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Three Surprising Reasons Why I Love Living in the City
January 20, 2014 - Diane Laney Fitzpatrick
Don't be surprised. I'm more adaptable and more cheerfully resigned - not to mention adventurous - than the average small town suburban girl. I take after my mother. I recently described my mom as being a survivor, but "not the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps-determined survivor, but more of a "hunker-down-brace-yourself-have-a-cigarette-and-wait-out-the-storm survivor." My mom also always looked at the bright side, sometimes to the point of being extremely annoying, especially to a sixth- through eighth-grader who looks at life with a big dose of dark angst.
So, my mom's traits came in handy when deciding to live in San Francisco. Of all the different kinds of places we had lived, they were all pretty suburban compared to this.
I'm not counting as "city" the duplex on the north side of Youngstown that my husband and I lived in when our first baby was born. Technically, that was the city, but it was a quiet, tree-lined street that dead-ended at the community swimming pool and the Dairy Queen, which was owned and operated by my cousin and his wife. That's not to say that it isn't now a drug lord's turf of iniquity where there are drive-by's weekly. When I lived there, it was just slightly more cosmopolitan than Hooterville.
When I moved here I knew it wasn't going to be all That Girl. But I was surprised at some things about city life.
People in the city are more dramatic
City-zens look and act more like people on TV and I'm not talking about the Duck Dynasty dudes or those white trash mental cases on Toddlers & Tiaras. I once heard someone say about Los Angeles, "Oh, we got rid of all the ugly people." I'm thinking they may have only been half kidding.
I see more thin, dazzling, fashionably dressed women of natural beauty than I ever saw in the Midwest. I now see what Florida women with their plastic surgery are going for. It's within reach, people, because I'm seeing it every day. And it's not just women. I'm convinced that there is a male modeling training ground near my house because I sometimes see small groups of these 20-something guys who look like they walked out of the Abercrombie catalog, except they're wearing clothes.
The regular people are much more dramatic and animated than suburban dwellers. I often look out my front window at people on the street having conversations and it was months before I realized they weren't all having big fights.
"Call the police! These two are gonna go at it any minute now!" I said one Saturday morning, when two middle-aged men were interacting so loudly, they were scaring our dog, who was inside the house and upstairs. Then they smiled, clapped each other on the back and went jauntily along their way. People here tend to talk passionately and dramatically when they're discussing whether to cross at Stockton and go down by Macy's or go to Powell and stop at DSW first.
We had two plumbers in our house all last week. When the one in the front of the house would yell instructions to the one at the back of the house, he did it so alarmingly that I thought Bruce Willis was here saving me from some bad guys. I was halfway to a claim on our flood insurance before I realized he was just saying, "OK, try it now."
Rule following is rewarded
I'm a rule follower from way back. In first grade, I was "talking to my neighbor," something that kept me from getting straight A's (stupid Conduct…. Whose idea was it to make that a real subject?) when Mrs. Weimer picked me to go check the bulletin board to see if recess was IN or OUT that day. I didn't hear what it was that I was supposed to do, so I asked the aforementioned neighbor and she whispered, "You have to go stand in the hall because you were talking." I stonily walked out the door and stood there, not knowing the first thing about how to implement a stand-in-the-hall punishment. I had never been in trouble before (never was again, either, until 8th grade when I got my first detention). I stood there contemplating not how I should probably try to keep my mouth shut during school, but how stupid it is to punish a student by making her stand in the hall. It was neat out there. If I hadn't been so mortified at my walk of shame through that giant wooden classroom door, I would have enjoyed the peaceful, slightly mysterious atmosphere of an elementary school hallway when everyone is in their rooms. It was like the school was taking a short nap, and I - only I - got to watch.
Anyway, the point is, I'm big on rules and I think more people should be like me and take them seriously and follow them. The city rewards people like me.
In the city, there are tons of rules but they're all very necessary. If you don't follow them you could easily get hit by a taxi or not get your garbage picked up on the right day or get your car towed. In the not-city, sure, there are signs that say Don't Do This and Don't Do That, but there's a general blasé attitude about them and people regularly park in no-parking zones, make turns in No Turn lanes, and smoke in no-smoking areas, and there are no repercussions.
The city is full of justice and I, for one, love it.
I am more awkward but so is everyone else
I had two boxes to take to the post office last week. One was big and heavy and the other was big and light. Together they were too cumbersome for me to carry without having to set them down every block. The post office is four blocks from my house and driving is not an option. Plus there isn't anywhere to set things down when they get too heavy. So I whipped out my little wheeled cart that my husband bought me when we first moved to the city. The cart is too vertical to be very practical. I couldn't fit either of the boxes into the cart itself, so I set the heavier box on top and tucked the lighter box under my arm.
And then I set off for the post office.
I wasn't even at the first corner before I realized that the box under my arm was killing that baby-skin on the underside of your upper arm. I kept having to shift it so it dug into a different patch of skin. The box on the cart kept falling off whenever we hit a bump.
Then I got to the stairs at the tunnel. Whenever I tried to pick up the cart it folded up, because the container part of it was empty. The heavy box on top just slowly slid off. I tried to pick it up but I was out of arms. The trip down the stairs was a combination of bumping the cart down backwards and kind of half-carrying it, half-bumping it.
I can't tell you exactly how I ended up at the post office (I blocked most of it) but I did it the same way everyone else in the city does everything: Awkwardly. Barely. Covered with sweat in the end. And not at all gracefully. I realized why those old Chinese ladies with their wheeled carts take those tiny steps. It's not because their feet were bound in their previous lives; it's because it's ridiculously awkward to take anything anywhere in the city. You find yourself taking tiny baby steps or big giant loping steps, dropping things, your hair falling in your face, your body contorted.
Once when my daughter was visiting, we were at the front of a very long line at a store when I dropped something and when I bent down to pick it up, my purse, which was in the standard city position of across my chest, dropped down below my butt, locking me into a sit position and I couldn't get back up. My daughter was fairly mortified but no one else batted an eye.
Hey, that's life in the city. It's OK to look like a dork, because everyone else is doing the same thing.
Except those male models. They're as smooth as silk.
Diane Laney Fitzpatrick is the author of Home Sweet Homes: How Bundt Cakes, Bubble Wrap, and My Accent Helped Me Survive Nine Moves. Her Just Humor Me column runs here and on her website at www.DianeLaneyFitzpatrick.com.
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