One end of a jump rope is tied to a sidewalk barrier outside the hotel doors, and the other end is tied to another jump rope, which in turn is tied to another, and a line of jump ropes runs down the side of the wide, central boulevard. From the hotel’s revolving doors chilled, coffee-scented air falls onto a sidewalk that already smells of urine and fried food and marijuana. A plastic cup with a plastic, curly straw rolls down the sidewalk, in the direction of the ropes.
They are all perfectly taut; the ropes never dip or sway in the wind. Their pink and purple coils reflect in the windows of Banana and Aeropostale as they follow the street’s natural slope downward, always three feet above the ground. They cross every street they come to; there is no traffic.
At the bottom of the hill the jump ropes skirt over the tram line and into the shaded entrance of the old custom house, now a farmers’ market. Inside water leaks from the vaulted ceilings. The ropes shoot out into the sun, where a park and a boardwalk face the bay, shimmering and white capped. The boundaries of every patch of grass are marked with wooden stakes and pink tape.
Before they can enter the park the ropes are diverted. They wind around a trash can and turn to a high, corrugated fence, vibrating with the sound of the transformers. The jump ropes pass through a gap in the fence, and suddenly they are suspended, hanging twenty feet over the commuter rail tracks that then burrow under the park. They reach towards a gated catwalk marked for transportation personnel and then towards the lip of a noise barrier.
They snake over it. They continue inches above a pool and to the base of a twenty-story condo, bisecting its granite courtyard, which is empty save for giant works of sculpture. Wheelchair ramps wind up to government buildings nearby; the ledges are studded with spikes. Solar-powered, self-compacting trash bins rumble, and a repeated beeping signals that all sides of the intersection can be crossed. Here too there are no cars. The ropes angle across the intersection and bend around a utility pole.
They rise through a narrow gap between a restaurant and a daycare. Behind the parking lot three porches are stacked one above the other. The jump ropes curl around a satellite dish at the top of the building, which redirects them to the street. Rows of Victorian houses climb to where the trees finally thin and the hill levels off. The tallest building is the hospital, brown and square. At its doors a ring of plastic ashtrays lets out smoke and a row of covered bus stops advertises the opera.
On flat ground now the road is wide and goes on without deviation. Heat mirages appear just four blocks distant. In the center of the street four orange cones surround a manhole cover that’s been lifted and set aside. The jump ropes run towards them. They pass over the tape and descend.