It’s approaching 5 PM on a beautiful summer’s day in Seattle. No clouds, not a single one, and the sky a deep uniform blue, as if it had always been that color, always would be. Temperatures hover around the mid seventies, warm enough to be warm, but not hot enough to be hot. People like talking about the weather because it’s something they have in common. Even people who dislocated by a thousand miles will talk about their own weather, because it’s something the other person has probably experienced. They can empathize.
I’m pushing my toddler son in one of those jogging strollers. Three enormous wheels, black, festooned with pockets and holders. Snacks and drinks and a garage door opener and my cell phone. I’m dressed in blue jeans, a white t-shirt, sunglasses and a ballcap. I’ve got a bushy beard that needs trimming. I’m one can of beer away from being identifiable as a redneck or as hipster. I don’t think I’m either, but I’ve been accused of being each. And to think there are people who will claim one or the other and wear the description proudly, even defiantly.
We’re passing a church, my son and I, 45 minutes into our walk, 15 left to go. The final stretch. We happen to be on a stretch of sidewalk, one of the few parts of our daily loop that doesn’t require us walking in the street. We tend to stay off the busier avenues, so there isn’t much traffic, and when cars do pass us, they usually swing well onto the other side of the road. I always acknowledge them with a wave. Half of them wave back.
But this sidewalk is narrower than a road, and approaching is a girl on a bike. She looks to be about six or seven years old. Drak blakc skin, still wearnig her baby fat, but wearing it well, and a sturdy bicyclle helmet sat firmly on her head. The chin straps maybe a bit tight. I shouldn’t stereotype, but I do: there;s a Mosque not far from here, and I assume she’s Somalian. I catch myself. Her parents are maybe Somalian, but this girl was probably born here.
She’s about a hundred feet away, weaving inexpertly all over the pavement, in her own world. She looks up, and without hesitation, rides the bike off the sidewalk and into the road. Actually, it’s a bunch of parking spaces, not the street itself. She glides towards us,makes eye contact.
I want to to wave, to acknowledge her, but I can’t. Her mother strapped that helmet to her head, tight, because she knows that’s the right thing to do. And she raised her child to respect her neighbors, because that’s also the right thing to do. If I wave to her, she’s going to wave back, automatically. There’s no stranger danger here- it’s a beautiful, sunny day, I’m a guy puching a baby stroller, complete with toddler. We’re next to a church, for Christ’s sake. She’ll take one hand off the handlebars to wave back, lose control, wreck her bike.
But I have to acknowledge her. She gave us the sidewalk, and I want to say thank you and encourage to continue this courtesous lifestyle instilled in her by her mother. So, as she get’s closer, I reach up and tip my hat. She’s only seven years old, her parents are Somalian, she probably has no idea what I’m doing, if I’m doing anything at all.
And she glides by us, she smirks. Her smirk says it all. She knows exactly what tipping a hat means. It’s something cowboys used to do when they passed genteel ladies on the streets of Loredo. “Ma’am,” they’d say, touching the brim of their stetson, moving it almost imperceptibly. She learned about it in school, saw a film.
A cowboy, a redneck, a throwback, a hipster. I don’t need a beer in my hand to collapse that waveform. She smirks, because her mother raised her to respect her neighbors, but that doesn’t mean she’s a syncophant to every tool wandering around the landscape. The next time she’s on a sidewalk and somebody walks by, she’ll get out of their way too.
Not just because she’s going to be polite. Because she’s the one with the power. It’s her sidewalk, she rides it four or five hundred times a day. No matter what the weather. Yesterday there were four or five clouds in the sky, and she was weaving up and down. They day before that it was overcast, with patches of sky in the clouds, and she was out there. And they day before that it was raining, so she was inside, watching her mother make canjeero, but in her head she was out there on that sidewalk.
She’s got the power, and she’ll cede that bit of pavement because she can, not because she has to.
My son and I get to the end of the block, make a left turn, out of the sunshine and into deep shade. The change in temperature makes me shiver, as all my crevices are filmed in sweat which rapidly cools. My son yells, suddenly, a non-word, his sound for acknowledging a dog on the street coming towards us. My son loves dogs. The dog’s owner looks up at the sound too, smiles, waves. I wave back. It’s no problem, steering the stroller with one hand.