March 23, 2010

A Pee-Pants Kind of Lunch Break

I walked around the neighborhood again today. Having learned of a pretty bike path on my last excursion, I headed straight for it this time. I happily followed the dirty little stream westward maybe 100 yards, listening to my music. Suddenly, the asphalt beneath my feet turned to dirt and mud. I am no stranger to hiking the urban wilderness, so I kept right on walking. Just over a couple hills, I came upon a small railway bridge. Neato! I thought.

I started to question the validity of this bike path, however, when I--at a towering 5'3"--had to stoop to walk under the bridge.

Nevertheless, I went along with it because I could still see bike tracks in the mud. Those cyclists must know something I don't. Surely the path resumes after this weird snag.

However, when I came out from under the bridge and stood up straight, I spotted a dirty little tent set up not more than ten feet away. It was partially hidden in and under the brush. Next to the tent were scattered personal effects. I didn't take a picture of this, because well, I nearly peed my pants and wasn't able to focus on photo documentation at the moment.

Here is something you should know about me: I am illogically, irrationally afraid of homeless people. It stems from my childhood in Ogden, Utah, when my family was living in a trailer by the train tracks in the seedy part of town.

(This isn't the aforementioned trailer by the train tracks--which was destroyed by a tornado, apparently--but this is the trailer we lived in prior to that one. So, it does lend some credence to the story.)

Anyhow, one of the few things I remember about this time of my young life was when my brother woke up one night to discover a homeless man looking in the window, watching him. Egads! That gave me nightmares for weeks. After that, my parents were more cautious about letting us play outside at night or around the train tracks.

So, while I have met some homeless people since then (and have even been homeless for a brief stint myself), I can't shake that fear. Even as an adult, when I could theoretically explain away why there is no reason to fear them, I can't. In my mind, they have nothing to lose by going to jail...well, except their cardboard box and territory over the steaming, 17th-and-Market sewer grate. Unpredictability can be scary.

Okay, back to the present, I'm at train tracks, there is an occupied tent just to my right, and my parents' warnings about "the bums" come swirling into my head. I kept walking despite this, picking up the pace. I paused my iPod and prepared to run at the first sign of movement. Still following the bike path (which was no more than a path in the woods, it seemed), I decided that it must lead to civilization again. The best bet would be to follow it, rather than returning from where I had come, crossing the tent and crawling under the bridge again.
But, no. The bike path, instead, lead straight into a barb-wire fence and a bush. The entire area was covered with overgrown weeds and dead trees. At that moment, I heard a cough and froze like a pee-pants popsicle. I turned around and quickly rushed past the tent again, crawled under that smelly bridge while looking behind me, and scurried back to where the asphalt began.

In conclusion, this bike path was a big fat FAIL, Englewood Parks & Recreation.

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