I drove down to Marta's Place this morning, edged the Camaro into the curb and braked her under February skies that threatened hard rain. I got out, stood on the sidewalk and looked at the place--don't know what good that did me. A rental sign had been stuck in the window. Above the door the two Coca-Cola bottles still clung to the green stucco but the sign between them read Higher Ground. Whoever painted the sign was no pro. It used to say Marta's Place. Later Rollo's Cafe and then a succession of other places. Now it wasn't even higher ground.
I stepped across the sidewalk to the dirty windows and peered inside. The booths and counter were long gone. A few video arcade games leaned against the walls. Toward the back, the wall that separated the former dining room from the kitchen had been covered with cork. The last owner had tried to grow plastic ivy on it.
A painful yearning wrenched at my stomach and I felt a great sadness. I wished I hadn't bothered to come by. I'd had some of the best times of my life in Marta's Place--and some of the worst.
A couple of young black men sauntered past and one of them jostled me, shaking me out of my reverie. He turned and gave me a dirty look.
"Man!" he said, like I had a lot of nerve standing on his sidewalk. I watched the pair for a second as they swanked on down the street past stores that sold wigs, cheap furniture and beauty supplies.
I turned back to the window. Something--maybe a shift in the light--brought out my reflection in the glass. I saw my sorry young face. It sure looked the worse for wear. Well, no wonder. I started back to my Camaro. It looked the worse for wear, too.
I turned back to the window for one last look, and suddenly a strange thing happened. I got a brief glimpse of Marta's Place the way I saw it that first day--but I'm getting way ahead of myself. It really started that day at the unemployment office.