Monday, March 11, 2013
River City, Tonight
I dove in full tilt, head first, not realizing what I was in for. The guys behind me started laughing when I came up for air covered in filth. A large branch hung at my side and floated by while I pulled a tattered and stained piece of cloth from off my head.
“Told you! You stupid fuck. It’s too dirty to swim in. There’s no point even getting in,” one of the guys in back bellowed after me. I swam back to the edge until my feet hit some slimy rocks at the bottom. I heaved myself out of the water and sat on the bank, dripping fowl water. “I wish we would’ve had our iPhones out for that. Priceless,” he continued.
His name was Baron or something like that. They usually called him B. I didn’t know him that well; he was friends with Tanner and Jeff. We’d been biking together most of the summer and going on little exploratory adventures throughout the city. It was like being 12 again, except that the trips we took always involved alcohol and at least a couple of us doing something unwarranted and regrettable. This was my turn I guess.
On this night there were six of us: me, Bob, Baron, Jeff, Tanner and Goldie. Goldie was Bob’s roommate. This was the first time he’d gone biking with us. Normally he was busy selling weed out of the east-side house they stayed in. It was an older house from probably the 40s that had once been a mansion but was now overrun by four college students. They were all younger than me, but nobody seemed to care.
I went around the corner behind a bush and took off my jean shorts to wring them out. When I came back, the guys were all up on the hill above the river headed for the bridge.
For whatever reason, I was always lagging behind. Maybe because I was older and more reticent or maybe just because I moved at a slower pace. I usually took up the back end of our biking formation and watched for traffic coming up behind us. The other guys would fly through the streets as we all guzzled oversized cans of Milwaukee’s Best, Jeremiah Weed Road Tea or whatever swill was cheapest at the rundown gas stations that we stopped at along the way. Typically we were the only white guys in the area. The locals would get a kick out of our little bike gang and ask us what we were doing in that part of town, before finally wishing us luck as they headed back to their own cans of swill and broken down Buick Le Sabres on the corners of neglected neighborhoods.
The abandoned rail road bridge was one of our destinations almost every week. It was in an area of the city called the Bottoms that had once been a bustling stockyard and shipping area. Now it was mostly abandoned except for some warehouses and the occasional bum. We would chain our bikes to a pole in the gravel lot and climb up the side of a concrete wall. Then you could walk straight across the old tracks to the other side of the river. In between we would stop and get high while hanging our legs off the edge. Tanner would always climb up the metal girding that formed the outside and upper most portion of the bridge. Sometimes others would do the same, but I never had the balls to take part.
Across the street was the old arena built in the 70s where bands like Van Halen, Aerosmith and the like had played in their heyday. When I was kid I used to go there almost every weekend during hockey season to see our local minor league team. The year we won the cup I clipped every newspaper article about the team and saved it in a tan spiral-ring notebook with pockets.
After tiptoeing my way carefully across the rotted and missing rail road ties, I finally caught up with them in the middle.
“Here he is. Finally,” Bob said. He looked up at me and gestured with the dugout pipe in his right hand. “Hit it.”
I took the pipe from him with both hands and set my backpack down on the tracks. Carefully, I scooted myself on to the edge and let my feet dangle over. Below was a small tributary portion of the river that connected the Kaw and Missouri Rivers.
“You gonna jump off this week, B?”
Baron was the daredevil type and had jumped off the bridge a couple times before. The handful of times he’d ridden with us he always did something that seemed stupid and outrageous. Jumping off a 50 foot-high bridge into a fast moving tributary was surprisingly one of his lesser feats.
I ripped the bowl a few times and covered the opening with my lighter to shield from the wind. Then I spaced out for a few minutes and passed the bowl to my left. In my eyes were the blinking and stationary lights reflected by the rippled river water. If you looked down into the water, you got the best view of the Bottoms possible. None of the blight or old buildings shone back fully, just the lights from the trains down the way and the lighted corners of structures still in use. The refracted picture of forgotten and decrepit buildings danced off the water.
From down the way, I heard something heavy hit the water and start to float away. I wondered if it was a body at first. Later they told me Goldie had found an old table on the other side and thrown it in the water. In the distance I could hear the rest of them chastising him for throwing more shit in the river. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Bob gesturing at me from the end of the bridge.
“You coming?” he yelled and broke my reverie. Without a word, I lifted myself up and headed for the other side.