Every couple of weeks I’ll head downtown, run a few errands, grab a venti white mocha (and a glazed donut) from the Starbucks directly next to the main branch of the public library, then spend a couple of hours noodling around in the stacks. I know a lot of folks consider Starbucks to be the Devil — and they may be right — but its right there, just steps from the library. Besides, I’ve never been known to shun the Devil.
In any event, the library is a good place to begin a Thursday Walk. The Utata group has been walking on Thursdays since April 20, 2006. I don’t always participate in the project, but I try not to let more than a couple of weeks go by without joining in. Last Thursday was the 361st consecutive Utata Thursday Walk. Isn’t that amazing? It was my 188th; I’ve done just over half of the Thursday Walks.
I began by heading back to the Save the Date scene, which was hidden away behind construction equipment on my last visit. It’s still behind a bright orange warning fence, but at least I can see the spot where the message is located. I talked to some of the construction guys — they said the building has been bought by an architectural firm, which will use the ground floor as offices and turn the upper floor into loft-style apartments.
In a way that pleases me. I love to see these old industrial buildings restored and put into use. But it pretty much ruins any hope of learning what I was saving the date for. And in related bad news — I was able to see that my chalked question had been washed off (I presume by rain or snow or ice or some other meteorological eraser).
Around the corner there’s a converted garage entrance that’s been turned into a place where smokers can gather and escape the worst of the weather. It’s a weird little place. They open the garage door in the morning and close it at the end of the working day. They’ve made an effort to make it comfortable, and it’s kept surprisingly neat.
I walk by this spot periodically, and occasionally I’ll stop and say hi to the smokers. They’re a camera-shy group. So far none of them has been willing to be photographed. It’s a guy thing. But I’ll keep trying. Maybe some day one of them will relent.
There’s an alley that runs behind a few bars, a coffee shop, and a somewhat seedy hotel. It’s a nice alley (as alleys go) and there’s usually something there worth photographing. But I rarely shoot anything there because it’s always clogged with cars or delivery vehicles. People seem willing to park anywhere, without any regard at all for photography.
I always glance down the alley as I pass, hoping that one day it’ll be free of parked vehicles. Last week it wasn’t exactly clear, but there was a space between vehicles where I could see some stacks of seriously yellow crates. Even as I walked toward the crates, I could see a transit van entering the other end of the alleyway. So I hustled and managed to shoot one frame just as the van pulled up. I shot a second frame before he honked his horn, and one final frame after the honk, then waved him into the spot.
I was heading east toward the river. If the weather is nice, I usually head toward the river. In fact, if the weather is less-than-nice, I often head for the river. Oh hell, I’ll head toward the river even if it’s pissing down rain. I’ll head to the river if a hail of scorpions is falling from the sky. I like the river.
Nobody would call the weather nice — it was cloudy and pretty cold — but it wasn’t raining or snowing, and the sky was scorpion-free. So…river.
There’s a bike path along the river and a fairly new pedestrian walkway, though much of the time the two are merged. There’s also an old river-level walkway down below the balustrade. On windy days the river often laps up over that walkway. Sometimes you’ll find fish — usually small ones — that have leaped out of the water and onto walkway. You’ll also find the occasional old grommet where boats and barges used to tie up back in the day when they were allowed in this stretch of the river.
One of the things I like about the riverwalk is that it’s out-of-the-way. There’s absolutely no reason to go there unless you want to be there. I mean, it’s not on the way to anyplace else, and there’s no purpose in walking the river level other than to be walking the river level. You rarely meet people there — but when you do, the people tend to be interesting. Or scary. And sometimes both.
On that day, there was nobody on the river level except me and a few dead fish.
Most days I’ll only walk a short stretch of the river. Just far enough to generate some river-calm. You know, that feeling that comes with spending time along a slow-moving body of water. I find it soothing to know the water sliding by me began in Lake Shetek in Minnesota, and 525 miles later it’ll join the Mississippi River on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. I like knowing the river is following a course carved out by glacial melt some 13,000 years ago.
It makes me feel small and impermanent. I’m aware some folks are uncomfortable with that feeling, but I find it weirdly comforting. It reminds me that whatever crap is going on in my life — and right now my life is pretty crap-free — isn’t all that important or momentous. That’s a nice thing to remember.
I continued all the way to the end of the riverwalk, just below the Center Street dam. From there I could see the crazy-ass pagoda constructed by the Chinese Cultural Center, and the crazy-ass John Anderson White paddle-wheel riverboat, and even the crazy-ass dome of the Botanical Center. Each of those things is maybe a wee bit weird, but seeing them all in one place always makes me feel like I’m hallucinating. I like that.
That dam, by the way, is fifteen feet tall. The water rushing over it makes a hell of a noise. It gives you a real sense of the astonishing power of the river. Even though it’s a fairly slow moving river, it’s a lot of water and it just doesn’t stop. Eleven people have died in the boil below that dam — mostly stupid boaters who got too close despite all the warning signs and the rescue cables.
I’d have kept walking, over the pedestrian bridge, down the riverwalk on the east side of the river, and back again over the lower pedestrian bridge. But by then it was nearly five o’clock and I had to meet a friend, and even though it was only a three and a half mile walk, I was feeling the cold in my knees.
But it was a good walk. They all are. Man, I love Utata for giving me an incentive every week to get out, put a camera in my hand, and walk someplace. And there’s something really special about knowing that other folks all over the globe are out doing the exact same thing for exact same reason. This is going to sound really corny, but I don’t care. These Thursday Walks are like being part of a river. And I’ll leave it at that.
“As alleys go”… an interesting phrase given that ‘alley’ comes from the French aller, which means ‘to go.’