Apart from the occasional trip to Atlanta or tourist destinations, I didn’t have much to do with what most people call “big” cities until my sister and brother-in-law moved to Michigan five years ago.
Most of what I knew about “city life” I heard in stereotypes or on TV shows.
My first flight took me to a Detroit suburb.
Some things were different than what I was used to at home.
The yards were small.
Some of the houses, which could have made good postcard pictures in the wintertime when they were draped in snow, seemed squeezed into their lots.
Cars lined both sides of the street.
Once we got settled in, though, I noticed some familiar happenings.
People sat on their porches in the afternoons, and they waved at people who paced the sidewalks in front of their houses.
They visited each other.
Most of the time it felt like Mayberry.
There were differences, like crowds, traffic and a gentle disregard for lights which had changed from yellow to red.
The trip was a pleasant experience overall, as was the one we took to Washington D.C. and New York City last year.
We did all of the touristy things in both cities.
I learned how to ride the Metro in the nation’s capital, and the subway in the Big Apple.
There were times I thought I might get lost in the crowd or flattened by a taxi.
Once I was sure I fight was about to break out on a sidewalk in Times Square.
Another time, while we ate at a delicious restaurant in Little Italy, a guy got pretty testy with a waiter who didn’t bring him a fork fast enough.
Those were the only glimpses of the “city” stereotypes I saw.
People stood in the subway aisle so I could sit, they made sure we got off of the train at the right stops.
I had a great time in both cities.
In fact, the only stereotypes I saw evidence of were the ones about tourists who make idiots of themselves, because I made an idiot of myself on more than one occasion.
I’ll treat you to two of them.
I. A New Yorker had to tell me when to get off of the elevator in the Oculus.
He’s a great American in my book.
II. Daddy and were in hurry to somewhere. I don’t guess people can tell when I hurry because a lady walked up beside me and struck up a conversation, like people sometimes do in Alabama.
I’ll be honest. I was caught off guard, because I’d always heard things like random sidewalk greetings and conversations with strangers don’t happen in New York City.
I like to think such ignorance is the reason I said what I said when she asked if I read Esquire.
“No, ma’am,” I said. “I’m from Alabama.”
I wish I could tell you I just made that up.
What’s crazy is one of my favorite stories was written for Esquire magazine, and I told her I didn’t read Esquire because I’m from Alabama.
The lady looked bewildered.
She told me I could read it in Alabama, too.
I think she knew it’d be hard for me to recover my respectability in the conversation so she said she needed some new shoes and ducked into the nearest store.
Another great American.
Washington D.C. was full of history, and I soaked up as much of it as possible.
I went on a bus tour of the memorials on the National Mall twice.
It ended in front of the White House.
The second tour I went on was a night tour.
Since I’d been in front of the White House earlier in the day, I stayed near the bus and took the opportunity to see St. John’s Episcopal Church.
It’s more than 200 years old. I read every president since its construction has visited the church.
I wanted to visit, too, but I didn’t because I saw a man who I thought had made his bed for the night in front of it.
There have been riots in New York City and Washington D.C. this week.
There have been fires, looters and violence in the streets.
I’m glad I saw those great cities when I did.
I’m glad I saw them before they became hosts to scenes perpetuated in the stereotypes I’d heard.
There’s got to be a better way than to heap violence on top of violence.
Last weekend, in a protest, somebody set St. John’s Episcopal Church on fire.
When I see pictures of the damage, all I can think about is the man I saw in front of it last year and the fact somebody just burned what might have been the only place he felt was safe enough to lay his head.
This post is a response to Sue’s prompt, which is “city.”