For­get­ting pol­i­tics while wait­ing for the bus

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks­dricks@balt­

Par­don my reverie, but there’s this white plas­tic bag float­ing through Mount Ver­non Place, ris­ing on the breeze, higher and higher, between the Wal­ters Art Mu­seum and the Hack­er­man House, the hand­some man­sion at the top of the hill, and I guess I’m hav­ing one of those “Amer­i­can Beauty” mo­ments be­cause it’s a splen­did day in Oc­to­ber and my bus is late and I can’t take my eye off the plas­tic bag.

That means, for the mo­ment at least, that I don’t reach for my phone to check for tweets about Don­ald Trump or Wik­iLeaks or all the rest of it.

It means I’m pleas­antly lost in thoughts — and not about any­thing par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant or de­press­ing, and cer­tainly not about the com­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Some­times, when the bus runs late, you get im­pa­tient and grumpy. Other times, you strike up a con­ver­sa­tion with a fel­low trav­eler. Or you drift into day­dreams. Or some­thing un­ex­pected floats in front of you. Or you see and hear things you never no­ticed be­fore.

So I had my “Amer­i­can Beauty” mo­ment, like Ricky in the movie of that ti­tle, with his video of the plas­tic bag swirling in the wind. “Some­times,” Ricky tells Jane, the girl sit­ting next to him as the video plays, “there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s go­ing to cave in.” And, of course, Jane kisses Ricky af­ter that. Way too many words were writ­ten to ex­plain the sym­bol­ism of the float­ing bag in “Amer­i­can Beauty.” I took it to mean that you can find beauty in any­thing if you look hard enough. My brother thinks Ricky was just try­ing to sound cool to a girl. Fine. What­ever. The movie came out in 1999, and I’m not go­ing to ar­gue about it now.

I’m sit­ting at the bus stop in Mount Ver­non Place and the au­tumn sun is bright but soft, and the air is cool enough for a scarf. In fact, here come two young women, both in fash­ion­able scarves and fash­ion­ably dis­tressed jeans.

Young peo­ple are a con­stant pres­ence in the square, many of them Johns Hop­kins stu­dents with back­packs, many of them car­ry­ing in­stru­ments from the Pe­abody In­sti­tute, oth­ers just pass­ing through.

It’s a lit­tle past noon, and across the plaza, past the grand statue of Lafayette, I can see the plas­tic bag, still danc­ing on the breeze.

Most of the time, I hate the sight. A plas­tic bag sail­ing through the air or tum­bling down a side­walk sym­bol­izes Bal­ti­more’s chronic trash prob­lem. And so — re­al­ity check midst reverie — how­ever in­ter­est­ing it looks at the mo­ment, that bag is go­ing to end up in a tree or in the har­bor, maybe in a sea tur­tle’s throat. Some­day, per­haps un­der the next mayor, we’re go­ing to ban them.

As I wait for the bus, I look around and no­tice the tree above me — a sprawl­ing and truly mag­nif­i­cent tree, the first tree from the corner of East Mount Ver­non Place and Charles Street. Its leaves have started to turn yel­low.

The tree leans into the park just be­low the bus stop, cast­ing big shade.

I stand back and look up and I have one of those mixed-up Bal­ti­more mo­ments: In a cer­tain place, at a cer­tain mo­ment, the city can look so per­fect and beau­ti­ful, and in the next mo­ment, a po­lice he­li­copter chops through the sky, not far above the tops of build­ings, or I see a tweet about a fa­tal shoot­ing some­where in the city. That hap­pens a lot in Bal­ti­more; your rever­ies are of­ten bro­ken by the sound of sirens.

Just then, I spot a grand­moth­erly wo­man in an amaz­ing sweat suit with a snake-pat­tern print. Her pants are green­ish-brown, in a kind of rat­tlesnake de­sign, and she has a jacket to match. She’s with two other women and three men, all dressed ca­su­ally and wear­ing sneak­ers, and all qui­etly speak­ing Ger­man. I catch it as they walk by.

The wo­man in the snake­skin print un­folds a map; she’s try­ing to fig­ure out where the Charm City Cir­cu­la­tor will take her and her fel­low trav­el­ers. One of the men snaps pic­tures of the great build­ings around Mount Ver­non Place, in­clud­ing the United Methodist church, and all of it must re­mind him of a square in a Euro­pean city.

So now I’m sit­ting here, wait­ing for the late-run­ning MTAbus, and there are Ger­man tourists in my city, in the Bal­ti­more that Trump men­tions when he calls our “in­ner cities” a “dis­as­ter.”

The Cir­cu­la­tor comes and the tourists step in­side. A few min­utes later, my bus fi­nally ar­rives, and I take a seat be­hind a cou­ple of guys who are in the midst of an an­i­mated con­ver­sa­tion across the aisle. They’re not talk­ing pol­i­tics. In­stead, they’re telling sto­ries and laugh­ing about some­one they know, shar­ing a lit­tle small-town Bal­ti­more gos­sip on the ride up Charles Street.

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