On the last weekend I lived in Ithaca, I took my camera and roamed around the commons for the afternoon. My intent was to capture the place in images so that I'd have something to look back on. I wanted to remember the place for those lazy Sunday afternoons, when the streets weren't jammed with students and the day visitors were headed home. On this day, I captured the usual pictures - the flowers, the murals, the storefronts - pictures that would fit perfectly in just another "Ithaca is Gorges" or "I (heart) New York" tourist guidebook. It wasn't hard to make everything seem so quaint and idyllic because, quite honestly, Ithaca easily appears very quaint and idyllic.
A few hours into my afternoon, I felt I had enough shots to call it a day. I walked toward the eastern end of the Ithaca Commons, toward Aurora Street, mentally assembling the photo story I would construct from the pictures captured. It would be a great nostalgia piece to look back on - those three years living in the Southern Tier of New York. But like any town, things aren't always as pretty or as simple as they seem from afar. I was thinking this very thought as I stood on the corner of Aurora Street, waiting for the light to change, directly across from my favorite snack place, Collegetown Bagels. In a split second, I glanced up and saw a man running toward me along the steep hill of Seneca Street, barreling down the center of the road like an out-of-control soapbox car. He was hanging on to an overloaded shopping cart that was rattling and banging along the asphalt; one of the wheels was stuck in an awkward, turned position. The cart was completely jammed with about-to-burst garbage bags filled with scavenged cans. The man's shoes didn't fit properly either, and with each over-striding footfall, the soles of his shoes made a "flap-flap-flap" sounds as he struggled to hang onto the hurtling cart. On the opposite street corner, a few college kids (holding their seven-dollar coffees) pointed and laughed while a nearby set of adults looked as though someone just spit in the holiday punch bowl. The running man looked briefly to his right for oncoming traffic at the approaching intersection, then to his left, where we caught eyes. He grinned, I smiled. For reasons still unknown to me, I reflexively gave him a thumbs-up, and worked quickly to capture this picture.
Of all the pictures I took that day; for all the different images I captured with the intention of memorializing that town... this was the only one that meant anything to me, and it will forever be my favorite.