The rain was hammering down, falling from the sky in large, heavy drops, pounding the pavement with such power and frequency that it drowned out the other sounds of the city. As I rolled along on my bicycle I realized I hadn’t taken a drink from my bottle in awhile; with the amount of water running down my face and into my mouth there was no need to drink any from my bottle. As I rolled along Main Street, I watched out for the white lines that dot intersections and crosswalks, knowing how dastardly this luminescent paint is once it becomes wet. Many corners were wading pool of water, half-circle moons of water where the sewers refused to take on any more water. There were some cars out, despite the rain, though most of them were smart enough to slow down and use caution. Still, there were reckless, thoughtless drivers, usually announcing themselves by their lack of headlights, a dangerous failure of law-following which was accompanied by a rate of speed that was inordinate to the weather and flooding conditions.

I had started out on Duke University’s East Campus, dodging the students as they paraded towards the dining hall in small packs of people. There were flocks of girls in waterproof jackets, short shorts, and knee high rubber boots, a style at once practical and fisherman-like. Coveys of boys, more macho than well-reasoned also walked by, some wearing nothing more than a t-shirt and shorts, some admitting to their stupidity by futilely shield their head from the rain with flimsy campus newspapers. Here was the upper crust of Main Street. Except, they were not the upper crust yet, but more like the under crust, kind of beyond sight, but connected to the upper crust by their birth and pending status as lawyers and doctors and bankers. At their age, they’d done little to deserve the wealth that awaited them upon graduation, but in the mean time, they’d take full advantage of one of the costliest private university educations in the world. A driving rainstorm, with thunder and lighting could not keep them from braving the elements; these adventurers shook themselves from the climate-controlled comfort of their dormitory life to walk across the manicured grass, entering the dining hall full of myriad options for dinner. The white kids and Asian kids and Indian kids could choose from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, cooked foods, and for the weight-obsessed females, there was always the salad bar, or cereal depot.

Down Main Street and through the rain, which made my brakes close to useless, a situation that came to my attention as I neared the bumper of a car which had stopped short in front of me, I came upon another group of hungry people. Huddled under the awning of a small, rectangular building set in the middle of a crack parking lot, aglow in the halo of flourescent lights, were five people, most of them damp from the rain and all of them looking as if they’d seen better days. There were no expensive parkas, nor boutique fisherman boots here, just wet white t-shirts and saggy pants. Four men and one woman tried to stay dry as they hungrily munched food from styrofoam containers, the rain streaming off the roof in a wall of water between me and them.

I stopped in front of the ordering window, looking at the menu posted on the wall, which confirmed the Wings ‘n’ Things was indeed about more than just wings. You could order a fried chicken liver. You could also order a fried chicken gizzard. You could also order fried fish. You could also order french fries. Through the sliding glass window I could see the deep friers, with little else that would have tipped one off that they were peering into a kitchen. I could smell the friers, and I could also smell the fried food the huddle of folks ate, as they talked and tried to stay dry. I wondered what had brought them out in such a fantastic, billowing storm to buy dinner at the shop. Surely they weren’t so hungry they couldn’t have waited for things to blow over. But, it seemed like the students down Main Street could not wait either.

There were only two groups of people out in the rain as I rode around yesterday and both of them were hungry. One group left the comfort of their dormitory to head over to a regal dining hall, four marble columns out front and a flight of marble stairs leading them inside a clean, beautiful dining room. The other group did not look as if anything in their lives provided comfort. Their clothes were soiled and ripped, their hair dirty and matted, and they all lacked jackets or boots. They had not been drawn out in into the storm by gleaming pillars or quality food paid for by their fathers. No, they had been drawn out by greasy gizzard that cost only $4.50.

The rain collected on the brim of my cap and then dripped off in steady succession. I looked at the menu, wondering why anyone would ever eat such food and why anyone would face such conditions to get some in their belly. It is easy to misunderstand this when you have spent time in a dorm and eating in a beautiful cafeteria. It is difficult to understand this when you haven’t grown up in the wrong part of town, haven’t lived amongst crumbling buildings, empty storefronts, and violent communities. When you have very little to see on the horizon, when the rain seems to keep coming down on you, cheap fried food is your comfort food. It’s salty and high in calories and, most importantly, it tastes good. When you can’t see past that wall of water not far from your face, you think about today’s meal, not the possibility of a brighter day in the near future.

 

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