Paul pulled up to the intersection, a forty year-old man riding a BMX bicycle. His blonde hair still long, his arms covered in tattoos and until I called out “What’s up?” He probably wouldn’t a recognized me unless I did.
I saw him there, in his wife-beater and black and white high-tops, staring in what looked like something resembling concentration, his mind obviously in another place. And at first I wasn’t gonna say a thing, just let him ride by, down the street towards the U-Haul yard. But I thought better of it.
Seen him last week, playing music, thought I was watching Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers up there on the stage the way the band nodded and tweaked their way through the entire set. Now here we were, side by side in the crosswalk. Him on his bike and me standing there as I waited for the light, a shared smile between us, as the trucks rumbled by and the dust rose up tainting the patches of sunlight that were dropping down between the pillars of the elevated freeway.
Fifteen years ago we’d been friends, back when I had a pick-up truck and Paul was between bands and me and Gina were just starting to work our way into being homeless. Many a night all three of us’d be up getting high in Paul’s basement apartment, playing music until the sun threatened to shine, his dog sleeping on a mattress in the corner, the windows shut with the curtains drawn.
Then I went to jail and Gina disappeared and Paul? Well, I guess Paul kept doing what he was doing cause here he is and like I said that was fifteen years ago. Now my world has changed but his looks pretty much the same.
Two minutes of nodding to each other, the traffic too loud to try and converse over, and then the light turns green and I started walking as he pushes off from the curb, gliding beside me, his feet resting on the pedals of his bicycle as bits of broken glass and black soot covered pebbles crunch beneath the tires.
“How ya doin man?”
“Doin pretty good” he says.
“Saw ya play last week. God damn funny.”
Paul laughs and that’s about all we had to say to one another. “See Ya,” he says and rides on over to the U-Haul yard as I cross 11th Street and cut through the underground parking garage trying my best not to be late coming back to work from lunch.
One last glance over my shoulder and I can see him there as he’s talking to some shady looking character dressed in greasy overalls leaning up against the corrugated metal garage that’s off to the side of the yard by the chainlink fence.
It’s hot today, sunshine and dusty, my throat’s dry, suddenly the noise from the traffic starts up again when the light turns green. The underground parking garage’s shade feels cool while a damp concrete smell lingers, the scent of exhaust competing for flavor. The heels of my boots clicking an echo off the walls as I navigate through the parked cars and abandoned shopping carts haphazardly discarded by satisfied shoppers from the store above.
Strange that Paul and I didn’t have shit to talk about. There was a time we’d a chopped it up, stopping everything that was going on and hung out for a minute or two. Asking where each other had been, the going price of dope, who was holding and of course the usual litany of who had died, who was in jail and who was ripping off who.
Picking up my pace, turning left, exiting the garage, an abrupt return to the sunlight. Like I said, I got this job now and I gotta get back on time. There’s this office manager that’s so set on me doing every minute of my eight hour day that if I don’t she takes it outta my vacation pay – like being late is some kinda vacation or something.
In front of me10th Street’s traffic backs up as the cars and trucks merge for the freeway onramp. Stuck at the crosswalk waiting for the light again I’m standing, thinking, not sure how I feel about what just happened between me and Paul. Was it me? Was it him? Was that meager exchange of words what had it come down to between us?
Somewhere inside of me there’s uncertainty, although why or what about I’m not sure. Saying goodbye to your past is never easy. Leaving others behind in the life of their choosing shouldn’t be an issue as it certainly isn’t a decision that I made for them.
The light changes, the flow of traffic stops, I cross another street leaving behind another city block that I’ve traveled and may never travel again. Back on the other side is Paul and the past and when I think about it a great deal of sadness arises. I have no idea what’s truly in front of me, other than returning to my place of work with its responsibilities and an office manager who watches the clock. It’s not that we had nothing to say to one another it’s just that we’re not in that same place that we were fifteen years ago and in the end did we truly even know each other then?