Friday, July 4, 2008
Not working out
AUBURN, ALABAMA - July 3 -- We haven't walked in a while. I neglect to keep track of the days, so I don't know how long it's been. I just know it's time to hit the road again. The bottoms of my feet no longer make people gag when I expose them, and Denny even went for a run yesterday.
My first friend ever, Nate, came to pick us up on the Tennessee border several days ago and bring us to the place he is renting for the summer in Auburn. No matter how much time passes between seeing one other again, I'm always right back in the neighborhood we grew up in together every time we reunite.
We intended to stay a day or two before pointing our shoes toward New Orleans. Even though I personally wanted to hang out with my friend of 20 years who I rarely see for a while longer, it wasn't conducive to maintaining focus on the project, so I knew I would feel guilty if I did so. I was annoyed that the idea I had helped create was currently keeping me from doing the things I wanted to do. It was confusing.
I met a girl the first night in town. We chatted to the point in which she offered to drive Denny and I two-thirds of the way to New Orleans on her way to visit her family. The tricky part of the equation was that she wasn't leaving until Friday. Denny and I took a look at the map and decided to get to know Auburn more intimately.
We woke up the next morning and went to work - researching every volunteer opportunity we could brainstorm. I called retirement homes, I contacted the humane society, I had one-sided conversations with answering machines. No one needed us except for one friendly woman who said we could help sell popcorn at the local high school on Thursday evening.
We wanted to help more yet found ourselves feeling helpless.
We spent most of the week as a trio - talking about life, planning ways to get involved in New Orleans and exploring the small southern town. It was a pleasure to see two great friends of mine bond for the first time and surely not the last. Aside from Denny and Nate getting along like old buddies, not too many connections with strangers were made. The town was loaded with college boys in a voluntary uniform of pastel Polos, visors, and daisy-duke-style khaki shorts, and the girls who clung to their arms. They definitely had one thing in common - having no interest in talking to us.
On Thursday we found out that our ride opportunity on Friday had vanished. I woke up not feeling well that morning, so I lay in bed far too long. It seemed like the week was not working out. I was feeling guilty that we had stayed so long and done so little, and for what?
As Nate and I threw the Frisbee in the unusually pleasant Alabama summer evening, I found myself laughing and smiling as we chatted away. I was feeling like a person rather than part of a project.
'Feels like we might as well be on 59th Street,' I shouted as the disc hit Nate's hands.
'I know,' he agreed.
The memories of being young and innocent flooded my mind, and I'm guessing Nate's too. Building forts, playing street hockey, growing up with friends.
'Wanna play jailbreak?' I asked.
Nate laughed and rattled off the names of the neighborhood gang we would have to invite - some kids we hadn't seen in a decade.
When Nate told me that these few days we spent in Auburn were the best of his summer, my guilt vanished. Life made sense again.
'I've got a couple quarters in my pocket if you wanna help someone out,' Nate said. I looked at the row of parked cars and understood what he was getting at.
We scanned the streets for dangerously low levels of meter minutes. Everyone seemed to be on top of their parking situation except for the final car in the lineup. As I pulled the quarter from my pocket, I noticed a man recording the license plate, preparing to write a ticket for an obnoxious amount of money that was a heck of a lot more than 25 cents.
'Can I stop you from doing that?' I asked.
The meter enforcer looked up from his fancy ticketing device and evaluated the situation - a guy getting to his car just in time to avoid a fine.
'Sure,' he said as he moved on.
I inserted the coins and walked away. Little did he know, I don't own a car. Our trio exchanged smiles at the situation.
I figured out the moral of this week is that sometimes it seems like life isn't working out like you quite hope when really it is working out without you knowing it. I felt guilty at first for remaining idle, but as I prepare to leave Auburn with fresh legs, clean clothes, and most importantly, a rejuvenated spirit, I feel like my priorities are back in line and that life worked out just fine.
I don't know how many days have passed since we last walked, but what I do know is that my belly has gotten a bit flabby from the lack of working out. Part of me is not ready to part ways with one loyal friend. Another part is ready to take to the rural roads of Alabama with another.