The sky looked so much like something Valerie would have painted that Danny Blue stopped in the middle of Champion Boulevard’s eastbound traffic lane to stare at the long wide streaks of grey-tinted pink, white, and lavender clouds moving through the air like the ghosts of battle ships. He turned down the volume on the Z-Ped Music Player hanging around his neck, nesting warmly inside his shirt against his skin and piping comfort in the form of Ruzahn’s voice and guitar through his earplugs. For a moment, the sky and its deceptive swirl of color became the music he needed to carry him far away from thoughts of the past few weeks.
At any other time, standing as he was in the middle of one of Froggtown’s busiest thoroughfares, Danny Blue would have been slammed by a car or truck rolling full-throttle off the interstate and heading towards the downtown area, or into midtown, or even further out near the Georgia coastal islands. Today was different. Today, there was no traffic entering the city because local newsmen, the mayor, the police department, Chauncey Army Base officials, and the fire department had all warned that Hurricane George was moving up the Florida coast delivering one-hundred-twenty mile winds. It was, they said, traveling a path like a cue ball with a slight curve to it that was going to end in a head-on collision with Froggtown and turn the entire little city into a pile of very distinguished trash.
Danny Blue turned the sound back up on his Z-Ped Music Player just in time to hear Ruzahn sing, “Got just enough room/ to be a friend of yours/ oh I hope you got room/ to be a friend of mine.” On the music player, he could touch a button for either direct play, satellite radio search, or shuffle, but the only music it ever played was Ruzahn’s because Valerie had programmed it that way. As he stood in the empty street, a light smell and flavor of ocean salt tickled inside his nostrils and mouth. On another day he would have breathed deeply and held the flavor inside until it warmed him throughout. On this day, the clouds that had been shaped like battleships changed to resemble oversized torpedoes and elongated islands.
This is how it looked when I dreamed I was at the bottom of the ocean and I could see up past the seaweed and the sharks into the sunlight floating glass across the waves, I woke up choking and it was a good thing man I was with Valerie that night cause she kissed me til I went back to sleep. Was that her calling his name? Or was it Ruzahn singing it?
“Hey Danny! Yo! Danny Blue big dawg, it’s me.”
He looked down from the sky to the lane of westbound traffic on the opposite side of the median strip that divided Champion Boulevard for several miles into the city. Unlike the lane in which he stood, where there was no traffic at all, both of the westbound lanes were choked with every kind of vehicle from motorcycles and jeeps to city and school buses, loaded with passengers seeking safety zones, and cars of dozens of models and makes. The congestion of metal and people and exhaust fumes created a very different picture from the serene floating colors of the sky and a tremor rushed through his chest as he viewed the incredible scene. For as far as he could see toward the west, traffic was clogged with people waiting to get onto the exit for the interstate that would take them northwest to Atlanta or Tennessee, or allow them to double back and head for Alabama, anywhere that would place them out of the range of the hurricane.
“Hey Danny Blue, it’s me dawg, Mason! Look over here!”
The traffic was the same when he looked toward the east: backed up at least as far as Eastland Avenue and probably, he guessed, stretched all the way back to Froggtown University near the marsh. Every ten minutes, a vehicle might move one foot but mostly they were still. A number of people stood outside their cars smoking cigarettes, eating sandwiches, or drinking beer and sodas while two policemen on horses and several others on foot traveled up and down the median strip and the sidewalk on the other side trying to maintain order. Many were trying to talk on cell phones or had music players locked to their ears to drown out the turmoil.
One man stood in front of a woman with a toddler on her hip and a five-year-old holding her hand. The woman cried while violently rocking the child on her hip and the little boy looked wide-eyed at the man yelling how the hell was he to know that the goddamned hurricane was going to change courses and head for Froggtown, and even if he had known where would they have gotten the money to fly all four of them to her parents’ home in Colorado, hunh? Was it his fault she was pregnant again and miserable and the radio said the hurricane was going to knock the shit out of Froggtown in about ten hours? Jesus Christ would he ever get a break in this life?
Another man and woman neither argued nor cried but sold snacks, bottled water, flashlights, and batteries out the back of their camper. They asked five dollars for sixteen-ounce bottles of anything and got it every time. They asked twenty dollars for a standard flashlight with batteries and received it as well. A father and son had closed their gas station in midtown, loaded up their truck with dozens of two-gallon gas containers and were making a killing emptying them at thirty dollars a pop, then driving back to their gas station, refilling, and returning either to Champion Boulevard or going to one of three other streets leading to an exit and just as frozen with unmoving traffic as this one.
Danny Blue gripped the back pack strap that rested across his chest and under his right arm as he stepped from the street onto the wide median that was more like a sleek rectangular garden than a simple strip of dirt bordered with granite stones designed to separate traffic. Taller palm trees stood at each end while the middle held several lush green azalea bushes and a number of dwarf palm plants that had been trimmed and sculpted to look like war helmets. Enough space stood between the plants to both see and walk easily to the other side, though part of the city’s reason for planting them was to discourage crossing the street at that point.
“I’m just wonderin’!” a voice suddenly boomed.
Danny Blue felt the vibrations more than he heard the words but turned his music player off and removed the plugs from his ears in case Valerie was calling him.
“I can’t help but stand here,” came the voice again, “AND WONDER!” He shouted the word WONDER more like he was commanding those around him to do so than speaking about his own reflections. He stood in the center of the median, a pecan-colored man who must have been in his eighties and who stood no more than five-feet-eight, holding onto a gnarled walking stick as he faced the traffic pointed west. A silver-white beard and sideburns framed his intense gaze. The gravel and cannonball blast of his voice caused a number of people to turn in his direction even while others continued listening to music, staring down the road ahead, or looking above at the dangerous play of the clouds.
“I have to wonder how many of y’all understand the significance of where we at here today? How many of y’all comprehend...the nature...of the irony...of the history that done been made here. How many of y’all got a clue about the history we livin’ right now and the history that the Great Worker is about to make?!”
More heads turned and a small crowd gathered shyly around him. Danny Blue remained standing to the side, listening with one ear to the old man and with the other trying to filter out the different voices flitting through the wind and whispering or shouting his name. For a moment the old man looked directly at him, and Danny Blue was stunned by the starless-night blackness of his eyes. The old man adjusted his walking stick, a little taller than he, to steady himself. Someone ran forward to offer him a portable chair and he shook his head to indicate he did not want it as he continued talking.
Please stay tuned for UNCUT GOODIES Part 2, notes from the editorial conference on Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World
© November 2007