I\’ve been trying to remember where I was when I first became fascinated by cities. I think it may have been in 1999 when I was seventeen, riding the DC metro\’s red line into the city from the \’burbs. Watching the graffiti become brighter and more prevalent. Observing the houses change from pre-fab to pre-war. Watching the decay grow worse even as the pitiful skyline of the \”World\’s Capitol\” loomed nearer. Seeing down and out guys living under the New York Avenue bridge, just five feet from where the trains go rushing past. Smelling the CK-1 stench that came from every Tom, Dick, Harry, Sue, Karen, and Mary as the evening commuter rush turned into the nightlife crowd.
Every detail that enthralled me stood just as much chance of nauseating me: the inequality, the injustice, the heads up the asses of those who had as well as those who had not. Metaphorically speaking, the people had become the rats who had followed them. Mid-priced cologne or pure body odor, everyone was just as likely to vomit on themselves while rushing to the platform at the early hour of eleven to catch the last train to nowhere. On foot, everyone in the city was equal. In the suburbs, people were rarely on foot.
Since 1999 I\’ve not seen as much as I would have liked from foot. DC, Baltimore, Richmond, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Orlando, Chicago, Detroit, Lawrence (Kansas), Milwaukee, Manchester, Boston, New York, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cleveland, Seattle, Newark, some others I\’m probably forgetting off the top of my head. I feel like I haven\’t been very far in five years. I feel sedentary. The thing is, despite my travels, despite how people feel the need to believe that their city is so very individual, so very special and cool and not like anywhere else, that\’s mostly a falsehood.
East of the river always smells foul on hot days. College campuses create inner-city circles of high priced-bad art, hippie student rot. Chinatowns everywhere are being bought out. Little snotty boys in raggedy baseball caps think they own the \’newly discovered\’ urban below ground that others with lesser financial means have been utilizing for years. Government buildings overshadow the rest of the nearby city and look out of place, out of touch, and out of time. There\’s always an architectural marvel or two, as well as a few more mistakes. Street markets have come, gone, and are coming back again. Consumerism is king. It\’s often hard to tell the homeless from the people posing for pocket change. English is rarely spoken in any urban setting (that\’s a very \”why can\’t the English learn to speak\” sort of statement, but I stick by it due to the influx of commercial lingo, regional idioms, multi-cultural slang, and the melting pot that is the combination of diverse ethnic backgrounds — Polish, Jewish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Latino, Nigerian, etc.).
I didn\’t set out to say anything with this, which I guess is kind of obvious. I\’m simply fascinated by \”the city,\” and though my roots are in this one, I could probably be plonked down anywhere and be just as intrigued. Though they\’re practically interchangeable, they are no less capricious. No matter which one I am in, I always feel like a stranger in my own home, whether I have been there before or not. I hang my hat on my head, and therefore, I am at home anywhere. My heart is everywhere, which is perhaps why I find it so difficult to stay long in any one place.
I\’m getting older and increasingly more boring.