The man in the wheelchair had a problem.
He beckoned us as we walked west on the sidewalk. My wife, Lisa, and I were on the north side of Broadway, just across from the Middle School.
The man was also on the sidewalk, rolling east.
It was just past noon on a quintessential Indian summer October day. The sky was rich blue, the air calm, and the sunshine warmed exposed skin in that way peculiar to mid autumn — none of the unpleasant prickliness of summer heat, yet the warmth was somehow insubstantial, as things are which cannot last much longer.
I have been afflicted just lately by the urge to take a long walk.
Actually this feels more like an obsession.
Anyway this compulsion, or whatever it is, to embark on a hike of epic rather than merely respectable length has barged into my subconscious and latched on with the adhesive stubbornness of a barnacle.
Or an ABBA song.
(Say what you will about that quartet of Swedes, but they knew how to craft a pop hook. I defy you to silence the chorus of “Dancing Queen” once it has command of your internal juke box. Or I should say your internal iPod; I need to update my metaphors.)
I understand why people are congregating on Wall Street, hoisting signs and chanting slogans.
Well, I kind of understand.
The economy stinks.
And Wall Street is the symbolic, and malodorous, heart of the putrefying American financial system.
(Washington, D.C., serving, of course, as its calcified brain.)
Parading these decrepit organs, as it were, through downtown Des Moines wouldn’t make the point quite so explicitly.
(Although geographic proximity proved no deterrent to the sympathetic protesters who descended last week on several other cities, among them Portland, where the presence of sign-waving hordes is as predictable as autumn rain puddles.)
What’s not clear to me, though, is which actions we’re supposed to take against the omnipotent cabal that controls America — the so-called 1-percenters — that will confer any tangible benefit on everyone else.
And by “we” I mean the voters.
Guns, as a general rule, don’t belong in schools.
Trouble is, general rules, not to mention laws, sometimes get broken.And occasionally the people doing the breaking have guns, which they take to school and use to murder students and teachers and anyone else who gets in the way.
When that happens, the presence of another gun-toter — ideally, one who’s not suffering from any sort of psychosis — could, quite literally, be a life-saver.
President Obama wants to boost the income tax rate for wealthy Americans.
The president’s proposal has provoked the predictable platitudes, as stale and as devoid of nutrition as last week’s doughnuts.
The phrases “pay their fair share” and “class warfare,” among others, ring with their usual hollowness across our fair land.
(Although that pair makes for a nice rhyme. I should mention this to my 4-year-old daughter, Olivia, who has recently taken to rhyming in a big way.)
Pedaling a mountain bike on a trail blazed by deer seems like a perfectly reasonable pastime until you see the boulder that had been hidden by a tuft of elk sedge.
It is then, in that awful instant before impact, that you come to understand the essential truth of your situation.
Which is that a deer, equipped with four legs and a sense of balance that would embarrass one of those tiny Olympic gymnasts who leap about like sprites, is far more capable than you are of avoiding obscured rocks.
Or visible rocks, come to that.
I remember when what you saw when you crossed the Santiam Pass was, mainly, trees.
Live trees, to be specific.
Conifers, to be more specific yet.
Trees are still the most conspicuous form of vegetation at this 4,817-foot gap in the Central Oregon Cascades.
But quite a lot of the trees are dead.
Fire killed them. Their scorched needles have long since dropped. Their blackened bark has peeled away revealing the gray boles, bleached a trifle closer to white with each cruel winter.
It was a beautiful day.
Everybody seems to agree on that.
The clear skies mattered, too.
And not just because the sunshine that brightened Sept. 11, 2001, both in New York City and in Baker City, created an illusion of tranquility so dramatically different from the reality of that day.
Black smoke shows up really well against a backdrop of pure blue.
We didn’t have much high-definition TV then.
We didn’t need it.
Gordon Zimmerman’s 4 1/2-year tenure as Baker City manager can’t reasonably be described as tranquil.
In the span of less than a year after he started work here in November 1998, Zimmerman was cited twice for harassment outside a nude dancing business in Nyssa, where he had worked as city manager.
Zimmerman was a longtime critic of the business, and he had picketed the place.
The Baker City Council didn’t punish Zimmerman for those incidents.
But in July 2001 the Council, having lost confidence in him, put Zimmerman on probation after a motion calling for him to resign failed by a single vote.
Yet compared with the troubles that have befallen Zimmerman this summer in Oakridge, the Lane County town where he was hired as manager after he resigned at the Baker City Council’s request in March 2003, his time here, despite the periodic turmoil, seems almost peaceful.
President Obama started his summer vacation right about when mine ended.
The timing was purely coincidental, of course.
The republic probably would endure even if my periods of leisure happened to coincide with the president’s.
At any rate, I suspect my time off was rather more relaxing than Mr. Obama’s has been — even though none of my destinations was as tony as Martha’s Vineyard.