There are days when I leave the house and immediately put on my headphones and turn on my ipod. Most days are like this. I start my walk to the bus stop or the el, and I crave the isolation that those headphones grant. With music in my ears, I'm free to think whatever thoughts I choose. I am safe from the intrusion of the sounds of the city. And on those days I'm thankful for that solitude.
And then there are days like today. The ipod is there. Its in the side pocket of my backpack, and I can reach it in seconds. But I don't. I just walk. I skip the bus and the train altogether, and I just walk. And as I walk, I become increasingly aware of the sounds of the city. I listen to the cars. Their engines, horns, and brakes. Their stereos singing and their doors opening and closing. And I listen to the people. I pick up bits and pieces of the conversations of those who walk past me. Couples, families, kids. They all offer me a bite of their day, and then leave me to fill in the blanks. I hear the crash of steel on steel, and turn to look at a construction site. I hear a hollow thud, and I notice a woman struggling to force a laundry bin into the back of a truck. Down the block, another woman is digging through her purse in a mad search for coins to feed the meter with, and when I get close enough she asks me if I have a solid quarter.
I do have a solid quarter, but I hesitate. Not because I don't want to exchange my quarter for her two dimes and a nickel. The coins are an afterthought. I hesitate because I'm not used to being out of my shell. Because I don't usually walk down the street without my guard up. Because I don't need anything from her, and I don't want her to need anything from me. And so I quietly say "no", and I keep walking.
A few steps later I pause, reach into my backpack, pull out a quarter, and I walk back. I lie to her. I tell her that I forgot that I had some change in my bag. We exchange the coins. She thanks me. And we go our separate ways.
I continue to notice new things. Pastel suits in shop windows. An old man with a cheap cane. A jogger. Some litter. A homeless man with one shoe on and the other by his head, laying next to a small fire under the bridge on Roosevelt that carries myself and countless other thousands of people today over the south branch of the Chicago River, over the railroad tracks that stretch south from Union Station, and over the empty field in which that man is laying.
I pass all of this. And I see it, and I hear it, and I smell it. I absolutely feel it.
And I did need something from the woman at the meter. I needed that exchange. However brief. However mundane. I needed that from her. I needed that walk.
And I needed to have these thoughts, and to type them here.