When I was a child, I used to wonder why old people sat on the porch and how boring it was when you could be out running around and doing something. But for the last few years, I've grown accustomed to taking a few minutes to sit out on the steps of my building, typically when returning home from errands.
Even though I don't live on a main thoroughfare, it seems like I can sit there and watch the world go by -- interesting people, people with dogs, with kids, people talking on cell phones -- little dramas passing before me.
Years ago, I read John Barth's The Floating Opera, so named for an opera that was performed on a barge that went up and down the river and so you only could follow the plot of the opera by the section you saw as the barge floated by -- the metaphor for life, or for sitting on your steps.
As I walked to my errands today, I was thinking how ordered a city is -- how people and cars wait for the lights to change, how cars go all at once and people cross the street all at once. I was thinking about the diversity of city life.
Once a woman I know from suburban Kansas City was in NY for a girls' weekend, and she called me breathlessly to say they were in a deli getting coffee that morning and she heard someone talking a foreign language into a cellphone. I waited for the punchline, but that was the punchline. Doing something ordinary like getting coffee, yet hearing a strange, foreign tongue. That was part of her New York experience.
I thought about it and surmise that if you live in suburban Kansas City, you don't hear people speaking other languages that often. When I was picking up dry cleaning the other day, I noticed a shrine in the store, and the thought crossed my mind "Oh, they are Hindus" because I'd see those shrines elsewhere. It's commonplace really and not worth noting other than the passing thought that the people who run the drycleaners belong to a specific religion.
Right next to my drycleaners with the Hindu shrine is a Mexican take out run by Koreans. The place is decorated with Korean fans, prints, a Korean calendar but all the Korean employees are knocking out tacos and chimichangas. I can call in an order for delivery and there's something so amusing about hearing them answer the phone "Hello, Taco Today" with a Korean accent.
Someone told me years ago that every Sikh has the same last name -- Singh -- and so when I get in a cab and look at the driver's license and see his name in Singh, I enjoy saying, "Oh you're a Sikh" and the driver is always surprised that I would know that and so from the drivers I've learned about the Sikhs, their history and heritage, and it's a part of world history you never learn in school.
I was getting frozen yogurt once near Christmas and the young woman serving me who is from Bangladesh asked me sincerely, "What is the difference between the Holy Ghost and the Christmas Spirit?" I loved that question. If I ever don't live in New York, the thing I will miss most (OK, aside from Greek coffee shop breakfasts since they're the only people who understand what wanting your scrambled eggs soft really means -- try asking for that in surburban Kansas City!), so what I will miss the most is the richness of diversity that I get to experience every day. I know that sounds terribly hokey, but it really is true.