American Plain Views


I currently live and work in Minneapolis as an educator in an Americorps program and freelance writer. Sometimes it is peculiarly pretty here. It is pretty in a way that’s as much a sensation as a view. These little snippets will hopefully let you in on some of those American plain views.

View Heading Down Penn from Olson:

Olson Memorial Highway pushes out in both directions like big tar rivers and the grey-black backs of big straight serpents swimming into and out of center city. If the light allows, you can ford it all at once and if it doesn’t you are in an island in the middle watching the rust and the shine of cars sprint like metallic fish up and down stream. It is dirt, mud clot, and trash spotted right by Olson but further on past is the Harrison neighborhood where things get cleaner, greener, squarer and on with lawns and their houses. A little black girl cast in bronze statue welcomes you. Here the hills rise and sink slowly as the gentle undulation of a half-urban half-suburban dragon. The way the road stretches, the way there are no trees to block the skies or the hills as they rise, you can see right down Penn as it weaves up and down and up until it is too high to see past; just from seeing how the sky goes and goes and the earth goes and goes you’d guess there wasn’t any end to it. But then, eventually, you’d hit the highways and the interstates.

View From the Back of the 19:

Metro Transit buses have big windows to soothe you that bit they delayed you when they came late. Metro Transit buses are blood capillaries that pump in and out of the downtown heart where folks are moving but not wanting to be seen. Uptown, Northeast, by lakes and by campuses and by dive bars on rise is where people tell me you want to be seen. Metro Transit buses have big windows where these thoughts float out of sight and mind like clouds in the wide sky.

On the good days it feels like a Venice high in the sky. Your four wheeled gondola shared with a smattering of other people goes sailing down the light blue sky; your four wheeled gondola gliding on heaven to get you to the next earthly mess. The 19 – my four wheeled gondola – goes under the dark arches that connect concrete block buildings stretching out over two streets, making Hennepin Medical Center. Sunlight peaks out from the Hospital’s shadow until the 19 plunges fully into the bright light. It weaves up to the long and grassy green lawn in front of the Government Center. That building splits into two dark pillars wrapped together by a glass midsection and pulled tight by heavy black cross-lines so it looks like the corseted back of a boxy, cartoon-ish dominatrix.

After that the 19 comes through downtown where things look new and glassy and the construction turns everything to congestion and tightness. When it pops out into Hennepin it looks like one of those true downtown stretches full of bars and avante-garde buildings twisted up into modernist shapes. When breezes by the stadium, passes the brown and flat Transit Center, and leaks into Olson, it is just apartments and peaks down long and short residential roads.

On the bus a woman – White or Latina – sits and babbles brightly to her child. Another mom – Black – comes on and her toddler rushes up to the other kid and they seem to just stare before the parents direct them away, smiling and managing awkwardly. People come and people go. The driver lets a man know where to get off. The child leaves and the toddler cries for bit. Another mother and her kid – elementary age – comes on and picks up the transparent green binky the toddler dropped. The two mothers talk about the wide blue sky and the hot sun and the children all wrapped up in it; they talk on and past when my stop comes and I go.

~Austin R Ryan

Advertisements

Mulberries


The walk to the nearest grocery store is about 20 minutes in whatever weather Changzhou has for me – usually rain and wind. I call this local Tesco the fish market and if you went in I think it would be clear why. All along the way up to Tesco there’re a lot of things happening but in Tesco there’s even more going on. There are two floors to it, the first having clothes and shampoos and anything else you shouldn’t eat if you can’t help it. My little fish market isn’t so packed on the first floor but ‘packed’ is relative even past the normal standards for most adjectives and it’d be too crowded for a lot of folks I know back home. Up top where the food is it gets truly hot and hectic.

A kind of low-sloped escalator walkway leads slowly up to the top floor where all the heat has risen and sticks around in glops. Right out front are the bread, fruit, and fish sections where most people crowd around to inspect the fresh food for the freshest food. Kids are clamoring and people are talking up more hot air to feed into the already hot and healthy glops. The glops crowd around with the smell of fish and bread and fruit until eventually things yield into pre-packaged things such as Oreos and other big cookie and snack brands. All of the checkout stations wrap around in an L at the front – the smaller side of the L being quick shop stations that are rarely open. After a normal ten to fifteen minute wait with my red bag bloated up with daily things I step out of the whole place back into the relative cold.

Along the way a friend says she’s nearby so I go looking a little bit and after not catching her come into a chain bakery called Bread Talk. In China most folk don’t have ovens or like to bake so there are bakeries everywhere. In the back of the warm and orange tinted Bread Talk there’s a row of drinks packaged with deep primary colors that stir me. I go to the one with blue so dark it nearly seems like velvet. It’s shaped like a little jug and the top is wrapped off with a cloth on top like homemade jam. It’s mulberry juice.

It feels cold on the edges of my hot fingers just recently roughly wrought by the hard and heavy pull of my red bag full up with food for the week. It’s not competing on price but I am buying on feeling so that doesn’t matter. As soon as it’s sold I peel the cloth wrapping off and twist it open. It is cold and deep and rich.

My best childhood friends live down the block and a little ways away from a mulberry tree whose sweet fruit hangs its branches low. We were lower stooped back then but reached up enough to pull the mulberries down and I remember my friends introducing that kind of taste to me. It was sort of like a blueberry in taste, without the sweet bite of sugary juice. Blueberries are tense capillary fruits with thin skins full to burst with juice and flavor, but mulberries have a more mellow grind – like a less intense raspberry.

It is cold and deep and rich. I am ambling back to my home in Changzhou on muscle memory-based navigation because my head’s back underneath that mulberry tree; I am clinging onto branch like those rich little berries. That day the skies were gray in China but I was looking up and feeling the light blue of humid Indianapolis summers. There were white clouds above me, white clouds as fluffy as my thick sighs after each greedy glug of the deep blue – almost purple – juice. I am home in Indy now and walked the family dog underneath that mulberry tree. I had forgotten how all the berries fall and stain the concrete sidewalks with smatters of purplish blue and bluish purple. I had forgotten how small it really is now. Despite all that the sky is really just as wide and just as blue; the clouds are still fluffed up as Midwestern sighs.

~Austin R Ryan

The Grand Send Off


Bit by bit my travel plans materialized. Each step steepened their reality. At the start of the summer I told people I planned to go to Beijing. I did not feel the meaning behind those words. In life and in travel we head to destinations we have an idea of. I longed for that idea. We do not know the exact of our endings. Rarely do I long for something I’ve never glimpsed.

I remember my beginnings. I hope not to forget them. I began this trip with the summer. I did not acknowledge it then, but I started the trip to Beijing as soon as I got back and got a job. My family could have generated much needed revenue for my living in Beijing. I wanted to contribute. I wanted one less thing to worry about, but I got much more.

The pink and baby blue color scheme helped me find my way back.
My old home

The beginning gave me more to think about than I bargained for. In the first month of returning to my home town of Indianapolis from my university in DC I realized that I would not want to return to my old hometown. DC beckoned with its full list of opportunities and events. I love my hometown but it lacked. No one told me what going to DC would mean. Maybe I ought to have known. I believed it meant space and nothing more. I believed I would return to old friends and family and live in Indianapolis. New friends and interests run deep in DC. They feel like currents carrying me from home. Going to DC meant living far from home and learning to give control to the currents carrying me. Living in DC meant missing friends in Indy. Moving to DC placed me in a tidal flow much harder to enter than to leave.

The idea of home started to shift. Home felt far away during the summer, bottled up in a university and town I knew only for four semesters. Indy no longer meant the same thing to me. My old Hoosier social circles percolated out across the states. I still see many an old friend during the summer but by the day that I graduated less and less people would await me in Indy. Naptown lacked the attractions to keep us entertained in our wild 20’s. We had to scatter to sow wild oats. These Midwestern suburbs raised children. So many of us thought we needed more to become men, be it the distance of an hour or ten.  How it surprises to lose a hometown.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Early on in the summer I did not consider what going to Beijing meant. The physical distance of my travel symbolized the length of reality that separates the old and new. I would find my family for Christmas again and again. But my time with them dwindles from summers, springs, and autumns to the winters. My family and I would never diverge. My friends and I will. In the limited winter breaks, I never know who I will see and for how long. Lost friends loom like a monsoon flooding out currents old and new.

Just days before departure I dropped by two friends. We headed to my house to relax. Over the years we developed a habit of taking night time walks through my neighborhood. The neighborhood featured three blocks, three esplanades, three large fountains, six rows of houses, one town hall, and a veil of ancient trees. We stepped underneath the moonlight pouring through the cracks in the veil of leaves above us. The fountains poured away as we talked. I wanted to fall fully into conversation and empty every inch of me. I could not. Fear gripped me. It created a harsh irony. I wanted to say goodbye to so many people, but every time I tried the muscles in my mouth froze. I was moving on. I was moving on and I chose every step. Grief and greatness arrive in the same strokes. These steps lead to the edge of a cliff. So we plunge.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

My friends and I trekked to a gas station down the street. We bought unhealthy snacks and soft drinks and ran amuck on sugar for as long as we could. It threw me back to the way I used to be in high school. Looking back could not distract me from the path ahead. Beijing dominated my mind. Studying in such a foreign land felt like distraction enough. I chose to layer it with the thought of slowly shifting into a new life.

The Open sign at the gas station buzzed to life letter by letter. The word tried to flourish all in one glow, but did not coordinate properly. I knew things were still open. I knew I could change paths after Beijing, DC, or elsewhere. The old signs just did not glow with same life.

Perhaps I should look for symbolism in more important places
The old Open Sign

My journey starts with goodbyes. I start with a broken down open sign outside of a gas station and drive to O’Hare international airport. It feels dramatic to me, but I am not putting on a production. This is just what happens. This is how we grow and fall away into new currents and flows. People do this every second, every day. All the while they think as madly as me. Not everyone goes to Beijing, but we all travel and we all reshape ourselves around newer and newer settings. I have got no claim to a great story. Likely, you won’t uncover anything crazy, different, or worth reading here. You’ve only got my eyes here. I will give you what they have to offer as I go. If you truly want a good look, you’ll have to brave the waters yourself.

~Austin R Ryan