Park People

I left out part of the experience in yesterday’s post about our Saturday morning bicycle outing. It concerns the other people present at the park. We got there around 7:30 in the morning. It was raining and had been raining. But there were already people there.

At a covered picnic table in the children’s play area were two grubby looking men, hunched down and sitting rather close to each other. I couldn’t see what they were doing. Near the pavilion was a car much older than any of my children with considerably more contents than you would find in most vehicles. It was unoccupied.

As I approached the pavilion, I heard a toilet flush. That struck my naive mind as odd – who had chosen to come to the park this early in the rain and been there long enough that they now needed to use the bathroom? I soon saw who.

A blond woman of indeterminate age returned to the cover of the pavilion with a reflective silver sunshade over her head – even though the rain had stopped for the moment and the distance from the bathroom to the pavilion was very short. I would have put her in her forties or so if pressed for a guess, but she looked like life hadn’t been easy on her so I suppose she could have been younger.

She sat down at a picnic table and a few minutes later, a young black man exited the bathroom and joined her. They huddled there quietly while we attempted to make the air pump work. I began to suspect that they had slept the night in the car. Since there was only the one vehicle, I also began to suspect that the two men had perhaps spent the night at their picnic table and had walked here from who knows where.

I tried to stay aware but not particularly tense. It wasn’t fair to assume that just because they were down on their luck, they were inherently dangerous. But I was definitely uncomfortable.

Obviously, a person jogging (i.e. me) has no hope of keeping up with two people on bicycles, but the sidewalks looped back on themselves frequently so I basically kept my husband and son in sight as I trotted around. At one point, one of the men from the playground rode past me on a bicycle.

My first thought, from the innocent and naive part of my brain, was one of relief. See? He’s not homeless. He’s just here riding his bike like we are. Reality soon invaded as I noted he was very, very dirty. So was his backpack, which was carrying a water bottle, yes, but also quite a number of other things. No one goes on a morning bike ride with more than they need for that ride.

The young man under the pavilion soon disappeared into the bathroom again. When he returned, he was visibly shaking. He sat down so close to the woman that he looked like he was trying to push her off the bench. She wrapped her arms around him, rubbing his arms vigorously and then holding him tight. Drugs? I wondered. Maybe the frequent trips to the bathroom were due to illness, but if that was the case, these two were definitely living out of the car because given the choice, most anyone would rather be sick at home than at a public park. As if to confirm this, the two soon returned to the car – where the sun shade was placed in a side window that appeared to be missing and the humans nestled down out of sight.

At some point, probably around the time Hal was falling down after pitching his fit, I noticed I was alone. I circled around the playground but my husband was no longer in sight. I became intensely nervous. A young couple was in the vicinity somewhere – walking and talking. A bright red truck sat in a driveway of a parking lot – maybe good people? But sitting there not driving off was odd. And then there were the four street people hanging about.

It wasn’t that I was expecting them to be violent or anything. Not for the sake of violence, that is. But at some point in my run, I had opted to play some music from my phone. The phone was well hidden in a pouch in the small of my back, but the hiding place isn’t very hidden if music is blaring out of it. Obviously, no one is going to believe that the music is just coming out of my a**.

I hadn’t been deliberately hiding the phone to begin with. That’s just where I often carry it when running. And obviously, I wasn’t that concerned about people knowing I had it when I started up the music. But seeing that I was essentially alone – that my large and formidable husband was gone, put me on edge. What if they decided the potential to fence a smartphone was worth attacking me?

When my husband and son returned to view – probably slower than intended due to the youngster walking and crying rather than riding, I commented to my husband that I had been nervous.

“That’s why I offered you the keys to the truck,” he replied. So I wasn’t the only one who was maintaining some situational awareness. Of course, I already knew that when he worked to get my bike and its separated wheel into the backseat of the truck rather than just tossing it in the bed at the start of the morning.

After a little bit more “get back on your bike after an injury” riding time, we began loading up. As I attempted to extract the bike from the backseat, the bike riding guy hurried over to us, calling out. I was pretty sure he had said “sir” so I ignored him and focused on the wedged bike preventing the still unhappy child from crawling into the truck.

“Would you like to buy my bike, sir?” he asked. Glancing over at me, “So she can have one too?”

“She already has one,” my husband responded, gesturing toward my efforts.

“Mine’s a Schwinn. It’s a real good bike. I’ll make you a good deal – I’ve got four of them. I can let this one go.”

“She already has one but thank you.”

The man stood around for another minute while we loaded up, commenting that the brand of my bike was a good one but still offering to sell his. We were polite and thanked him for the offer. He walked off and then we drove off, glancing at the car of the other two as we did.

Other than that brief moment when I realized I was vulnerable and alone, I wasn’t particularly scared. Just acutely aware. It gave me a lot to think about though. Later in the day, assuming the weather cleared up, the park would be filled with families. Little children would swing on the swings and slide down the slides. Groups would gather under the pavilion to grill hot dogs, perhaps adding balloons and streamers to celebrate a birthday. This was how I was used to the park looking.

And these people would move off… somewhere. I had no idea where. They’d retreat from view though, possibly returning as it got dark and all the families with homes returned to them. I couldn’t help but feel, to some extent, that when we arrived so early that morning, we were actually invading their park time. Maybe I wasn’t the only one nervous.

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