Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Life on the streets

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Life on the streets

Friday, April 18, 2014

We were walking along the street and the two women walking in the opposite direction said hello.  And the next people coming down the street said hello, too. In fact, many people we passed acknowledged our existence. Not all of them and not in a creepy or intrusive way. Just in a human way--a little nod to the shared space. And when I inadvertently stepped into the path of a bicycle, the cyclist braked loudly and then...offered his hand in apology.  Said he was sorry, even though it was my fault. Asked if I was all right. We exchanged assurances that each of us was fine and hopes that we each would have a nice day. Dr. D. and I left that exchange noting that, in Boston, invectives would have been hurled and anger would have curdled the air.

But we were in Philadelphia. 

Philadelphia, which often looks as if it’s seen better days and which feels, in many ways, like Boston’s opposite. Where the Boston streets are cozy and walkable, Philadelphia goes for the wide vista and the life-threatening street crossing. Where Boston revels in the patrician heritage, Philadelphia celebrates egalitarianism. Philadelphia is sadly defaced with graffiti; Boston--thanks in large part to community activists and with no thanks to the graffiti-glorifying ICA--does a better job of protecting its exposed surfaces. Both have a strong presence of educational institutions, cultural vitality. Philadelphia gets a plus for weather, Boston for public transportation. Philadelphia wins hands down on city halls.

But what’s with the friendliness--presence versus lack of? When I first moved to Boston from New York, I noticed this. Coming from New York! New York, the city people place right up there with Paris on the friendliness scale. But that hasn’t been my experience. In New York there is an acknowledgment that other people exist. Give New Yorkers a shared street experience--a sudden snowfall, an annoying horn-honker, an adorable child with puppy--and they exchange looks. Smiles even. Or shrugs or eye-rolls as the occasion warrants. It’s quick, the underlying rule on sidewalk or street being always keep the traffic moving. But it’s there. 

Not in Boston. On our streets there’s no recognition that another person is approaching. Even on my quiet one-block-long street. People are friendly enough one on one, but not in the public space. What’s up with that?

Dr. D. and I came home determined to give it a try. Philadelphia’s brotherly love in the hub of the universe? Let’s see how it goes.

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