I hate the city. With every fiber of my being, I loathe and despise the city; the constant chaos, calamity, and mind-numbing cacophony of the never-ending testicle-rattling drum beats emanating from max volume car stereos with sinfully excessive bass, wildly exceeding the Autobahn speed limit, along with the sirens, car horns, airplanes and helicopters overhead, at face value at least, city life should have every one of your senses screaming that there is simply nothing positive about living this way. And now that I have gotten that off my chest let’s take a step back and think this through.
I was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in a Maryland suburb a mile or two away from the nation’s capital. Raised by my mother and grandmother, our family has deep ancestral ties to Appalachia, with my people going way back to the early to mid-1700s. Distant cousins to the McCoy side of the feud, my people were Pig farmers and butchers and serious small-crop vegetable farmers (and I have nothing to publicly confess on the matters of whether they also had stills or ran rum at any point in my family history).
I will never forget shucking corn, peeling potatoes, helping with the canning, and watching all the women Folk tittering about the men or the neighbors or the preacher’s most recent sermon while they busied themselves with putting together Sunday dinner, baking, or making jelly, or dandelion wine, and God knows what else. All this is to say that even though I lived day-to-day in the suburbs, I was “up country”damn near every weekend of my life all the way up to when I left home and moved to the Northeast.
I suppose I should consider myself fortunate to have experienced both City and Country ways of life, but the choice of which way to go once I was grown up and on my own was no contest; come hell or high water, I was never going to live in the city again. An interesting thing happened, though, when my DNA caught up with me, and I found out (the hard way) that I had inherited the Atherosclerosis Gene (the underlying cause of the strokes and subsequent blindness), which has relegated me to needing to live in the very City I swore I wouldn’t ever live in.
It’s an interesting thing about fate, or destiny or Karma, or whatever, that just the right set of circumstances could put you precisely where you never intended to be while also presenting you with opportunities only limited by your unwillingness to seek them out and embrace them whenever and wherever you can. You know what I mean, sort of like that old saying “when in Rome…”?
It is not braggadocio when I assert that I have a somewhat unfair advantage over most people; because I can’t drive, I have to either take the bus or walk almost everywhere I go. The “glass half empty” crowd might quickly point out that this is nothing to brag about, but let me assure you that having to do everything in slow motion puts me at a distinct advantage over “normal” people, at least as it relates to seeking out and embracing the things life sends your way.
Normal people, out and about contending with traffic (and old blind people stepping into the crosswalk, waddling with their canes trying to get across the street), are focused on getting where they are going as quickly and efficiently as possible in the least amount of time necessary so they can get where they are going. I used to be that guy, but now I literally have all day, can take my time, and stop and smell any damn rose that catches my eye. I can stare at a construction site, taking in the heavy equipment and the hilarious interactions between workers as they talk smack to each other while the backhoe is digging its hole to fix a sewer line, and I can look up and admire the architecture of the buildings and imagine all the worker bees that came and went to assemble and build the steel and concrete monoliths that make up my city or any other on the planet. And because I did construction work as a teenager, I can close my eyes and imagine the coffee break or lunchtime banter the workers had… going on about their kids, wives, and their in-laws, and almost always complaining about their bosses. When was the last time “normal person”, that you stood in a big box store or a shopping mall and thought about these sorts of things?
The more I traverse this place, taking in the smell of food coming from restaurants, the conversations I overhear from people eating at tables outside a sidewalk cafe, or the awe-inspiring simple beauty of a flower blooming above its tender roots submerged in an impossibly narrow crack in the sidewalk fill me with a seemingly-misplaced sense of promise and hope. Having to take the city at face value has brought me to realize that there is an odd love-hate relationship between the wilderness a city displaces and the willingness of the wilderness to work around the impact of steel and concrete that has invaded previously wild spaces.
I genuinely believe my sense of hope is not misplaced because wandering around this place – especially at early dusk – and being frozen in place by the indescribable beauty of shattered beer bottles and glass shards randomly spread around in a not-so-random way, reflecting just right in the headlights and rays of the setting Sun, is the sort of beauty you can only find because you weren’t looking for it. Your instinctive response should be disgust at the lack of care others have for the place they live in, but it seems to me that moments like these are proof there is a strange sort of harmony… An odd kind of arm’s-length, mutual understanding between nature and the invading forces of civilization. Don’t get me wrong… I’m a winning lottery ticket away from moving back to the wilderness, but given those odds, I’ve come to understand and embrace the beauty and wonder all around me and every wart, blemish, imperfection, or skin tag that comes with it.