From Country Mouse to City Beaver
Those of you who know me particularly well know that I was born and raised in suburbs just about all of my life. Consequently, my time here at MIT is my first time living in a major metropolitan area for any extended period of time. Bearing that in mind, I have to say, it’s been an interesting experience. Boston and Cambridge may not be quite so urban as Los Angeles or Coruscant (we can see the Boston sky), but I’m working my way up to the full-fledged city experience.
I remember my first American urban experience quite distinctly — New York City, New Year’s Eve, 1998. Hundreds of people gathered to see if that Prince song was all it was cracked up to be. My family and I traveled to the general proximity of Times square via subway, encountering people of widely varying races, style choices, and levels of intoxication. The claustrophobic nightmare that is New Year’s at Times Square hemmed us in a location too far away to see the ball drop but close enough to hear what I presume were celebratory gunshots. I’m pretty sure that the thought, “So this is what the city is like,” passed through my head at some point, probably wedged between, “So this is where the Ninja Turtles live,” and, “That’s either a very large rat or a very small bear.” Luckily, the rodents around Boston are fairly itty-bitty, or at least appear so compared to the six-foot Sasquatch of a beaver I’ve seen stalking around campus. I’ve been trying to catch him on film, but he always turns out blurry and never appears for more than a split second.
By far, the most unusual part of moving to a city, at least for me, is getting around from place to place. I’m not accustomed to having anything within walking distance back home except a mini-shopping center consisting of a gas station, a laundromat, and a hair salon, none of which were of immediate use to me. I didn’t have my own car (and would be too paranoid to drive much if I did). My mom always did my laundry, and my dad still cuts my hair, which is why I will be going home this summer with a quasi-mullet. Nothing long enough to make MacGyver blink an eye, but a record amount of hair for me, all the same.
Here, virtually everything can be reached on foot. I realize that may not be an impressive statement for you marathon runners out there, but for an indoor geek like me with no real endurance to speak of, the idea is positively revolutionary. Even the locations that can’t be reached on foot before collapsing of exhaustion are readily made available via public transportation, and anywhere in between T-stops (if one is desperate or impatient enough) can be brought within reach by taxi cab. Back home, you called a cab instead of waving it down, and I’m still not sure how to do it without looking like I’m directing runway traffic. Fortunately, a friend of mine (a Brooklyn native) is instructing me in the finer points of jaywalking. Hopefully, cab-hailing won’t be too far behind it.
Easily the most stereotypical characteristic of a cityscape has to be the skyscraper. The Boston skyline certainly looks well enough like a city, even though there are only two truly impressive skyscrapers to speak of. Compared to how Boston looks from this side of the river, the view of Cambridge out my window looks less like a city and more like an industrial wasteland. I know that’s not the case, since my quests on foot up Massachusetts Avenue speak otherwise, and besides, I’d rather have sunlight than plate glass dominating the vista, Hancock Tower notwithstanding. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s almost rush hour, and jaywalker training is in half an hour. You know what they say, if you can dodge traffic?