People in the Wild, Downtown Tempe edition: Five types I see on my walk to work.

As I’d recently mentioned, I’m in the habit of walking to work these days. It’s just over a mile and a half, and it’s straight down the street, so my thoughts wander while I walk. I observe, and my mind does that thing human minds do and it classifies people.

Today, I thought I’d present my scientifically precise classification of the types of people I observe on my walk to work every day (and home from work 3x/week). The following is brought to you by my notes:

Group one: Exercisers.

There’s always an assortment of people doing healthy-human things, such as cycling, running, or power-walking (with and without hand-weights). I see them alone, often in pairs, and sometimes in small groups. The sight of them makes me happy.

Then, at the opposite end of the health spectrum, we have:

Group two: Altered-state people/zombies – (???)

In this group, I run into “regulars” and random people, alike. Some of them are homeless, some are not, but they all display the under-the-influence characteristics of the shuffling walk and the glazed-over eyes.

This compels me to share an anecdote:

Walking to work mid-last-week, I passed four random people as I was heading east and they were heading west. They seemed to be inebriated to varying degrees, but it was all pretty normal until the last guy shuffled my way and did something totally random and unexpected: he literally (emphasized because I never use the word “literally” unless it absolutely is) lifted his arms straight out in front of him, turned his sightless gaze to my face, adjusted the position of his feet so as to steer the vehicle of his body in my direction, and moaned a long, gutteral “Uunnnhhhuunnngg” as he approached.

Okay, I never make things up, but just so you know, I am SO not making this up. Neither was he playing around. There was nothing behind this person’s eyes, no hint of cognition whatsoever.

A chill skittered down the back of my neck like an insect with icy feet as I quickly side-stepped him to rush past, because in that instant, the word ZOMBIE flashed through my brain while my neurons fired in all directions with the realization that should a zombie apocalypse occur, I AM NOT PREPARED. NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST.

 

THIS WAS HIM.

THIS WAS HIM.

 

I mean, what could I have done? I didn’t recognize the guy’s zombieness until he was directly in front of me, and that, my friends, won’t cut it. My brain generated questions I couldn’t answer, and I mentally floundered for the next five or ten minutes as I pondered. How do you handle zombies masquerading as normal drunk people? Even if you recognize a zombie from further away, how could you know whether he’s a fast-moving zombie, or a slow-moving one? WHAT IS MY LIFE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY I AM SO NOT READY FOR THIS MAYBE I SHOULD START WATCHING THE WALKING DEAD SO I CAN GET SOME PRO TIPS.

These were my thoughts until I came across the first of two specimens I’d see that morning from the next group:

Group three: Leaf-blowers.

They’re so polite, the leaf-blowers. They cease their activity as soon as they note your approach, and they smile and nod at you as you walk by. Leaf-blowers are our friends!

Next, that same day, I spotted some people representing the fourth group:

Group four: Circle K regulars.

As with Group two, some folks in this category are homeless and some aren’t, but the characteristic that bonds them – the one, critical thing they all have in common – is that they know a good cup of coffee when they have one in their hands. That’s why they’re Circle K regulars. They hang out in the shade at the front of the building, or off to the side, usually in pairs or in small groups.

Basically, anyone with any kind of java savvy at all knows that the best-kept coffee secret in Arizona is that humble little pot o’joe at the Circle K.

Anecdote two: When I worked as a barista briefly while I was in college, I used to open the shop on the weekends, so I’d get there very early in the morning to grind the beans and prepare for opening. I started giving free cups of fresh coffee to the homeless couple who lived in their car on the periphery of the premises. We became friendly fast. We learned each other’s stories, and sometimes, in addition to coffee, I’d give them “old” pastries or muffins that were being replaced by fresh ones. After a few months, one of them landed a job, and they were able to rent a place to live. I missed them after they left… they were the nicest people, and the smiles on their faces when I’d give them coffee made my day.

Group five: Skateboarders.

Skateboarders are plentiful around town, and they embody an awesome sort of freedom in movement and spirit. They’re also the most diverse of the groups listed here. I see younger and older people on skateboards, and people of varying gender. There are skateboarders of all shapes, sizes and colors. There are girls in hijab on skateboards, and people dressed as students, professionals, professional students and professional couch-surfers. I see them getting from Point A to Point B on their skateboards, and I see them just hanging out, practicing their kickflips and heelflips and what have you.

This leads me to anecdote three: Walking around to the entrance of my building at work recently, I ran into two young guys on skateboards. They were practicing tricks flying off a ramp. The guy poised with his board at the top of the ramp looked over at me and said to the guy on the ground, “Okay, this one’s for her.” And he shot off down the ramp… and missed his landing. His friend cracked up, but the guy nonchalantly got up and called to me, “Well, I tried!” With a big grin on his face. And I couldn’t help but smile back as I walked away.

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