City Life

I went downtown tonight to hang out with my dad. We had a good time, but on the train ride home, I got to thinking about the old life in Boston.

Sometimes I miss living in the city.

As much as I like where I live now, it is a very suburban area. I don’t mind that quality of it, and it is nice to be in such close proximity to a large metropolitan area like DC. I can visit fairly easily whenever I like, or when Dad comes to town on business, and then I can come back out to my nice comfortable apartment when the day is done. The apartment has been good for what we’ve needed so far, and the city has been handy for entertaining guests, taking in the art and culture of the Smithsonian, and finding other ways to spend a day or afternoon.

Tonight, I thought back on Boston. I was thinner there. I was accustomed to an hour-long commute. I didn’t need cable television or high speed internet or a car or a dishwasher. Looking at what we have now compared to then, I wonder what I ever did without all of those things. I wonder if it wasn’t somehow more pure without them. We only bought ice cream if it was cold enough outside that it wouldn’t melt while we waited for the train. We worked long hours and studied and found some places that welcomed us. We grew into city life over the course of those several years, and even though we were poorer there than we are here, it was mostly simple.

Dad and I walked around DC a little bit tonight, near Union Station and his hotel. We ran into police officers everywhere because they are in town from all over for police officer’s week–whatever that is. We wondered how the other cities were doing with all of their cops hanging out in DC with us. We certainly felt safe, though. As we walked around, we tried not to notice all of the homeless. The lady in a long coat and red slippers. The couple spooning on a concrete bench. The man in his blanket fort. That was always the part about city life I never could stomach. Not so much that the homeless people were around, begging for change, but that living in the city can really harden a person to these images. I’ve been in DC several times, I know there are homeless people there, and I try to keep my distance in case they might be the kind to pull a knife or pick your pocket. But most of them just seem so sad. They stare off into the distance and even when they hold out their hands and speak, they don’t make any eye contact and sometimes their voices get lost in the sounds of traffic and the other urban goings on. I tried not to think about all of this. But I suppose I did.

I would live in a city again, even with all of the bad stuff–traffic, homeless, crowded public transportation–because there is a sort of closeness that emanates from the city people, the ones who live or work there or both. They know where to stand so that the metro doors will line up with their feet just right. They run into people they know on the street without having made plans in advance to see each other just then. They can spot a tourist a mile away. I’ve been “city” enough over the years that I can still pass as one of them. At the same time, I can’t help that I am no longer that version of myself. Maybe it’s because I haven’t lived in it, but DC just doesn’t have my confidence like Boston did.

I like Virginia. I wouldn’t mind staying here. I like that we are able to afford more square footage, eventually even owning some property. I like my job and the people with whom I interact. I really can’t complain about this place at all. But there is definitely a difference. I felt it tonight.

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