Walking Commuter Notes


I walk to work almost every morning—following East Genesee Street toward downtown Syracuse. Before I leave my apartment building, I usually hang out with my wife Pam and son Colin while they wait for Colin’s school bus to arrive.

Today, underneath a gray sky spitting drizzle, Colin entertains himself by jumping up and down, flapping his hands and pulling his Paw Patrol mask down around his chin.

“Ah, put up your mask when you go on the bus and when you’re inside school,” Pam tells him. He listens and pulls up his mask. Colin is in kindergarten, and he has autism.

He’s dressed in sweatpants and a blue hooded sweat jacket. A maroon and navy blue Fila book bag—packed with the crunchy snacks he likes to eat—is slung over his shoulder.

When it’s time for me to break away, I remove my mask and plaster his face with a couple of quick kisses. Pam then says to Colin, “Ah, say goodbye to daddy.” When his eyes remain cast elsewhere, she holds his face gently and points it in my direction. She holds his hand and helps him to wave. “Come on now. Say bye-bye.”

“Bye-bye daddy,” he says with a clipped delivery.

“Good job,” Pam says.

I start walking on the sidewalk along Genesee, turning my head and waving toward my family, their figures looking tiny while standing under the green awning of the tan, brick building. I see his bus turning onto Genesee Street, and I pray that Colin will climb aboard safely, find his seat up front and remain in place while the bus accelerates.

Then a thought pops into my head. I don’t invite it, but it emerges anyway.

I think: This could be the last time I ever see my wife and son. I realize I am not invincible, that tragedy could strike at any moment and my loved ones could be taken away in an instant.

I look up to the clouds and try to shake the dark thought from my mind, turning my attention to work-related tasks I need to complete.


In the late afternoon, I leave the Nancy Cantor Warehouse in downtown Syracuse, walking in a steady rain along Washington Street. I cross State Street and then walk toward Fayette Street. I pass by a standpipe, and I continue on my way. But then I remember Fountain, the ready-made sculpture of a urinal by French artist Marcel Duchamp.

Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 sculpture Fountain.

I backtrack, pull out my iPhone and snap a few pictures—inspired by Duchamp’s iconic still life artwork.

According to Merriam-Webster, a standpipe is a “high vertical pipe or reservoir that is used to secure a uniform pressure in a water-supply system.” I’ve seen the term before, but I never knew the meaning. But I looked it up online as soon as I got home.

Syracuse Standpipe. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

And I guess that’s the beauty of a walking commute in a city—if you pay attention to your surroundings, you can discover things that other people might miss. It takes practice to heighten your senses and elevate your awareness. But as an urban explorer, if I am willing to pay close attention, it seems the universe is willing to reward me with satisfying visual stimuli. In my case, it makes the everyday extraordinary and the mundane magical (forgive the alliteration).

Here are some recent photos from my walking commute:

Squirrel on telephone pole. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Chair tipped over. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Fountain. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Alley. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

University Block Building. Photo by Francis DiClemente.


Sidewalk Cutoff

While walking home along East Genesee Street in Syracuse, I encounter a man seated a bus stop located between Phoebe’s restaurant and South Crouse Avenue.

He has long, curly black hair, bronze skin and he’s dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, with a roll of flesh hanging over his waist.

He spots me as I stride toward him on the sidewalk, then flicks his fingers in a “come hither” motion. “Hey buddy, come here, can I ask you a question?”

I cut him off right away. “I don’t have any money,” I say and keep walking.

And I hear him say, the words trailing behind me, “How’d ya know what I was gonna ask you?”

And as I continue walking, I realize he’s right. I feel guilty about not giving him the chance to ask his question. In my defense, he caught me off guard and spooked me with the quick motion of his hands. But I could have stopped, stood at a distance from him and listened to what he had to say.







Four Poems

Four of my poems were recently published on the website Albany Poets. And for my contribution to National Poetry Month, I have posted the poems here, along with some relevant images.

Centro Bus

Centro Bus

Taking the Bus

The blind man in the blue striped shirt
stands in front of the bus stop,
clutching a red and white
walking stick in his right hand.
He smiles as the bus’s tires roll to a stop
and the door swings open with a whooshing sound.
He climbs inside and takes a seat,
just another passenger in another vehicle
crawling along the congested thoroughfare
on this Wednesday morning commute.

Fall Trees

Fall Trees

Falling Leaf

The golden maple leaf
fell to the ground
in front of my feet,
making a slapping sound.
It greeted me
on this frosty November morning,
reminding me that one day
I too will lie on the ground,
and others will pass by
without stopping
or looking down.

Florida box turtle. Photo by Jonathan Zander (Digon3).

Florida box turtle. Photo by Jonathan Zander (Digon3).

Hard Shell

What goes through the mind of a turtle
When it’s sprawled on its back and can’t roll over?
Does it panic as its legs squirm in the air?
Does it stick out its tongue and try to scream for help?
Does it curse its maker as it writhes on the asphalt,
With the sun scorching its belly?
How long does it wait before giving up and accepting fate?

No. This turtle does not think.
It lacks the capacity to reason.
Instincts fire as it battles to survive:
“Get off your shell. Roll over. On your feet.”
It rocks from side to side as it labors to turn over.
It strains, twists and kicks … but fails.

And no one will intervene—
There’s no Tom Sawyer kid with a hickory stick,
Skipping along and flipping the turtle over.
No semi truck rumbles down the road,
Stirring up a blast of air and setting the turtle upright.

It struggles alone, refusing to quit
As it attempts to conquer physics.
The turtle keeps working
Until the sun desiccates its flesh
And it releases a final breath—
A low croak that goes unheard along the deserted road.
The turtle is gone and no one witnessed the fight.

Woman walking along Genesee Street in Syracuse, New York. I snapped this photo a few years ago while standing on the front porch of my apartment building, while testing out my new Canon DSLR.

Woman walking along Genesee Street in Syracuse, New York. I snapped this photo a few years ago while standing on the front porch of my apartment building, while testing out my new DSLR.


An old woman hunched over,
looking down at the sidewalk,
adjusting her knit hat.
She limps forward,
shuffling along,
riddled with pain.
Her face reveals
the hurt she endures.
She receives no aid,
no intercession from human or heaven.
I pass her on the sidewalk,
and I say a quick prayer
that her suffering wanes.
It may not do any good,
but I send the thought aloft
and hope someone is listening.
The woman crosses the street
and fades out of sight.
I then hear an inner voice say,
“You were there,
you could have helped her.”


Man At Work

Here’s a reminder that grace and honor can be found in just about any setting where working men and women toil. This point was illuminated recently while I waited for a Buffalo-bound bus at the Regional Transportation Center in Syracuse.

I was scheduled to take Amtrak’s westbound Lake Shore Limited, as I was heading to Toledo, Ohio, to spend a week with my sister and her family. But a freight train derailment in Montgomery County, N.Y., forced a service disruption between Albany and Buffalo, so Amtrak passengers had to be bused between the locations.

While I sat inside the station I noticed a custodian working his shift. His diligence caught my attention. He was likely in his mid to late 30s with short brownish-blond hair and a goatee. He wore a light blue golf shirt, white sweatpants with navy blue trim on the side, white sneakers and latex gloves.

His face was red and moist from his labor. He was pushing a yellow cart loaded with supplies and kept moving between the garbage cans inside the station, emptying the trash and replacing the plastic bags. He wasted no movement and made no delay in going between the cans; it was clear he wasn’t clock-watching, trying to stall while waiting for his shift to end. He was there to do work and he followed through with alacrity on every task.

Then I saw him again in the men’s room. He was emptying the trash and wiping down the urinals, stalls and sinks.

After the majority of passengers boarded the Greyhound bus that would take us to Buffalo, the driver, a blond-haired man in his 50s with a mustache, stood in front of the terminal talking to some Amtrak employees and a Border Patrol agent. The driver and Amtrak workers checked the tickets of latecomers and loaded the oversized luggage into the baggage compartment in the bottom of the bus.

As I looked out my window, facing the terminal, I saw the janitor working outside. And while the driver and Amtrak workers stood chatting, the custodian emptied the exterior trash cans and recycle bins. He pulled up the full garbage bags, tied them tightly and stacked them on top of his cart; then he would take clean plastic bags, snap them open and insert them into the cans.

He did this a number of times, going from can to can and never saying a word to anyone. He blended into the background of people smoking outside and the employees talking at the curb.

I thought about the janitor’s life. He has a thankless job that requires tedious physical effort and the touching of dirty paper towels and leftover food. I can’t imagine he makes more than 10 or 12 dollars an hour, and I wonder if he has a family to support. I bet he wants a higher-paying job, maybe something that doesn’t require manual labor.

And on this Saturday night it was late, around 9:30 p.m. He looked tired, but that did not slow him down.

Once all of the trash was piled high on his cart, he pushed it inside the station, going through the automatic doors at the front entrance, and most likely wheeled the cart to a Dumpster outside, at the back of the station.

Soon he would punch out and head home. Maybe he would have a late meal and catch some sports highlights on ESPN.

I admired this man for his effort when no one was paying attention to him. I believe our nation’s productivity could increase substantially if we all worked as hard as the janitor.

I’m sure he does not love his job. But it’s clear he takes pride in it. And honest labor in any capacity deserves recognition.