I've never bought anything at a thrift store.

I suggested to Noah that I needed some new pairs of khakis to even out the staggering majority of worn skateboarder jeans folded haphazardly into a little sliding drawer beneath my bed. It was an excuse to go downtown which he gamely seized upon. Then someone suggested a thrift store dive, an urban adventuring party was assembled, and Noah found himself roped in. I might as well tag along.

We took the 55 bus, a.k.a. rich college kids red-line delivery vehicle. The 55th drives you through the impovershed black neighborhood bordering the university campus to the el-line that heads downtown. Nearly every white face you see on it has gotten on at one stop, and nearly every white face will disappear at another. Today, however, we kept our buns unacustomedly planted in our seats and kept riding.

I watched the passing neighborhood, sometimes idylic, sometimes nightmarish, as I eavesdropped on the conversation around me. Two twelve year-old boys talked about twelve year-old boy matters of great importance, completely familiar save for the black dialect and the sudden, disturbing quip, "After he killed 'im, he shoulda jus dropped da gun and ran." Cute bravado. Less than cute subject matter.

Their mother was a calm, patient looking woman with glistening eyes that scanned the seats from side-to-side, like a passive radar sweeping for something to happen. Noah poked me and asked about the fares for a transfer, out of curiosity. This showed up as a blip on her mother monitor. She leaned forward and asked in smooth, standard English "Do either of you need a fare card? I have two spare ones here I don't need any more." A little startled, I paused, then stuttered that it wasn't necessary, but we were quite grateful for the offer. I wanted to better express my appreciation for this gesture that made us, for the briefest of moments, more than just strangers to each other, but she summarily shepherded her children off the bus a few stops later. I couldn't slip a word into the bustle.

Arriving at the thrift store shop, we wandered through a non-threatening working class neighborhood where the only English to be found was on the street signs. The thrift store itself was just a warehouse for redistributed goods, but I managed to snatch out three pairs of nicely fitting khakis. In addition, the used book section offered some tasty treats—Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, and Thomas Mann's Noble Prize-winning Buddenbrook (auf Deutsch!). I pilfered all this reading goodness for less than two bucks. Much as I enjoy a romp through my local Borders, I think I need to let thrift stores decide my next months' reading more often.

Following thrifting, the group of us chattered our way over to a Mexican restaurant intended for actual Mexicans and somewhat awkwardly took a seat. The waitress was nervous and stumbled over her English, but between pointing and verbal work-arounds, we managed to get ourselves some food possessive of supreme deliciousness. I discovered some crazy concoction called a horchata that tastes like liquified rice pudding, one of my favorite desserts. Extra refreshing.

After the Mexican eating experiment, we wandered back through the neighborhood, trying to decode the signs with our collective poor Spanish and generally feeling chipper. Natasha got rather excited about a mondo cheap bakery and burst inside to grab various confectionaries as I tagged along to load up on some bread to munch back in the dorm room. The cashier spoke no English at all, but the language of capitalism needs little translation. I got nervous as she read out the total (cinquenta y uno céntimos), because I wanted to reply 'thank you' in Spanish, but for some reason the similarity of the language's sound to the Japanese I'm currently studying made it oddly impossible for me to remember anything except doumo arigatou. And wouldn't I look like a dork if I said that. At the last moment, I managed to extract the very basic vocab item gracias and trundled myself out of the store.

Comfy pants and comfy memories. Occasionally, I trip over undeniable urban beauty, finding myself fallen in love with the city I love to hate.

Every where has its sun-sparkled secrets.