Overpass Overhead

For a pedestrian overpass, the one overlooking I-64 is quite a show. It is fully enclosed, with small ventilation ducts attached to the ceiling, clean carpet on the floor, and slick metal hand rails that are attached length-wise to the clean, continuous glass panels along the sides. Here, calm music quietly resonates, mixed in with the soothing strum of passing cars from down below, and you can see people pass quietly from side to side, mumbling softly to themselves in random cadence. Most importantly, there is but one metal bench to view the passing traffic on, and it is this bench I took the day off to experience. I straighten up my tie, take a slight breath, and sit down.

According to Grandma, this metal bench was where Grandpa spent most of his last days enjoying himself: watching people walk across the overpass, listening to the soft hum of the music, studying the cars hurdling from down below, and enjoying the vagrancy, as a watcher of the scene, whom no one cared about. I think I understand Grandpa's affection for the place. You can just be, without any burdensome thoughts or restraints. Freedom through itinerancy. The cars, particularly. It's like watching time tick away. Within a half hour, you have seen hundreds of cars, from all states and uncountable cities, pass under this overpass. These hundreds of cars temporarily house thousands of people, all of whom have their own unique reasons for traveling on this particular day. I am looking at the scene of thousands of stories, all complete with millions more facets and intricacies. I am looking at a couple in love, driving to the airport for their honeymoon in Hawaii. I am watching a family of five, going to a family reunion, where the father will find out about his brother's car accident. I am being entertained by a strikingly pretty blond, who is listening to "Learn Spanish in Five Weeks" audiotapes. I am smiling at the ephemeral innocence of a baby boy, who will one day become a shady politician responsible for legislation that will evict his parents from their future home. I am laughing at a nervous wreck, mumbling to himself and speeding to try to mitigate how late he'll be to work. All of this I see from my Granddad's seat on this overpass, over his private interstate, on this particular day.

I don't remember my parents' funeral much at all, perhaps because I was tired, but most probably because you simply don't get to choose what you remember when you're six. What I do remember, though, was the ride back to Grandpa's house, in his sleekly polished convertible. For whatever reason, I remember admiring this bright, black coating the most. Then I remember the distinct image of my reflection off it, a snapshot of me with eyes swollen-red, tear stains down my cheeks.

My grandparents were kind to me, and for the most part, I had a pretty normal childhood. I never called my grandparents "mom" or "dad," and I never pretended that they were. But I'm pretty sure my feelings toward them were similar to that of most other kids to their parents. When I was eight, Grandpa taught me how to ride a bicycle. When I was ten, my Grandparents had a big fight, and Grandma moved out for a week. When I was thirteen, Grandpa sat me down to talk about girls and related issues thereof. When I was fifteen, Grandma began an interest in piano, and started practicing on a daily routine. This got even me and Grandpa excited about music for a few cheery months. Then on my sixteenth birthday, Grandpa gave me his then-old, black convertible, and chills went up my spine. We three cried together at my graduation. We cried some more when I left for Truman State. Midway to Truman, that damned convertible finally broke down, and after checking into a motel, I cried some more by myself. I graduated with honors, and have been working in and out of politics ever since. Presently I work for a congressman named Palmer.

"You want to do what?"

"Sit," I reassured the congressman, "on a bench, on an overpass overlooking I-64." Palmer stared at me incredulously. "Just give me one day off. It's all I'm asking for. You know I wouldn't…"

Nodding in agreement, Palmer cut me off with the wave of his hand. In the right of my peripheral vision, I could see Sally grimacing, shaking her head in disapproval. She never liked how close Palmer and I were to each other; she has never approached me about the matter, but you can tell.

Palmer reached out to grip my right shoulder. I instinctively pulled away, but he brought my swerving body back with a sharp pull. "You sure you're okay?" he said. "You don't look too good, and you're a hard worker. We need you at your best, what with midterm elections coming up and Ruther and his shenanigans."

I smirked. "There's a particular reason I work hard: it was how I was taught to behave." Palmer again gave me a strange blank stare. I continued on, "I just need one day. After that, I'll be at my best again."

He released my shoulder, and hooked his fingers in the belt loops of his new, khaki pants, all the while eyeing me strangely. After a few seconds pause, he finally spoke up, "Then have your day, Carl."

I nodded, and we continued about our work.

A gruff man stops in front of me. He wears a worn out army jacket and boots, and smells vaguely of liquor and urine. He takes a moment to scratch at his unshaven face, producing a sound like that of two pieces of rough sandpaper rubbing against each other. I glance at my watch. An hour and a half has passed since I first sat down. The man is giving me a contorted facial expression. Awkwardly I give him a weak smile, and he slowly turns around to take a seat next to me. He takes out a cigarette and offers me one. After collecting myself, I refuse. He takes out a lighter and lights up. Together we now watch the people pass, we gaze at the cars run wild below, we listen to the music pollute the inside of our overpass, and we exist as vagrants, as time merely passes because it must pass. We have no worries.

Grandma hated Grandpa's smoking with a passion, and I suspect Grandpa did, too. For an addict, though, the need for the next fix is stronger than gravity in all its might, pulling at you from within, stretching your body to the core. The oddest thing, a rubber ball bounces rapidly against the inside of your skull, and it's not so much that you want your next fix as it is that you somehow are in the process of getting that next fix without your control, without too much conscious thought. You could see this all in Grandpa's eyes, everything that he wanted to say but couldn't for the life of him.

The man sitting next to me coughs. Then he turns to me, as if to study me. I glance at my watch. Three hours have passed since first sitting down.

"You related to Albert?" the man asks me.

"Yeah, I'm his grandson."

We don't talk after that. We sit there, watching the people pass by, watching the cars zoom below, listening to the music in the air, all this until the sun dips beneath the earth. Then we sit some more, experiencing this all. Then the sun rises again, and I get up.

I have to get to work.