I sat in my car, parked on a narrow, busted-up street in Venice, getting irritated. I had been waiting twenty minutes already, trapped in the car, trapped again by things I can’t control. The sun was up and warm still but it was just starting to shadow the tallest of things, like telephone poles. Maya was in the alley up and to the right of me practicing with a group of kids for a quinceañera they'll be in next week. But the practice was running late, as usual. They only had another week to learn all the traditional, choreographed steps. The mother was in a bit of a panic.
I stared at two pairs of shoes that were wound around a high wire by the laces above me, a pair of low-top white converse and a pair of any-brand sneakers, scuffed. I stared at them motionless against the waning blue. The laces looked stiff like sticks. Whoever threw the converse up there had gotten the shoes exactly even with each other. They looked so neat and straight, suspended and highlighted against the sky. The scuffed sneakers were very uneven -- one way up, one way down -- but quietly still and in nice contrast to the straight converse.
I let it go then. I was gripping so tightly to the irritation. It embarrassed me suddenly.
I clicked my seat back to a half-recline and meditated on the shoes. All four windows of the car were half way down and the quinceañera choreographer started the song over, again. It was a sad mariachi with a sloshy melody and sour horns that touched me. It wasn't meant to be sad, but the words were long-held, in spanish, about the changing of a butterfly. A girl to a woman, you know. I looked toward the alley and a few of the kid-couples marched up behind a low chainlink fence on the uneven asphalt, stepping to the music. Then they started the waltz. The boy of the first couple wore a stiff-brimmed Raiders cap, a zipped-up black hoodie, work pants and blue-white sneakers. He towered over his partner who was all eyeliner and giggles. She kept tugging up her acid-wash skinnies. The music stopped and I heard the lady yell, "Noooo", and the eyeliner girl rolled her head back on her neck. They started again. The next time, they got far enough so I could see Maya being very focused in her turquoise, knock-off Ray Bans and SAMO basketball sweatshirt and cuffed shorts. She carefully walked arm-in-arm with her partner who had a clean-shaven head and wore a crisp, white tshirt. He held his arm up, holding her by the fingertips, and she stepped through, not looking at him, not connected to him. It was all about getting these steps down. And I choked up. She was so sweetly serious, so beautiful and young.
A hand-painted delivery truck squeezed through the middle of the street next to my car and sounded a breathy, melodic horn. It braked and the back door rolled up. It was a mobile snack shop with hanging chips, chicharrónes, candy, gumballs, and other things I couldn't see on the walls and base, exploding in snack-package colors. The truck was there every time I came to pick up Maya from practice. It's a nomadic lounge because once it stops, people gravitate to the tail and hang out. Two girls passed me, gripping dollars, and came back from the truck digging in a bag of fresh cherries.
Mina crawled through the half-open window of the car and told me Maya was almost done. She turned on the radio, inserted a CD, and punched at the buttons until she found the song she wanted, Hit ‘Em Up Style by the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I sat back, looking at the shoes and listened to the deft fiddle mashing it up with the outside mariachi horns and the murmur of the snack -truck crowd. I watched the orange shadows creep up the street California city style; against century-old thick palms and beautifully cracked concrete and tiny, lumpy alleys canopied with wires. I freefloated in my seat, as I've been trying to do for weeks now; suspended and free inside the vehicle.
11 hours ago