Shaping space, shaping feeling

Several weeks ago, mine and many of my neighbors’ cars were towed so that a landscaping company wouldn’t drop heaps of branches from street-side trees onto the unsuspecting vehicles below. The company had put “No Parking” signs up the afternoon before to warn us. Thing is, most of us on the street have passes that let us park for 3 days without having to move our cars. Logically, any work done should have signs posted at least 3 days in advance, right?

Thinking I could get the ticket waived with that bit of logic, I chose yesterday afternoon for my visit to the Parking Magistrate. Before leaving school, I took the ticket out of my backpack – anxiety hit my stomach like a Ninja Turtle’s kangaroo kick. The fear of a rejected plea and resulting payment brought cold sweats.

Hands shaking, I stumble onto my bike and roll down 14th to the corner of Colfax, stomach almost tight enough to crush concrete. If I had accidentally ingested any during breakfast, that is. (If a grad student budget could even afford concrete for breakfast…)

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The Webb Municipal Office Building looms above me, but I smile as a tour of schoolchildren play and run circles around the half-face statue marking the concrete plaza, a space somehow softened and warm from the sun diffusing through a partly overcast sky. My hands stop shaking. A delicate glass façade holds at bay opposing multistory concrete masses. The openness of it invites me into the atrium beyond.

The security station within is a drop of water in a gallon pitcher, doing nothing to obstruct my view into the space. Beyond, a small but active market fills the floor of the beautifully daylit atrium. I pass through security only to stand there and stare. My stomach relaxes to the chaotic but somehow calm and quite chatter.

Adam last week described concrete as ‘velvety.’ There was an unexpected softness here, too. How can such a hard material seem so gentle? I circle the market to the Magistrate on the higher level behind. I wait a moment before entering, enjoying the light, the space, the music of it. I open the door and walk into a different space, the renovated portion formerly known as the City Annex #1 Building.

The door closes, and the chatter ends. Silence.

A click, then, as I grab a ticket from the dispenser. A creak as I sit down and join others waiting. Through the glass wall behind us, we can still at least see, if not hear, the activity in the atrium. The humanness of it helps center me. I look around. Typical office space – wait… Warm woods line the bottom of the service counters. Linear fixtures wash the ceiling in light without shining any into our eyes. Strangely calm.

Within a few minutes, I am resting my arms (and occasionally my head) on a beautiful wood counter whose unusual four-foot height naturally lends itself to such an activity. The lady helping me describes how the City and County of Denver has no legal obligation at all to alert its residents that cars can be towed at any time for any reason. She offers a reduction in the ticket, halving the prior amount.

Parking violations costing a third of my now-reduced ticket have before driven me to near-felonious frenzies; why was I so calm now?

I thank her and leave the office, through the doors to a low-height concrete space, a threshold between the main atrium and myself. I make my way slowly down the ramps, the low ceiling cutting off abruptly as the massive volume opens overhead and I rejoin the gurgling brook of the market.

I am actually smiling as I look upward and around.

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