Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

Jacksonville

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The man in his sixties, potbelly, slightly stooped, facilities director, repository of institutional memory, who sized me up and only opened up once he had determined that I’m at least half as cynical as he is. Lost 70 lbs biking around the corporate office park rather than driving around it. Short on words, but opened more doors, physically and metaphorically, than anybody else could.

The man in his fifties, potbelly, engineer specializing in security apparatuses, a font of dad jokes, drinks rye whiskey since beer no longer sits with him well, grunts during all physical exertions, torn between being curious enough to solve the problems put before him but mercenary enough to ensure first that they were his problems to solve, polite enough not to make this an issue for at least the first four hours. Native and proudly Floridian, knew a bunch of New York jokes, accepted the responding Florida jokes with good humor.

The woman in her sixties, sucking down margaritas in celebration of being a survivor of cancer of the neck which has been in remission for two years to the day, come down from Michigan to raise a son, was told to set him back a year for public schooling so that he was be larger than the others come time for trial for high school football, so she did and he was, he met and was granted an award by Tim Tebow before suffering a career-ending injury during practice, so he now works as a bouncer at another dive near the beach.

The woman in her twenties, bedazzled bookbag and grey hoodie, who spent her days cold-calling Medicare recipients with long-term ailments on behalf of a pharmaceutical company, informing them that they could get medicine mailed to them every 90 days instead of having to visit a pharmacy every 30 days, spent her nights stripping for extra cash, and made drum and bass riffs on SoundCloud with whatever free time she had left.

The man in his thirties, bushy beard, tow truck driver, former air force pilot, who introduced me to every properly reprehensible reprobate in an equally properly reprehensible dive bar, a number of whom were wearing MAGA hats though oddly enough were on friendly-ish terms with the two Black patrons who appeared to be regulars, took to me because I understood most of his military lingo, habitually exaggerated every statistic he could remember – it wasn’t just an old bar, it was the oldest in the country; it wasn’t just a large city, it was at least five million people (which would make it easily the second largest in the country) – admitted after an extended discussion that the only Democrat he ever respected was Franklin Roosevelt.

The woman in her thirties, six months on the job as an admin for a restricted area, smaller than most with braided hair, delegated what she could and defensive with what she couldn’t likely due to a precarious position and being directly confronted in said restricted area, who could not answer questions directly due to inexperience at the job but insisted on what she had come up with days afterwards was “the way things always were,” rattled off with a straight face to employees who had been there for decades, since as gatekeeper for a restricted area, she was able to.

The woman in her twenties, forgetful as she was attentive, forever distracted blonde pixie with a strained smile on her face behind the counter of a combination cafe/bookstore with Bernie 2020 stickers in the window, as aside from myself and two construction workers in for their morning coffee, as observed for well over an hour the establishment was clearly utilized primarily as a time-share for the prodigious homeless in the area.

The woman in her seventies, spending her retirement bouncing between far-flung children and their households, come in from Texas to visit a daughter in her thirties who worked as a lawyer in insurance, who was very interested in drilling me on my pedigree and while she took my being half-Black in stride she did not take kindly to my argument that Trump’s China policy was ineffective at best due to his gross misunderstanding of China and the Chinese economy (and, let’s face it, America), at which point she declared that she was better informed as she had truer sources than the “mainstream media” (i.e. Fox News) but was too Southern and polite to do anything at that point than wish me a healthy life, a sentiment I returned complete with all applicable overtones.

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