I wrote this last night as I sat outside of Lakota coffee in downtown Columbia. I tried to let myself see, hear and feel the scene right in front of me.
Observation is always a strange exercise for me because often times I feel like I become the scene I’m describing. I move and feel with it and I suppose you could say that makes me biased, but I can’t help but speculate and pass judgment as I sit and watch. If something makes me feel, I write it down. So here was my attempt to paint a picture:
Artificial light washes over ninth street as a lone conman swaggers down the sidewalk and blows into a harmonica. “SEEEEEXY!” he screams between mismatched notes and chords. A pearly white smile fills his face and his bloodshot eyes water slightly as he dances with strangers walking down the street, crossing four or five times to make sure he meets everyone. His drunken dance only stops when he pulls the headphones out of his ear to scream, “SEEEEEXY!” once again.
The night air is crisp, but not cold — the perfect early days of fall when a sweaters are necessary but closed-toed shoes are not. The people of Columbia are out in force tonight.
An old man reclines in a chair outside Lakota with a giant textbook in hand, and an old blue heeler tied to his chair is curled at his feet. Sorority girls walk by and gossip to one another as their attire of Nike shorts and oversized t-shirts camouflage their bodies like zebras. The cacophony of children’s laughter spills out of Sparky’s as fathers try to balance a screaming child in one hand and a stroller in the other.
Every once in a while, a drifter stumbles down the sidewalk. Some ask for money, others gazing into the distance as if looking for their lost souls. A young girl with bedraggled blonde hair repeatedly asks those sitting outside for, “Just a dollar.” Her face is of another world and her bloodshot eyes dart back and forth as she swats a fly with one hand and clings tightly to the sleeve of her hoodie with the other.
The street is artfully alive for a Sunday; it’s painted with strangers and friends and drifters and lost lonely souls. It’s shaped by the dark and the low rooftops of historic buildings breaking the black with their silver surfaces. It’s washed in the sounds of conversation and the occasional SUV blasting loud music or a fire truck thundering down the center of the street, but mostly it’s living and breathing with the people of here and now.
Columbia is a halfway house for many. Drifters pass through on their ways to Kansas City or St. Louis, and sometimes they stay for who-knows-why. College students call it home for a minute or two, only to miss out on the rich culture of the people who have stayed and might not ever leave. It comes alive for documentary film and music festivals and game weekends and move-in days, but as quickly as the populous wave swells, it recedes.