Sunday, September 2, 2007


On Friday I was walking down Court Street towards campus at about eight in the morning, listening to NPR on my iPod, just like I had done every day this last week for new teacher orientation. It really is a nice time in Athens—before the humidity wakes up, before the sunlight is strong enough to reveal just how much chipped paint and cracked mortar decorates the city—and, lulled into tranquility by the deep timbre of paced, articulate radio voices, I wasn't really awake. My eyes were open, but my vision was turned inward upon the invisible words rising in my mind at the suggestion of the announcer, the tickertape of early-morning information punctuated by footfalls I only heard as internal vibrations rising from sole to throat to scalp. It wasn't until I had to break my rhythm to adjust for a man pushing a dolly across my path that I first noticed what I was seeing. The guy was ferrying boxes of beer from a truck on the curb to a bar on my left—that had to be the third such truck I had seen, it occured to me, and a quick replay confirmed the thought. Looking around, I saw that all over downtown Athens trucks were being emptied by delivery guys, each one reminiscent of a UPS man in uniform shirt and shorts, each one a terrific frontman for Miller or Bud, blue collar but without a wrinkle even at eight-fifteen in the morning.

It was something I had never seen before: the systematic stocking up of alcohol. It was like discovering the early morning inner workings of a bakery or stumbling in upon a magician setting up his trick.1 I took two or three looks over my shoulder at Court Street as I crossed out of downtown and into the college green.

Can you spot the beer truck?2

That evening around seven or so I was out on Court Street again, this time to find something to eat. I wasn't lost in thought or reverie as I had been earlier; my morning diffusion had concentrated into an evening intensity brought on by hunger. (As I am a night person, such a transformation is common for me. As I am a college student, so too is hunger.) My eyes were fixed forward with purpose—the purpose of finding food but also that of looking cool and knowledgeable in a town recently full of new freshmen and their parents looking simultaneously lost and busy—but I was still not really seeing anything. Truth be told, I think I had my iPod on again. I think I was listening to a trendy podcast of hip new music that was helping me feel cool in a strange town full of cool people. The sun was low in its arc, beginning to turn the air amber, and the stoops were beginning to come alive with conversation and cigarettes. No longer hot but still amply warm, the wet was still clinging to bodies, but both the sunlight and the newly lit neons weren't enough to invoke a real glisten. Instead there was just that glow of transition from day to night, the heat coming off the pavement now instead of out of the sky. It was the simmer following the boil, that time when the flavors of the individual spices begin to mix and things really begin to cook. Sunglasses could still be seen, but tank tops and ponytails were being replaced by blouses and makeup (do boys ever change?), the girls having dropped the day's purchases at home to emerge in small, heeled packs clacking their way back to Court Street hot spots. Okay, truth really be told, that's why I wasn't seeing anything. Girls dress, well, differently here and I haven't gotten used to it yet. Eyes forward is an attempt to avoid becoming some kind of creep; besides, you don't want to give a girl who's dressed to be seen the satisfaction of being seen, of seeing you seeing her.

But of course the thing that snapped me back to reality this time wasn't a delivery dude but a woman. In this case it was a woman toting a box of beer. That's something else I don't think I've ever seen before, and as I stood in contemplation of that thought, my head slowly turning as she passed (incidentally I was looking not at her but at the beer—a case of beer is huge!) I noticed another person lugging beer off towards their house, and another, and another.

It wasn't until later that I put it together, that this was Friday—Friday in Athens—the day the beer comes in and goes out again.

1I'm very tempted to say it was like peeking in on Santa in one's living room, but I'll leave that comparison to someone else.
2Is it just me, or is it in front of a church?

1 comment:

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