CityLegs


" … feeling about half the man I fondly remembered that I used to be."

In cities, people live on sidewalks. In suburbs, cars. When not on sidewalks, city people might hop a bus or the subway, sometimes even grab an Uber between neighborhoods, exiting onto yet another sidewalk again. In suburbs, it's cars all the way down. When the suburban visits the city, they drive their car, which they are shackled to for the duration of the trip. Should the suburban find themselves fortunate enough to find a place to park their car, they also find good reason to grumble about the price for parking, then still find themselves shackled to wherever they parked the damned thing, carefully monitoring how far they've wandered lest they find themselves cut off from their hasty escape. City people develop CityLegs, ones accustomed to a twelve block stroll. Suburbanites might notice blisters forming on their feet after four or five blocks. And the blocks seem so big, littered with distractions, shops for every faction living there; with curious customs. The proprietor might want to chat. What should a puzzled suburbanite think of that?

The urban/rural divide isn't a simple six of one versus a half dozen of another. It's long division, requiring some heavy lifting to carry remainders across columns separated by wholly different dimensions.
Urbanites seem curiously parochial to their country cousins who presume their rural counterparts inexperienced. Their paths rarely bisect day to day and each would prefer to keep this situation exactly that way. There's a comforting and empowering anonymity in the city for those who know their way around there and a disturbing isolating loneliness for those who do not. Cities measure distances in minutes, employing a calculus that makes no sense when calculating country miles. Cities sense when to stay indoors, when the rush might simply subsume them. The rural visitor can get stuck in rush traffic at two o'clock in the morning, and never forgets the indignity.

One way streets abut into two ways. Lanes disappear. For the flat-dweller, these complications complicate nothing at all, comprising a form of performance art witnessed from the secure distance of an adjoining sidewalk while confidently perched upon CityLegs. Parallel parking under the annoyed gaze of fifty competing drivers serves as urban street theater to those hoofing it home where car keys either dangle unused from a peg over the kitchen counter or do not exist at all. The suburban visitor digs for quarters, appalled at how few parking minutes one buys these days. They remember when.

I once had CityLegs. I walked across town or hopped the shuttle heading down that way. I calculated clever shortcuts unbothered by the uncaring traffic zooming around me. Those legs knew when it was safe to jaywalk in the middle of which block and when to wait for the walk light before attempting to cross. Their pace matched that of a walking horse with my whole world comfortably accessible without even a hint of a race to get there or back again. I knew the maze so needed no admission to any rat race. The journey became the reward, the reward not self-sufficiency but an undeniable and reassuring co-dependency. I would be toast without the bodega man's thoughtful foresight or the unbidden kindnesses of absolute strangers. I carried cash rather than credit cards and found time to stop for a cup and a little contemplation. I'd read that morning's New York Times.

In the 'burbs, nobody walks because there's no place to walk to. Half the streets don't even sport sidewalks, some hardly have verges, walkers considered an indecent obstruction to decent traffic flow. Those who use their legs jog or walk the family dog, both activities intended to progress no further than back to their point of origin, hardly wiser for the hike. Both seem self-obsessed, serving themselves, nodding in vague recognition to nobody in passing, passing exactly nobody along the way. On Saturday morning, The Muse out of town, I decided to drive downtown for breakfast. The unfamiliar streets confused me. Parking confounded me at first. Finally finding an open space after deserving that honk I received for an awkward lane change, I filled up the armless bandit and hiked back to that greasy spoon. Inside, a milling crowd consumed every square inch of the entryway. I quickly calculated that I might spend half my day waiting for a table in a room utterly consumed with deafening noise. I slipped back onto the sidewalk, attempting to walk away as if I still had my CityLegs. I stumbled, a certain tell that I didn't know my way around there very well. I fled back to my car, forfeiting my parking quarters for a scant five minute hike, feeling simply damned. I hardly got lost at all leaving the urban core. I continued my morning chores without the meal I'd planned, feeling about half the man I fondly remembered that I used to be.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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