Public Character #4: Judith, who trims the tree in the parking lot in the hopes that it won't bother anyone

The social structure of sidewalk life hangs partly on what can be called self-appointed public characters. A public character is anyone who is in frequent contact with a wide circle of people and who is sufficiently interested to make himself a public character. A public character need have no special talents or wisdom to full his function --although he often does. He just needs to be present, and there need to be enough of his counterparts. his main qualification is that he is public, that he talks to lots of different people.

-Jane Jacobs, "The Uses of Sidewalks: Contact."
[Judith trimming the mystery tree.]

If I hadn't gotten a flat tire, I wouldn't have noticed Judith working in the parking lot. But my rear tube was flat and sat down on the low concrete wall to change my tire, and as I pumped I watched her work.

She was alone, snipping away at the branches of a tree that had somehow grown to middling size on the edge of the lot.

"I'm just trying to make sure the parking lot is happy, otherwise they'll cut down this tree," Judith told me.

"This is one of the the last two trees we have," she said. "When they re-built the Union Depot we lost about eight trees. Now there are only these two," she said, referring to the two trees somehow growing out of cracks in the fence. Each was about 30' tall, and we didn't know what species either of them were.

"Is that an elm?" I asked.

"Yeah maybe but it has this weeping quality with the branches," Judith replied. "I don't know, a Chinese elm?"

Judith lives in one of the  buildings nearby, and is a neighborhood cultivator of the volunteer'd trees and shrubs that somehow grow between the alleyway cracks.

[The lot owner.]
While were were chatting I noticed that a guy in a white car had driven up, and was removing the money from the parking kiosk. This particular surface lot is notoriously unkempt, its sidewalks getting icy in the wintertime. The guy didn't seem interested in what we were doing, and I was struck by the contrast between his uncare and Judith's volunteered fervor.

"Do you want a hand with that?" I asked, after fixing my flat, referring to the giant pile of limbs that Judith had gathered on the asphalt.

"No, I think I can drag it pretty easily," she said.

And she did.

[The limbs dragged pretty easily. "Now what do I do with them," she asked herself.]

1 comment:

DanaD said...

I like the Jane Jacobs quote. We are some of the public characters on my block. I attribute this to our lack of a backyard. We live on a corner lot and everything we do is in front. Eating dinner on the deck, swinging on the swing set, our garden, the ice rink - it is all visible to anyone who walks by. When I go places around the neighborhood people know me as the "cool bike lady with the ice rink." We are moving and we will likely have a backyard where ever we end up. Although I will enjoy the privacy, I will miss the interactions with our neighbors and the notoriety we mostly enjoy now.