We spent five days in the San Francisco Bay Area week before last. I grew up in Oakland, so coming back is almost always a good thing. The green of the hills, the sun bouncing off the bay, and the salt tang in the air all make me happy.
BART stations seem much quieter than when I lived there because everyone is listening to music, reading, or engrossed in something on a cell phone. I remember more noise and more discussions, so the silence was almost eerie. I may be misremembering, but I think people used to talk more. I’m not sure if it’s a positive or negative change. It’s nice to not have to listen to the drama of someone’s aunt’s sister-in-law’s two boyfriends, but at the same time I feel like some of what makes us human, our connections to each other, is getting lost.
I had forgotten how many people live and work here. There’s a constant hum once I step out onto the street. Traffic, footsteps, horns, construction, yelling, laughing, and the other noises made by thousands of people moving through the day are sometimes overwhelming. At home I go out running early in the morning and it’s quiet. There are few cars and fewer people. In big cities, there are always a lot of people moving and talking and out. I went walking at lunch, two or three miles, and my body started adjusting to the large numbers of people almost without having to think about it. Walk past someone, careful not to bump them, then slide abck into the flow. Head up, watching everything, though these days I’m watching out of curiosity rather than paranoia. The first day I felt off balance and out of step; by the second day I felt more like a fish in a school, not standing out as much. I still got funny looks, mostly for my shoes, but I didn’t feel out of place in this multicultural hodgepodge of people.
There are many reasons to live in a larger city again. I miss having a better art, music, and dance scene. I would love to have a wider variety of restaurants. I like the energy in big cities. At the same time, I like the relative quiet of where we live now. I’m not sure how we will balance that out in the future. I’d like Katja to grow up in a place where she doesn’t stand out a lot unless she chooses to, and the bigger cities can provide that. I’d also like to be able to expose her to a wide variety of experiences, which is easier in a city. I think an ideal situation would be to live within reasonable driving distance of a big city; we could go in to see performances and eat good food, but there would be a balance, too, of more space and fewer people. I would also really enjoy living in a high rise apartment in the middle of downtown, though, and visiting wide open spaces on weekends.
In other words, the future is wide open, but I think medium or small cities are not going to be places we will seek out in the future.