In Charlotte, North Carolina, all the strange chess pieces are arranging themselves in preparation for the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
The politicians are positioning to secure credit for the successes and duck blame for the failures. Law enforcement personnel are cracking the seals on police-state grade crowd control technology to use on the inevitable Occupiers—who no doubt have plans of their own.
And at the bus stop located at Central Avenue and Eastway Boulevard, a collection of residents is blissfully oblivious to the impending political super-circus bearing down upon them.
There’s the regular-ass white guy, who looks like a church elder until you notice the open can of malt liquor tucked behind his backpack. The ragged looking man of ambiguous ethnicity with rheumy eyes and missing teeth. The 20-something with street-kid hair and a foot-long braid hanging from his chin.
And the lady who looks like your friend’s hard-drinking grandmother. She’s asking me about my relationship with Jesus. It’s mid-morning on a Saturday.
Truthfully, I could only blame myself for the attention. I was carrying a cheap printer and dragging a busted plastic organizer overflowing with groceries behind me. I had been at Wal-Mart, outfitting my new digs after moving back down South. The brilliant plan was to use the wheels on the organizer to transport my stuff.
Unfortunately, plastic organizers from Wal-Mart don’t have the most robust construction, and the wheels gave out after about 10 feet of parking lot. And so I found myself looking like an idiot, dragging my stuff along the road in one of the least pedestrian-friendly cities in America.
Having spent the past seven months in Brooklyn, I had grown used to the privilege of suffering the periodic indignities of survival in the 21st century in relative peace. But this was North Carolina, where the conversational obligation is considered sacred, and people have no problem getting right up in your bubble.
So between exhortations to attend her church and stories of past drug use—I briefly wondered if the past included earlier that day—she was interrogating me. Aside from religious considerations, she wanted to know where my place was, where I had come from, how much my printer cost, and, most importantly, did I have any spare change.
When my answer disappointed her, she turned to the alcoholic church elder, whom she had earlier introduced as “Tom.” She started in on him about the dangers of drinking malt liquor through a straw. He said it was less dangerous than risking a cop seeing him with the can.
She asked if he had any change. He told her he couldn’t help her, as he was “about to go fly a sign.” The casual way that he referenced begging for coins at an intersection, this man who looked like a church elder—it gave me such a brief feeling of hopelessness.
Rheumy-eyes cracked a joke that I didn’t understand, and the street kid smiled wide to reveal a dark brown strip of plaque across his front teeth. It was at that point that I noticed the pink rubber slippers on his dirty feet and the oversized sweat pants that looked like they hadn’t been changed in some time.
As the kid laughed, his eyes subtly rolled back in his head and he started nodding off. It can be assumed he didn’t suffer from narcolepsy.
Nobody noticed the kid checking out, or if they did, found it too unremarkable for comment. The proselytizing granny was trying to convince Tom the panhandling church elder to give her a sip of his malt liquor. Apparently, she had become less concerned about the perils of straw use.
Rheumy-eyes was asking everybody if they were going to a housing development that nobody seemed to have heard of. And the street kid sat, head slumped, barely conscious, in his pink slippers.
Meanwhile, the pulse of respectable Charlotte thumps wildly in preparation for the big show. Soon, President Obama, the Clintons, and an army of lesser political lights (and the horde of aides that serves them all) will descend upon this peculiar Southern town. Soaring rhetoric, meaningless platitudes, and political spin will flow heavy in the streets, and everybody wants a piece of the glow.
Everybody, that is, except the folks at the bus stop at Central and Eastway. In all their manic conversation, the upcoming convention was never mentioned, nor was it apparent they were even aware of its existence. Or if they were aware, it was almost certain they didn’t care.
For them, hope is something to take the edge off, and change is a round piece of metal used to buy hope.
I was relieved when my bus finally came into view. After wrestling my stuff onto the crowded vehicle, I moved out of the way as quickly as possible so the others could board.
But when I glanced behind me, none of them had moved. They weren’t really waiting for anything.