by Evan Sernoffsky
At 9 am Thursday at the Oakway Center, people began what was sure to be another hot day in Eugene. Birds chirped from the rooftops of the Chikara Beauty Salon and Chapala Mexican Restaurant that overlooked a sparsely occupied courtyard, and a soft breeze rustled the vibrant green oak leaves in the trees overhead. A landscaping company unloaded blowers, hedge trimmers and rakes from the back of a trailer in the parking lot. The quiet humming of a mower in the distance filled the air.
Cutting through the serenity of the scene were three older men carrying coffees. One man pulled the chair from a table causing the sharp sound of metal scraping brick to echo around the courtyard. The other two followed suit. “…you know and I said it was 80 and over I’d probably do it but not for 75…” said one of the men. The other two sat patiently and nodded. Next to them, a woman sat reading an Ann Rice novel with her knees tucked up to her chest.
As the sun got higher in the sky, the cool morning transitioned into the early stages of a sweltering afternoon. A woman nervously sifted through her purse as she ascended the concrete stairs on the north side of the courtyard. Her high heels clomped loudly with each step she took. Passing below her was a young woman talking on a cell phone. She spoke quick Spanish. The pace with which she walked mimicked the cadence of her speech. She came and went in a matter of moments.
A security guard started opening doors and setting up tables for the restaurants that shared the outdoor dining space of the courtyard. Smooth Jazz began to play out of the speakers that were strategically hidden among the businesses at Oakway Center. Waiters started arriving for work at Mio Sushi on the west side of the courtyard. One man wore his all black neatly ironed uniform, but toted a large camouflaged backpack strapped across one shoulder.
Patrons, employees, and pedestrians all started to fill what was previously an empty square. The sound of birds and lawn mowers made way for music, sirens and idle chatter. The day was officially underway.