(This is more of a short story than a poem, but I thought it might fit here anyways)
Rochester Love Story
Monroe Avenue. I'm parking my car in front of what used to be the Village Green Bookstore. It's a video store now, and I wonder about the former owners, just as I always wonder where people from the past have gone to.
From here, some of your tall downtown buildings are already visible. I'm starting to walk in their direction. There are signs of fall turning into winter everywhere. Dry leaves dancing on the pavement. The remains of a Halloween pumpkin on somebody's porch, looking even scarier now, in its half-rotten state. An overall presence of gray.
Back in "the days", this used to be one of your most colorful veins, crowded with people frequenting the small shops and diners. But on this early Sunday morning, nobody else is crazy enough to be outside, except for the occasional anonymous driver hidden behind a reflecting windshield. It's a weird atmosphere, but not uncomfortable at all.
Facing downtown, it reminds me of how we first met. I stepped out of the dusty Greyhound bus after an 8-hour trip, greeted only by a few burnt-out hookers hanging out in front of the Cadillac Hotel. Back then I felt overwhelmed by those buildings, which look so familiar now.
(Moving faster now, getting into the right walking rhythm.)
The first time I met Amy Croston – who is the reason I am walking down this sidewalk today – was during my junior year at high school. It was a dark morning, much like this one, and I was sitting on the bus to school. Even if she had not sat down next to me, she would have been hard to ignore, with half her blonde head shaved, all dressed in black, and wearing a girlish scent of strawberry bubble gum. As it turned out after the polite exchange of a few meaningless words, she lived only a few houses down my street. It wasn't love at first sight, more like a curious attraction, but as time went by, neighbors became friends, and friendship turned into more than that.
On the right, Gitsy's is coming up now, with its "Always open" neon sign providing a spot of out-of-place looking color. Probably the only restaurant from the past, that is still in business. Time to stop for coffee.
Inside, I pick a booth and give a thankful smile to the waitress, who doesn't see it but pours me a cup of coffee anyways. Gratefully, I take a zip. It's not exactly the best coffee I've ever had. Yet, it tastes bad in a good way, as if it belongs here. The hot cup warms my hands while the caffeine does its job and accelerates my thought process. I look around. The waitress, who might as well be the only other living person on this planet this morning, is checking her nails. A bundle of newspapers is hanging on the wall and I take one down to read. There is a headline about you that gets my attention. It talks about how there is nothing much to do around here, and to prove her point, the author lists various other cities and their so-called "attractions". I think about this for a moment. Not that I haven't heard this many times before, but seeing it put down in writing seems to make the accusations more serious. Reading this article feels like a personal insult. I guess it just makes me angry when someone talks bad about you.
Most people never appreciate what's right around them. Always on the move, looking for something better, and never getting there. I wonder if they ever went down to the Pier at Charlotte the day after an ice storm, when it is covered with abstract sculptures of ice? I doubt it. Can't blame them for prefering the warmth of their living rooms, but hey - don't complain. They wouldn't understand that sitting at Gitsy's on a Sunday morning with a cup of bad coffee in front of you can be a beautiful thing, just as good as watching a play or going to a museum or whatever they call "doing something".
THIS is doing something.
A final zip of coffee, not so hot anymore. I'm pushing the silly article away from me, put a small tower of change on the table, nod a half-hearted goodbye to the waitress, who doesn't see it, and I'm back on the street.
It didn't take more than a few weeks to get really close to you. Amy knew you well, and she showed me the way to your heart after I had found one to hers. We would go exploring, down into the old subway tunnel under the library building, climbing graffiti-covered debris, careful not to wake the homeless, who had found a refuge here from your cruel winters. An underground playground at eyelevel with the river, and the uncomparable excitement of a first kiss. Staring into the blackness of the abandoned tunnel was like taking a glimpse into your past, long before we knew each other and flocks of people on their way to work filled the trains with the noises of life. The more I got to know you, the closer we got.
Amy and I never really seperated. Our love didn't end abruptly, it faded away, as feelings tend to do especially when you are young and unappreciative. Before we knew it, it had disappeared without a trace, as if it had never existed, and our lifes went in different directions.
When I returned to you this time, I had traded the Greyhound for a more comfortable way of traveling, riding the night in a car. I turned the radio dial to 90.5, WBER. Nothing but static, indicating that there were still too many miles between us, but I left the radio on. This station had produced the soundtrack to a good part of my life, and it felt good just to see the familiar numbers on the radio display. It made me think of a show called "New Wave Wednesday", which introduced me to the world of "alternative" music. Listening to it made me feel special, with most of the other kids at school being into the mainstream music they would play on the other stations. From what I had heard, the show still existed, a fact which I had found hard to believe. I guess some good things don't go away after all.
Eventually, static turned into noise turned into music. A magic moment, because it's when you hear the first crackled sounds of the radio station that has accompanied you many years fighting their way through the airwaves, that you know you have arrived. Home.
When I flipped through the phone book, I didn't have much hope to find her name. Amy had never stayed at one adress for more than a year, constanly quitting jobs, getting evicted or just looking for a change of place. But there it was.
A. Croston - #5 Arborwood Lane
I had to go. There was a lot that I wanted to tell her.
(Crossing Monroe now to get to Arborwood)
A street like many. More dead pumpkins, blind windows and leafless trees.
#5 is coming up on my side. I am on the porch even before I notice that all the windows are boarded up. The door looks like it will fall out of its frame any minute now. Nevertheless, I press on what's left of the doorbell. There is the sad sound of silence. For an empty minute, I stare at the decaying door, knowing the whole time that it will never open.
I step away from the house where my lost love does not live, and I finally realize something. I've been chasing an illusion. I will never see Amy again. She is not here. But you are. And that's good.