This is my changeup:
Traffic whizzes by in this quaint south suburban village, not far from home. The rickety steel clang of a train headed south — with several green cars marked “China Shipping” —blends with the fainting sounds of a summer’s eve.
An American flag flutters on a light pole. Idling automobiles await passengers from the Metra Electric line’s evening transport. Green tree branches bend in the cool breeze, glowing in the sun that beams like a giant egg yolk in a mostly blue sky.
By 6:25, the gray Metra train has dispensed its human cargo and is bound farther south with more determination than the snaking freight train. Soon there is the fleeting growl of a neon green motorcycle. A man wearing denim shorts and shades passes on a bicycle, its buzz undetectable.
This is a slice of Americana — the 9-to-5 pace of another workday coming to a slow, grinding halt rather peaceably. It blends with the golden sun, like vanilla ice cream over a hot slice of fresh apple pie.
While life passes before me in living color, time seems frozen.
I take in the moment — a portrait of Rockwellian splendor, this one of a street with hanging flower baskets that overflow with pink, white and red petunias. Ever so often, I catch the scent of baked bread from a nearby pizzeria.
In its mundaneness and simplicity, this scene might be lost on many. Except not on my eyes. Not on my soul.
Not this brand of life, which I have experienced as an adult, from the East Coast to the West Coast and beyond — as a sojourner from a mostly forgotten land to this Promised Land.
Admittedly, I have come to relish it, even while reflecting on its deeper relevance and also the dichotomy and questions it poses for me as one whose zip code reflects a certain transcendence from my past — even if we are forever wed.
Those questions mix with sentiments that inevitably lead me, time and again, as a writer, particularly one who happens to be African American and who grew up on the other side of the tracks, back to subjects like poverty, education, race, the church, murder…
And yet, this is my changeup.
Like a good pitcher, every good columnist needs one: To break the monotony. To create a sense of unpredictability and also expectation for readers. To allow oneself as a writer to be stretched, pushed. To avoid always beating the same drum, which can cause staleness and redundancy to set in like rigor mortis.
I have been guilty perhaps too often of writing about “the church,” which I believe to be critical to helping redeem black neighborhoods besieged by poverty and by hopelessness. Perhaps too often guilty of writing about the toll of homicide, of Chiraq. Of sounding perhaps like a broken record in writing about fatherhood and fatherlessness. Guilty. This is my main pitch.
Fast, hard and direct, I hurl with purposeful intent, understanding what is at stake, and while standing on the shoulders of Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, and other black journalists who sought to write on the relevant issues of their times-for the uplift of our people ensnared in peril and daily perishing. The fastball was their best pitch-no apologies. Straight. No chaser.
And yet, I am grateful for my changeup-even as I watch a little black girl in a pink skirt riding a pink bicycle, without a care in the world. The edges of her skirt flutter on a summer breeze.
And I can’t help but wonder: Why can’t all neighborhoods be this way?
Follow John Fountain on Twitter: @JohnWFountain