As I walked out of my apartment yesterday morning, to the gym, happy as a clam to get back to my routine, a couple was walking by. The man looked at me, then looked back, took a long head-to-toe gander, taking in the full affect of my spandex-pant/sweatshirt ensemble, my bed-head. He turned fully to continue staring as I passed. I smiled as I moved on: this is why I love Brooklyn, I thought. There is so much humanity here, so many people to take notice of you, even on mornings when little care has been taken with one's appearance. You're bound to get some kind of attention.
The same cannot be said of other places. Virginia, for example, offered far fewer opportunities for connection and attention. Take, for example, the older gentleman at the toll booth as we entered Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. A friendly gent, looking for friends, he asked, apropos of nothing, "You guys ice skate?"
Geordie laughed, like he was making a joke and didn't bite really.
"Aren't you wonderin' why I asked you that, 'bout ice skatin'?" he said.
"Um, sure," Geordie said, not quite convincingly. I peered around from the passenger side to see the face of the disembodied desperate voice.
"It's cuz I love to ice skate!" he said happily. "I'm gonna get me a new pair of skates and there's a rink right close to where I live, out by Lynchburg...so by next season..."
Geord smiled. "Great!" he said. I piped in too. "That's great!" I said. There was little left to say on the subject and we needed to get moving. As we did, it made me sad. This poor man has no one to talk to, no one to pay attention to him. Although, I suppose, a fair number of cars roll through. I imagine he stops them all for as long a period as they will allow.
He reminded me of another man, a farmer who works as a short-order cook at the cafe at the base of the mountain in the winter months. When I'd come in for an Americano for the second time during my stay, he looked at me quizzically. "Did you cut your hair? You had it up last time..."
We had spoken briefly, exchanged hellos, but, I supposed, he didn't see too many folks 'round these parts, during the short hours the place was open. He introduced himself, was obviously someone who loved to meet new people. He had a friend in Brooklyn he stayed with sometimes, he said, and loved it.
In Brooklyn it can be true, too, of course, that people live in isolation. But whenever I'm feeling the need for a little human contact, I have a wide variety of cafes and stores I can visit to shoot the breeze. Sitting outside at Colson's yesterday, I found myself embroiled in great conversation quickly with a woman I've met on occasion. Later, at Naidre's, conversation in line turned to the dangers of religion and the pathetic reality that there might never be peace in the Middle East. It is common that cafe lines turn into great group conversations with only the slightest provocation.
Some people, to be fair, find the press of humanity in a big city overwhelming. People that I spoke to in Virginia, who had moved to the lowly populated Nelson County from someplace larger, loved it. They loved, as one store owner put it, "just walking my land at night," the moon their only company.
I thought of that yesterday, driving Oscar to a birthday party at a bowling alley deeper into crazy-crowded Brooklyn. As we waited at a stop light, his impatience mounted.
"Come on! Go Mommy!" he yelled.
"It's red, Oscar," I said, impatient with his impatience. And then it occurred to me: we hadn't waited for stoplights in Nelson County. There was only one there, our brewery waitress had told us proudly, and that had not gone in without a fight.
I said this to Oscar, reminded him that his impatience was likely a result of not having had to wait at stoplights in Virginia, where there hadn't been any.
"Why not? Why do we have them here?" he asked.
I explained that there we were often alone on the road without another car in sight, a phenomenon that is rarely the case in traffic-filled Brooklyn.
"If there were no stoplights here, like if there were no air traffic controllers at airports, there would be chaos, cars crashing into each other..."
It is a concept I come to a lot living in a big city, with many others, the concept that things we don't like, rules we don't want to live by, are a necessary evil when it comes to running things smoothly for the masses. It is the downside of being thrown amongst so many others, that personal freedoms must be sacrificed for the greater good.
I have to admit that it was annoying waiting for those stoplights when we had known for a while the joys of driving straight through without stopping for long periods of time. But it is worth it, I think. As is waiting in the long lines at Naidre's or Union Market. As much as I might have my moments of misanthropy, may need to get away from the throngs for a day or three or five, I am only too happy to return, to look and be looked at by many others of my most beautiful species of man, by chance to speak to them and have them speak to me. In those interactions inlies immense possibility that I often cannot conjure alone.
As is typical upon my return home, a big gold star goes out to Brooklyn.