiful houses I will never own and tracing the dead dried vines creeping up their fences.”

    So true, and such a shame. I loved reading this, Laura. It made me feel terrible and consoled at the same time.

  • Shira Richman says:

    I am impressed by your organization and understanding of time. If only I’d read this when I was a graduate student and could have used your scheduling for my life. Maybe you can sell it…

    And this is beautiful:
    “If it weren’t for accidents of abandonment, screwed up schedules and busses that never run when they should, I would never schedule time to stride through gray wintry air, coveting beautiful houses I will never own and tracing the dead dried vines creeping up their fences.”

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