How to find America

Dear esteemed visitors,

I saw you sitting on the bench between the Starbucks and the Mac Store, by the fountain made of flagstone, concrete, rubber tubes, and a built-in sign that says, “PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB ON OR IN THE FOUNTAIN.” You were drinking Frappuccinos. You talked amongst yourselves, watching the traffic, the teenage girls in short shorts, and the young couples pushing strollers. There was rock music playing in the bushes. The air smelled faintly of chocolate chip cookies.

When I saw you, I thought I should tell you something. I am only telling you this because I thought you should know, and so there won’t be any confusion.

This is not America.

If you want to see the real America, you will need $2 per person. Leave your car in the parking garage and begin to walk due south, away from the Neiman Marcus. When you reach the Dick’s Sporting Goods store, go through the entrance and out the exit on the other side. Don’t worry about not buying or even looking at anything. The people who built this store put it in your way on purpose so you would have to walk through. Just keep heading south, beyond the Dillards and the acres of parking lot dotted with spindly baby trees. Notice that there are six or seven groundskeepers maintaining the tiny plots of grass in this desert of asphalt. Keep going.

Get on the No. 3 bus and ask the driver for a day pass. When you get to the intersection of South Congress and Live Oak, change to the northbound No. 1 bus. Do this so that you arrive at 9 a.m. on Thurs., Aug. 9, 2012.

There will be a man there, a construction worker, wearing a neon yellow vest. He will appear to check you out from behind black sunglasses. You will think to tell him that you are not one of his tender-hearted village Mexicanas, and that his Rico Suave moves won’t work on you. But you will still look at his strong, dark arms and wonder.

When you get on the bus, the driver will have a goatee and smell strongly of cologne.

All of the young men will be falling asleep. Some will have baseball caps pulled down over their eyes and their heads propped against the windows. Directly in front of you will be a large white guy with a shaved head and a beard, dressed all in black. You will wonder if he is a skinhead. He will also be falling asleep, with his arms crossed like a pillow on the metal bar in front of his seat.

The woman next to you will get a call. She will say, “Ginny? Ginny? Can you hear? Ginny? Ginny?” Using your peripheral vision, you will see that she is about middle-age, dressed in jeans and a button-up shirt, and that she carries herself like a rancher or a farmer’s daughter. “Ginny? Ginny?” She will continue to say. “Can you hear?”

The pretty young girl in the seats reserved for the disabled and elderly will drop something that makes a loud clanging sound.

The old man to your right, wearing black socks and sandals, will tap his foot as if listening to a song in his head. His profile will be unmistakably South American.

There will be two women whispering and giggling like sisters. They will both have pleasantly round heads and their hair in matching buns. One of the women will be Asian and the other will look English or maybe German.

“Ginny? Ginny? Can you hear?”

An African family will board the bus. You will deduce that they are African by their language. The father will carry a delicate looking instrument made of a gourd, some knobby cork fingers and strings.

The daughter will be about 11 and will sit away from her parents as if having a tantrum. She will scold her father loudly from several rows back, though you will likely not understand what she says. The mother will have spotty extensions and a kind face. She will sit next to the man you thought might be a skinhead. You will wonder how this is going to go.

“Ginny? Ginny? Can you hear?”

All the boys in the baggy pants will get off downtown.

A beautiful full-figured woman wearing hospital scrubs will ask to sit next to the African girl. The girl will think she is supposed to give up her seat. “No, no,” the beautiful woman will say, “I want to sit with you.” The girl will smile at this. Meanwhile her mother will be chatting with the white guy who you thought might be a skinhead. They will appear to discuss important things. He will listen to her with gentle respect. You will smile at this.

“Ginny? Ginny? Oh, ok. Sure. Do you want to talk later then? Ok. Goodbye.”

The woman next to you will quickly ring the bell and get off at the next stop. She will look  out of place among the buildings.

Just after you pass the capital, there will be two teenage boys crossing Lavaca Street. A woman on the bus will see them and start knocking on the window as if to get their attention, but they will be too far away and the bus will be moving too quickly. She could be the mother of one of the boys, you will think. Or the auntie. The woman will dial a number on her phone. She will press her hand against the glass. She will hold her phone to her ear and watch the boys for as long as she can before the bus turns the corner.


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