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Scott Ellis 5:15 a.m., July 29
THE MIDNIGHT RAMBLER - LIFE BETWEEN DEADLINES
It’s been going on for around six months now. Maybe longer.
Nearly every single night, at around 2AM, someone skateboards slowly past my house, always to the tune of an external music player (IE no ‘phones). I live in a quiet, residential neighborhood, so at that hour the sound of a skateboard rattling along the sidewalk, and the attendant music, is pretty substantial.
The aggressive nature of this nightly act (his own ears can’t be inured to the racket) makes me assume the skater is a guy.
I imagine that most of my neighbors are asleep at 2AM and don’t really hear the Midnight Rambler (as I’ve taken to calling him). I’m rarely pulling the sheets up around my ears at 2AM – more often than not, I’m still chained to my drawing board or desk, hoping to make some twelfth hour work deadline.
When the Rambler approaches, it sounds like a jet coming toward my house. I hear the volume increasing for a full thirty seconds before he passes my window (which is fairly close to the sidewalk, and usually open). This is when I can just about make out the music coming from his stereo, though I can’t always recognize the tune. It’s faint and I have to strain my ears.
He's usually rolling along to seventies classic rock. I often wonder whether it’s a tape or the radio, and why he doesn’t wear headphones (I know, it’s not safe to cycle or skate with ‘phones, but it is 2AM after all).
I find myself listening for the song each night, like a daily trivia challenge, congratulating myself when I can pin it down and getting frustrated when I can’t. Then the Rambler trails off for thirty seconds or so into the distance, going to and coming from gawd knows where.
It takes a few months before it occurs to me that I should get up and look out the window, or stand in the front doorway sometime as he passes. Maybe I can figure out just who this guy is, see what he looks like, discover what he’s up to and where he’s going at this ungawdly hour.
However, for some reason, I find myself reluctant to pull the mask off the Midnight Rambler.
Maybe I SHOULD throw open my front door some night. And then just STAND there. Maybe, if I look at him, and he looks at me, it’ll occur to him that he’s actually skating in and out of people’s lives here.
Every time he rumbles down the sidewalk at 2AM, like a one-man locomotive, he’s punctuating the chapters of my evening, no less than if he were the tone of a book-on-tape telling me to turn over the cassette, or the blaring static of the TV when the last DVD shuts off.
I should try to talk to him. Maybe there’s a story there. Like, maybe he works the late night shift at Roberto’s, and he can’t afford a car, but he has a student loan to pay, and his drug addict sister kicked him out of the motel where they were staying and now he’s sleeping on the roof of the Christian Welcome Center…with his skateboard.
Everybody’s got a story, right?
Tonight, as the concrete thunder came closer and closer, I was seated at my drawing table, the door shut and the shades closed. When I heard the laconic approach of the wheels, I stood up, ready to finally throw open the front door and make first contact with the Midnight Rambler.
Then I sat down again.
Part of me wants to know more about him, but another part of me doesn’t.
You don’t go out and stop a train when it goes by and ask the engineer where he’s come from and where he’s going. You just get used to the routine, to the sound, you grow accustomed to the ground rumbling you out of complacency each and every night, on schedule, on into the darkness.
It becomes the aural backdrop to your life, the soundtrack of your day, wallpaper for the ears. It just IS - a force, a fixture, like the sound of the train whistle, the clickity clack on the tracks or, in this case, the sound of the music player and the clickity clack of wheels on concrete.
I strain my ears...yep, sounds like Blue Oyster Cult. “Don’t Fear The Reaper,” isn’t it? I think so. Although that riff sounded suspiciously like “Green Grass And High Tides Forever,” the Outlaws. I can’t really say for sure.
He’s too far down the sidewalk. The sound - and the Rambler - has faded away, into darkness.
My cue to put another day to bed, and get ready for the next twelfth hour deadline.