Monday, February 20, 2017

This City, At This Time

We are down south, but not really in the South.
We are in the big city that is almost another country, but isn’t.
Many, perhaps most, people here speak another language, many languages.

I am high up in a high building.  I can sit and watch the planes come out of the clouds and coast to the airport.
I can watch the boats glide down the bay and wait for the drawbridge to open.
I see the sunset turn the windows blazing red on the tall towers across the bay.

Rows of forty and fifty story steel and glass towers line the water for miles.
All with balconies that almost no one is on, except for me, and a couple of people who sneak out to smoke.
Along the bay these towers are two, three, or four rows deep.
They are building more all over the city; higher ones to peek over the older ones. The noise of construction, the banging, the beeping, the grinding goes on from eight to five, everyday except Sunday.
The money for these buildings comes from all over the world.
The money finds a safe home here. It is safer, at least for now, than it is in Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, Russia or China, or any country with oil.

Four blocks away from the bay the houses are one, two or three stories tall.
There are neighborhoods, some are going through transitions as the poor immigrants are being pushed away. Younger, more hopeful, but not yet prosperous people are moving in. 
These neighborhoods are vibrant, with night life going on late.
Cafes overflowing on the streets full of men, drinking and talking, making deals.
Designing businesses, designing designs, writing, playing music.
Flirting with women.

Women too, are now talking, drinking wine, designing, making deals, building businesses
Smiling as the men flirt with them.
The men and women who have come from the other cultures, live in these neighborhoods.  They dress beautifully, they present themselves to the world with a sense of presence and style.
This is a city.  The people have to have a style, a sense of themselves to be a part of it.
But this is not Brooklyn or Boston.  It is warm here.No big coats, sweaters, or flannel shirts,
Bodies are clearly on display, and they look good. Often very good. Certainly to an old man.

Walk around the corner and you have to step over a man sleeping on the sidewalk with his head resting on his backpack.  You won’t step on him because you can smell him a few feet before you see him.
If you pass a dark alley a young man with vacant eyes may step out and ask you, in a voice that you strain to hear, for a couple of dollars, just so he can survive.
He makes you feel uncomfortable and it’s very awkward, as you realize what it must take to ask like this. Even if he is just hustling he can’t be very good at it because he looks so lost and frail, but he still human.  So I give him a couple of dollars realizing that my wife just spend $15 on a glass of wine at the very good, hip restaurant in this transitional neighborhood, and our Uber will arrive in two more minutes to take us back to the tower that overlooks the bay.

In the building by the bay live hundreds of people from hundreds of places, speaking dozens of languages.  Riding the elevator early in the morning you ride down with people going to work. They are dressed in everything including sharp business suits, short dresses and very high heels, fine jeans and fancy tee-shirts, and hospital scrubs.  Everyone is cheerful, everyone is a little more than polite, they are friendly. Many know each other, and like being together.

Half an hour later the elevator is full of people with their dogs. Mostly women with very small dogs.  Many of the dogs are in their own strollers.  One women had four little white dogs in her stroller, all barking in slightly different tones

Later in the day, the old people are doing laps up and back in the pool, many using styrofoam floatations to help them along in their exercise programs.  Inside, in the elevator, as I got on with my three year-old grandson, a man joined us.  He stood about six-foot-five, with broad shoulders and a trim waist. His skin was the color of a frappuccino. He wore expensive business casual. His dreadlocks flowed down below his shoulders.  He spotted at my grandson, who immediately hid behind my legs. The man smiled and said, “Hey, is that Lightening McQueen on those shoes.”  The kid stepped out from behind my leg and spoke in his barely comprehensible english, “Yes, these shoes go very fast.”

Later, as the sun begins to set, it is Happy Hour all over the city. Since it is warm, or hot here, almost everything happens outside.  Families gather on the decks, in their backyards, or together in the neighborhood. They cook old recipes that have come from many different lands and have been modified by each generation that has been here. In the bars, cafes, restaurants, many that line the water ways, the people begin their evenings, sitting, conversing, and laughing. Many gather in family or ethnic groups, but also many in very diverse groups of people who work together, create together or just play together.  This is what helps the city grow, change, and evolve into whatever it needs to be. The world changes from here.

The TVs on the wall show mostly soccer games from Europe or Brazil. There are basketball games of the local team and local colleges.  There is also the news channel, but not the one they watch in Indiana.
On the news channel is our President, raving that he is treated unfairly. He is telling us he is making us safer, and he is the best that there ever was.
The people here who watch him are nervous.  They fear that he will deport their friends for no reason, to countries they have not been since they were six. He will deport these people to make the people living in Arkansas feel safe.  The people in Arkansas, twelve hundred miles away somehow feel threatened by the people in this neighborhood.  They feel that way because the President told them they were dangerous. None of these people look or act dangerous. Well, some of the women might be dangerous, but not in a way that would threaten Little Rock.

Away from the towers of steel, glass and balconies many of the neighborhoods are crumbling.  Many of the streets are full of potholes and with crumbling houses and littered lots.  They have found a way to distract people from the rubble by painting beautiful murals all over the city.

The schools struggle for funds, and face the huge task of having to educate people who speak so many languages, and have so many needs.  I do not live here so I don’t know the politics, but I’m sure it’s complex, and probably doesn’t work that well.

This is a very American city, but it is not typical, because everyone city is unique. This city will grow unless the sea continues to rise and covers it over.  What it will become is not yet clear.  Like every place around the world, it seems as if those who are already doing well will benefit the most.  Those a step away will strive toward to join in the prosperity, with a few making it. The rest will struggle in the shadows of the towers, living lives of increasing difficulty. This is the way it has been since cities first formed.  The castles were on the top of the hill. The garbage and the sewage flowed down. Why should it be different now?

Perhaps because we don’t need slaves and surfs or peasants any more to support the kings, dukes and earls.  We don’t even need kings, dukes and earls any more, although many people seem to pretend to royalty, certainly in their own mind.

Now we have robots. We have Artificial Intelligence, and sophisticated algorithms that can help run all our lives. We even have democracy, so that everyone can be a part of choosing our future.  
At least we made an attempt at it.  

Like this city, it still needs a lot of adjustments.