I’m on a road trip solo this weekend. At the moment I’m sitting in local bakery with French inspired decor and food. For the past hour and a half the line has stretched to the back of the store. A red-headed woman with plastic gold wings attached to her back just walked past me. Why? I’m not sure, but just felt like that needed to be on the record. The place is open 24/7 and tonight it’s quite lively. Something comes alive in me when I’m in a city. I felt it today as I was walking through this streets of Charlotte. It’s the same feeling I experienced the first time I went to Atlanta, and then when I went to Kansas City, and later Beijing, Nanjing, and Shanghai. Cities bring with them a tinge of chaos and busyness, but not enough to stress me out. I can feel life buzzing all around me. Horns honking, police officers speeding by, pedestrians crossing, and runners getting in a workout. I love gazing up at the buildings towering above head, and thinking “I wonder what they’re doing in there.” I enjoy exchanging “good mornings” or “hey, how are yous” with strangers with whom I make eye contact. I see bike lanes on the streets and greenways twisting through parks and get giddy.
The presence of other people is comforting, yet, I feel entirely at peace in my own world as my feet hit the sidewalk. I remember going on a run in Kansas City at 5am in the middle of winter. Last December was my first time traveling west of the Mississippi. I slept all of 4 hours the night before, woke to my alarm, slipped on my running clothes, and made my way out the door, careful not to wake friends. It was 12 degrees outside. I crossed the state borders from Kansas to Missouri and back to Kansas. I ran up and down icy sidewalks, past bookstores, hospitals, and the neighborhood was asleep, though the city in the distance stayed alive.
I remember the morning after we flew into China, after getting a much needed night of rest, I flung open the blinds, surprised at how energized I felt, and went for a run in Beijing. At 5am the sun was up and the city had been bustling all night. Every time I crossed a street I wondered if I was going to be hit by a bike or a taxi. I weaved in and out of people on the sidewalks, made my way past Tiananmen Square, and observed what I now refer to as an “adult playground.” Elderly Chinese men and women played table tennis (it’s NOT just a stereotype) while others were stretched their back and abs on curved metal bars. A young woman in a light pink jumpsuit was walking her poodle. We made eye contact and smiled as we headed towards one another. As I passed her, I happily spouted the only Chinese phrase I knew at the moment “ni hao.” She responded “hello.”
I wonder how much my love of cities has to do with my love of busyness. I despise being idle. It’s my fall break and I’m driving across the state, exploring, and engaging in various risky behaviors (nope, not sex or drugs) which I will not disclose on the internet. When I get back home I’m thinking about doing a couple of long distance bike rides before classes start again. Like I said, I HATE being idle. Monday through Friday is my favorite part of the week. Class, work, gym, lunch dates, paper writing-- that’s when I’m in my element. On the weekends a cloud of anxiety tends to come over me, because that’s when life gets eerily slow and I have to seek out ways to actively relax.
I’ve always said I’m a mountain person. I’m coming to discover, though, that I enjoy nature for a period of time. Then I am ready to get back to a city, where life is continually buzzing.
I prayed to God this today “please let me end up somewhere in a city.”