Esse-a-Go-Go: The Washington Street Fish Bowl Story

I’m just waiting on a friend at The Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston, West Virginia.

I order and stare dreamily out of the large floor to ceiling plate-glass windows. Life is coming and going on Washington Street, East.  Most of the passersby don’t see me looking at them.  They are in automobiles, or hurrying along on foot and not even glancing into the restaurant.

Then, it all changes. Someone tries to see me!

A woman walks up the short steps to the glass push door into the fish bowl. She peers in, her hand a visor over her eagle brow. She frowns. I guess I’m not who she is looking for, but then she grabs the door handle and attempts to enter my watery world.

Metal crashes heavily into metal. This porthole is locked.

I wave to her, “Down there! Walk down there!” Clearly printed on the porthole it says the restaurant is open, and that the entrance is one door down.

The woman ignores me, her will engaging only what would shut her out. She slams the door in a rage, she bangs on the glass. Everyone is gesturing to her, encouraging her to walk a few feet to the open door. She ignores us. She steps backwards, and I suck in an involuntary breath in fear that she will fall down the stairs onto the sidewalk and suffer a concussion.  She does not fall, but she mouths a hard-F curse world and stalks off, plotting revenge like a publicly jilted lover.

My black bean burrito arrives. Everyone in the room is shrugging and smiling helplessly.

Several more would-be patrons try the door, but all step back, read, see us waving, and find the right door. When they come in the room with the rest of us diners, there is practically a congratulatory celebration. Welcome. You made it. We were pulling for you. Not everyone makes it, there was just this one woman…..

My friend has arrived now, and I tell him the story of the angry woman who couldn’t figure out how to get in. We ponder what goes through someone’s mind when something like that happens. Did she really think everyone else was allowed in, but not her? Was she illiterate and couldn’t read the directions? Was she a natural born quitter, or had she just had some difficult event (or several) in her recent past and decided this was one problem she didn’t care to make an effort to solve? People watching is filled with mystery.

My belly is full now, and as I look around the fish bowl I see seaweed floating past my eyes. I see a treasure chest opening and closing, bubbles lifting up to the ceiling. I see one of the fish who’s been here with me through the strange entrance struggles wave to his friends at the table and go to the door to try to leave the bowl. He pushes hard.

It’s locked, but you knew that. Right?

Fish Bowl video at BGK, FestivALL 2011, click here.

10 thoughts on “Esse-a-Go-Go: The Washington Street Fish Bowl Story

  1. Yes! People watching is filled with all kinds of mystery. I especially enjoy airports…”where are they coming from and where at they going? Wife or mistress? His kids or hers? Probably not theirs” I have pulled on that locked door at BG time and time again. I love the “natural born quitter” comment (hilarious). I guess I am not, one, because I have also enjoyed the perfect chicken sandwich time and time again too!

    • Thanks, Lisa!

      I went back and added a link to the FestivALL “fish bowl” poetry event at the BGK in 2011. There is a YouTube video with a poetic tribute to that street corner.

      I believe that observing life around us, just regular every day life, is enough opportunity to fill volumes.

  2. One side of my classroom is large windows that face a busy road. Every now and then I look out from my fishbowl and make eye contact with a commuter. I wonder what they’re thinking about me as I’m prancing around my room in a scarf and beret teaching French to my third graders. Ooh, la la? Probably not!

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