Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Travis Mass Observation

September 11, 2009

Walk from Apartment to Fine Arts Building

I leave my apartment at 11:00am and walk up 25th Street. There is a cool breeze. The ground is somewhat wet from the rain last night. I look up at the sky and am greeted by dark grey clouds. I mutter to myself “I hope it doesn’t rain”. I look around at the apartment buildings and see several people, probably students, scurrying out of them and heading east towards campus. I approach Leon Street and decide to take a right. Walking down this street, I notice the lack of a sidewalk and the excess of parked cars. Do I choose to walk in the street praying that I don’t get hit, or do I slog through the mud lamenting that I should be walking on a sidewalk? Then I see it; the gated backyard, the white house, the packed parking lot, the Greek letters, and the red plastic cups strewn in every direction - the pinnacle of college learning - a frat house. I decide to slog through the mud.

With my shoes caked with mud, I take a right onto 24th Street and head east, again toward campus. I notice a couple slowly walking west on the opposite side of the street. The girl is wearing a hoodie and carries a plastic bag with the CVS logo clearly stamped across it. The boy is walking his mountain bike, gripping it with both hands so the bike will not escape and roll down hill. My gaze upon them is suddenly interrupted by cars zooming by. I am startled for a moment but regain my composure and notice that most of the traffic is heading east on 24th Street.

Crossing San Gabriel I see a woman on the opposite side of the street exiting her car and trudging into Convenience Coin Laundry. Behind her is a bag so large that a human body could easily fit inside. This is when I realize that the majority of the people walking on 24th Street are on the opposite side of the street. As I continue my trek toward campus, many of the people are walking west, away from campus. Some of these people turn towards the University Towers private dorm, probably heading up to their rooms to rest for their midnight parties. I stop to observe the people on the other side of the street, when a boy wearing a dark grey shirt and a black backpack with long scruffy hair passes me in a hurry. I notice him for a second but at his pace, I doubt he noticed me. Once again my attention returns to the other side of the street where a large group of Asian girls walk slowly west on 24th Street. They are all talking and laughing at once in rather loud voices, but from a distance I cannot understand what is being said. They remind me of a cackle of birds by the way they continually hover around one another, all moving in a tight group. I really can’t make out any distinguishing features, except for one. One girl in the back of the flock is wearing a white knitted ski cap that bobs in unison with the rest of the group’s movements.

At that moment, two people walk past me. The first person is a girl wearing running shorts. She also has a white Jansports backpack with purple trim. As she scurries by, I notice that she is text messaging on her cell phone at an alarming pace. It amazes (and concerns) me how fast her fingers dance across her full keyboard, similar to a world-class piano player. It does not look humanly possible. The other person that passes is a boy wearing an Alpha Phi t-shirt and a small burnt-orange sack backpack with the Longhorn symbol emblazoned on it. He is also wearing black sunglasses; a peculiar choice since it is not bright out. He also has earphones on, listening to his ipod (which I surmise is emblazoned with the Longhorn symbol as well).

When I reach Rio Grande Street, the motor vehicle traffic increases. The pedestrian density on the sidewalks has also increased. As I cross Pearl Street, I pass in front of an UT Police car waiting to turn left on 24th Street. I decide to wave at him and to my surprise, he smiles and waves back. Continuing east on 24th Street, I pass a couple of guys standing and talking about signing a survey. In fact, upon closer inspection, I realize that one of them is the same guy with the grey shirt and long scruffy hair that rushed by earlier. As I maneuver past them, I decide to look up at the deck of Starbucks Coffee. I see several people drinking coffee and reading and another group of people dressed in similar black shirts with red trim talking business. I finally arrive at the crosswalk for Guadalupe Street and I wait for the light to change. The walk signal comes and I step onto campus at 11:42am. As I begin to walk across campus, I pass a church where a small group of children holding a blue rope step out. The children are all wearing matching green nametags on the backs of their shirts. Two middle age women, wearing matching white polos are supervising them. The two middle age women place themselves, one in front and the other behind the group of kids. The way that the kids are “bound” to the rope and flanked by the women reminded me of a chain gang from old-time movies.

Suddenly I feel raindrops hitting my bare skin. Yes, by 11:43am my worst fears for the day are realized. It begins to rain. Trying to protect my notepad from the rain, I look up to see a large group of people exiting Painter Hall from a lecture class that just ended. I cross the street because the sidewalk has been torn up due to construction on a new building and the large oak trees offer cover as the rain continues to ravage my notepad. As I stand, hiding under the oak trees I see how this part of 24th Street has become a “choke point” for all forms of transportation. Since the other side of the sidewalk has been torn up and blocked off for construction and the road has been blocked off by the construction workers, the only viable route down 24th Street is this stretch of sidewalk. This narrowing of the space creates an intriguing display of people, bikes and even cars weaving and dodging one another, all of them trying to occupy the same space at the same time.

At that moment a group of construction workers and a girl with a soon- to-be-common umbrella pass me. Seeing the girl carry her blue umbrella, I am now intrigued at how many people seem to suddenly be carrying umbrellas. I find a spot under the trees that seems to offer the most protection from the rain. After a minute or two, I count five umbrellas with colors like black, bright yellow, blue, pink, and one with black and white stripes. Just as I finish counting the umbrellas, another girl holding a black umbrella with bright pink trim passes me. I decide to continue my journey and I soon fall in behind a boy wearing a white t-shirt and a baseball hat with the Dallas Cowboys logo on it, he has the bill turned backwards. He is talking on his cell phone. Though I could not make out the complete conversation, I do hear the boy say, “Dude, it’s raining.” It’s amazing how we can communicate so much by saying so little. After passing the boy, a girl with long curly brown hair zips by me. Also talking on her cell phone, she is in a hurry but I can hear her trying to set up a lunch date with someone. As I cross Speedway, my notepad begins to look more and more like a Jackson Pollock painting with all of the ink being blended together by the rain. As I continue to battle the elements, a boy riding a long skateboard blasts down 24th Street. From the way he rides, it appears that he doesn’t even know it is raining.

I continue toward the Fine Arts building and I see several more construction workers. One is leaning against a small tree. He is wearing a green hard hat and is having a conversation with someone on his phone. Another worker is sitting on a stone bench on the opposite side of a chain-linked fence. He is wearing his orange construction vest and is eating what looks like a chicken salad. By about 11:50am I am a few feet from the Fine Arts Building and I decide to stop writing and put away my notepad, hoping all of my notes will still be legible.

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