Travel Love: This City
I love living in the city.
I love the businessmen staring into Blackberries and the homeless guys asking for 85 cents for the bus. I love the cars and the horns and the bizarre craze of the 5 o’clock rush. I love the “come check out my band!” posters and the bar flyers and the valet parkers on the corner outside the restaurant. I love the back alleys lit by sun, or streetlight. I even love the noxious fumes coming out of the second story room window near the fire escape. Well, not really – but you know what I mean.
But what I really love is the feeling that you are a part of it all.
I used to live in one of the biggest cities on the planet. Then I traveled and ran around the globe and saw enough city sidewalks to make the whole experience seem old hat. I’ve walked Paris at night in the rain. I’ve cursed the evening mass exodus that is the buildings of Seoul disemboweling their bazillions of nine-to-fivers on the city streets. I’ve been almost killed in Saudi Arabian traffic more times than I can remember.
It’s enough to make you cynical — or bemused. I choose the latter.
Cities have never gotten old to me. Okay, sometimes they have. By about the 15th grand central terminal on my adventure through Europe, the Zurich train station just seemed like another ink splash of urban crap on a giant map of train routes and bus rides. Everyone was in my way. The line was too long. Forget the coffee shop – I just wanted to hunch in the corner of McDonald’s and dream about some beach, somewhere.
I’ve experienced this feeling a few times – and every time I do, I check myself. I try to use my head. I try to remember what it all means. I try to remember, as David Foster Wallace said, that this…is water. And like everyone else, I am swimming along.
This is the city. This is the glorious madness of living in community – tight, cramped, aggravating, invigorating…community.
I love the city because I love people. I love just being with people. And that’s exactly what the city is. You can go there not knowing a soul, then cross the street in the midst of a hundred strange cohorts; divinely ordained friends born out of struggle and the bizarre fate that you all just happen to be trying to get to the same place at the same time: simply, across the street.
One night in Seoul, I made the mistake of jumping on the subway at 5:30 pm. The caboose was jammed – and I mean jammed. Jammed in the kind of way that would be documented a human rights crime in America. I also knew it was only a matter of time before I heinously groped somebody in the most inappropriate way possible, totally on accident. Or vice versa – except usually when I got groped it was by old Korean men, on purpose. We could hardly lift our arms. My nose was jammed into some guy’s leather jacket. Then, the most bizarre born-out-of necessity act occurred. The girl standing opposite me (and by that I mean our faces were so smashed together we might as well have just started making out) lifted her arm out of the sea of mangled limbs…and proceeded to throw it over my shoulder. What the…?
So there we were. Her arm over my right shoulder, me trying to be cool but…kind of weirded out at the same time. And then I realized what she was doing. She had to send a text. (Yeah, right. Had to. Her “Hello Kitty” backpack really conveyed that she probably had really urgent professional business to discuss.) And the only way she was going to accomplish said task was by throwing her arm into the only available space on the train – i.e., the stratosphere existing only above my 6-foot shoulder.
She looked at me like it was the most normal thing in the world, and just kind of shrugged as if to say “sorry white boy, but you afford me space.” I laughed, looked at her for a second, smiled, and decided to play the game. So I wriggled for a minute and fished my old brick style slide-phone out of my jeans – and threw my arm over her shoulder. She was shocked for a second and opened her mouth about to say something – then stopped. I simply raised my eyebrows and cracked a sardonic smile as if to say, “Hey sister, you started it.” We looked at each other for a second – and started laughing. Then we went about our all important text messaging in perfect opposite-shoulder-using ease. How beautiful.
I love the city. I love it because I’m part of if. We all are. I love colliding with people, because it’s all part of the adventure. The country, the mountains, the open sea – they’re all friends too; but they can wait for me. For now, give me people. Give me concrete and neon and second hand smoke and ticket lines. Give me city blocks and faces and friends around the corner. Give me subways and crosswalks and long bus rides where you fall asleep with your iPod headphones in and your forehead rattling against the plexiglass. Give me community. Give me city.