Winter Storm Wonderings

As I continue to board one bus after another, I can’t tell if they’re running free of charge to let people back into the city, or allow them get the hell out.

Another peculiarity on my way through town is the pristine condition of the power company’s building, particularly its large, sheet glass windows. Each one perfectly intact. No caution tape or not a single beam of wood blocking the door. Even the slightest knick, I surely would have thought.

But, no? Nothing? 

Let it pass. There are bigger fish to fry.

For one, the fifteen board members who have stake in this ‘reliability council’. Yet, those same members are not even required to live in the state of Texas in order to make executive decisions on it. One lives in Canada. 

Let that one marinate. Lest they resign, which seems only necessary, we will sit in front of now-working televisions, waiting for someone to step up to the podium; until then, pour me another.

Day Two?

Time continues to slip away; the sun, too. It’s nearing dusk, and the shifting temperatures can be felt emanating off the swaying trees as the wind starts to pick up. Somewhere in between it fully setting, and our initial arrival to Josh’s car, which has been parked along the curb, halfway up the hill where our apartment is, we are approached by a young man. He cautiously advises that we step out of the vehicle while he and his friends unhinge their own car from another one just like it. Together, the two make a T; they appear to have collided on the hill, some time earlier.

Rendered effectively numb to the sight of crushed cars by now, we have been casually watching this group work, commenting occasionally on their precarious approach, which begins and ends with them unknowingly digging themselves deeper into the trenches by slamming on the gas, time and time again, effectively turning those sheets of snow into slabs of ice in a matter of seconds. At last, one simple question can’t be avoided any longer: do you need help?

Well, sure. But how? asks the girl who has been directing the boys. A quick reach in his backseat, and Josh plucks a broken cricket bat out, waving it in the air.

We will use this, he says.

There’s an addled look exchanged by the couple; they shrug and then let Josh take charge. Chipping away with the cricket bat, my friend is now down on his knees, beside the wheel bearings as they continue to spin; alas, there appears to be progress. We see the first vehicle begin to swing, finding its footing on the freshly packed snow, before it frees itself from the other and flings itself down the hill, as if it were a rock shot from a sling shot. The other vehicle is still stationary, stuck horizontally on the slope; finally, the force of four grown humans heaving it in one direction overtakes the insidious elements, freeing it, too, from its idle position, sending it soaring downhill on a prayer.

Well, the girl says, once the charade is through. I think I might need an IV filled with tequila after that one.

I nod, laughing as I echo the sentiment. She apologizes for the hostility that riddled our initial introduction, and thanks us for our time. I did not take it personally, but found it peculiar that she at first brushed off my offering of help with a simple, cold, ‘no’.

As Josh and I begin to break off from these strangers, though, we see a lone Range Rover stuck, wedged against a stone mailbox from one of the massive homes across the street. It seems to have occurred in the short time we were watching the vehicles tumble uncontrollably down the hill. A bearded man wearing a puffy designer jacket is behind the wheel of the Rover, a giant bulldog panting beside him. He dons an expression that teeters between distraught and being detached entirely from the outside world; he’s still scrolling his phone when one of us walks up, knocking on the glass.

Do you need help?

He’s startled. Well, yes. But I didn’t want to ask, because I didn’t want any of you to get hurt.

One moment, Josh says. He returns, waving his cricket bat.

Wait, is that a cricket bat? the man bellows out, beaming now.

Yes sir, Josh calls back.

Ha! I was stationed over in England for four years, the man chortles. Never could make sense of the game…

Well, now it’s helping you out, Josh cracks, sharing a laugh with the man.

One, two, three, all four of us, down on our knees, doing everything in our power to muster the strength to shove this massive SUV just far enough to become unstuck from its slanted position.

You guys have to be careful, the man insists, as he revs the engine. One of us could easily become trapped in between his fender and the mailbox, if the momentum suddenly surges, sending his vehicle into a state of free-will. The adrenaline, however, raging through one’s body, is too great to overcome, effectively rendering any possibility of danger to be real. After a few vehement efforts, we are finally able to free the vehicle; but, much to this man’s foresight, the sudden suspension of control sends it swinging uncontrollably. There is a sudden crash. Glass shatters, the four of us gasp.

What was that? the fellow chokes out, as he suddenly finds himself free, floating on the patch of ice before finding a footing on the slab of ice.

’Your rear window…’  the girl replies anxiously.

That’s it? the driver asks. We nod silently. Is everyone OK?

We nod again, watching as this man and his vehicle quickly nose dive down the hill, gradually gaining and then losing control as it swings over the solid ice. Not total control, though. There are more shared gasps as we glimpse the near grazings of other cars as this massive SUV barrels downhill, barely holding traction. I feel myself biting my hand, hardly able to watch. But, eventually he is free. Because of us, four strangers with seemingly nothing else to do.

At the bottom of the hill, the man inexplicably slams on the breaks, right before another near collision with an abandoned car nearby. One of the guys calls out, Don’t stop now! 

But mere seconds later, the driver is standing outside of his Range Rover, swinging in the air a glass bottle.

Here! the man shouts. Take this! It’s some random bottle of vodka I bought. It’s yours! Thank you!

A shared laugh amongst the group, before we exchange apprehensive glances.

I’m not taking that, the girl says. Do you guys want it?

Josh and I look at one another. I shake my head, and so does he.

After biding a vague farewell, our group disbands. Josh and I return to the car, where we blast the heat and bask in the sequence of events that just happened. Not ten minutes pass, however, before my friend looks up, and casually says he wants to go check on the man, just to make sure that his SUV did not get stuck on the next hill, which stands between us and the interstate. Peculiar, his idea appears, but I agree to wait while Josh goes on his way. Another five minutes pass before Josh returns, clutching under his arm the bottle of liquor. Its frosted over and fully sealed; we smirk at the sudden turn of fortune.

It would be rude not to drink this, right? says Josh, grinning as he snaps the seal and takes a sip.

Giardini Naxos

Soon it is apparent why this dot on the radar is revered by the French, Dutch, and Germans as an ideal slice of the slow life. Its sea is laden with cascading colors of sapphire blue and white ivory, each embedded in the rhythm of the tide; its knockout moons hold strong as guiding forces of the rotational tilt, as if it all began and ended here. Yet, no greater force is the contemplation that occurs at the skirts of a cosmic wonder such as Mt. Etna, where the discards of cataclysm pit questions of life against death. This is where man comes to quantify small decisions and conquer his ghosts; a realm of complete isolation seeming all but romantic with the right view.

A Snapshot of Naples

Unescapable, still, is the wrath of foddered consumables as the disconnect is made from Milan and our journey begun to Naples – a city where gold links, silver chains, crowned hats and premiere purse labels clutter every portable table top, ultimately toeing the line of intrusive as we waltz over the city’s unleveled streets of broken brick. Is this not the throw-away culture we longed to escape by vaulting across the Atlantic? An ode to their way of life, rather, this inherently serpentine servitude to sell, sell, sell, is exhaustive in its unrelenting draw of the senses and, in turn, combats the natural beauty of a city that once housed one of the great Kingdoms of the world. Napoli, in no short order, has a way of closing itself in on you; be it the narrow alleyways in between massive brick installments, or the everlasting strip of commercial goods and the bevy of bakeries and banks for one’s moral and material deposits; yet, the greatest thrill comes in watching the parade of cars storm the dotted lanes that serve as the main arteries to the city. On these streets, scooters reign supreme: slithering elusively, they’re commandeered by small children, rambunctious teenagers, and bearded men who take successive, sharp turns at 90 degree angles, against and then with the flow of traffic, just to shave off a few seconds of their commute. A steady Vaffanculo! echoes down alleyways.

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Conversations over Coffee

“Now, are we talking active, or latent?” asks one of the retirees a few seats down from me. He’s one of the few who frequent this place at a certain hour, seemingly everyday. Together they talk politics, the Chinese, and the land-value of what was leftover from the Native Americans. Having just wrapped up comparing their Tuesday crosswords, these old men now appear ready to tackle White Supremacy with everything they have.

This is why I come back. Well, that and the espresso that is dark, viscous, and reminiscent of that which is served over the counter in Italy: like cough medicine, and also without a smile.

How many things come full circle, for this time last year I was winding down from a month-long sabbatical overseas, in where I was given a slice of life that is lived well-beyond, but also contently far behind, our modern-day life in America. Conversely, it is there that I also presume the same silver-haired men in carefully arranged outfits to be having similar conversations over coffee.

When the chairman of their committee drops in, the tailored-suit and otter-cap fitting snug to his frame, an anecdote sticks out, causing me to lend a careful ear. He’s going on about the local university, how it’s going broke, but also how the other, just like it, is firmly bankrupt.

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