On April 20th, I awoke at 03:30 to catch an early flight. Google had shown me all of my options to get to the airport, and the simplest seemed to be taking a bus from a block away from my apartment that goes straight there. Chris woke up with me, walked me over to the stop, and waited with me until the bus came. I anxiously attempted to stay awake during the ride. I was obviously the only person going to the airport for a flight; it appeared that many of the other people on the bus were probably going to work. So I twiddled my thumbs and checked my phone obsessively. I watched the little blue dot on the GPS wander towards the airport and wondered where I should get out.
God forbid I ask the driver.
It–the little blue dot, not the bus–appeared to approach the Air Train stop on the map. The bus stopped and I attempted to gather my things as the other passengers watched. The bus pulled away from the stop and I quickly walked to the front of the bus and asked if that had been the stop for the Air Train. The driver said yes, so I convinced him to let me out on the corner.
Late last night, I remembered that moment and realized that my head was in my ass. It tends to be, when I’m in NYC.
Since beginning my bicycle-borne travel adventure, I have managed to nudge my head slightly out of that dark place. I’ve learned to talk to strangers more and to tell everyone my story and what I’m doing. The anonymity of city existence is not mandatory, but something that we accept and recreate every time we choose to trust our phones over our fellow human beings. Each time we bury our eyes in our laps rather than focus on the wandering eyes across the aisles.
It’s easier to do this in a city, with the high prevalence of other young people on cell phones and the promise that you won’t lose service, unless you’re underground. In the places I’ve traveled, I’ve found that these two factors are not the norm. Young people are not constantly on our cell phones. We are not taking selfies or pictures of our food. We are not text-walking. We do not have ear buds that somehow allow us to talk into our phones without holding them. (This still seems like magic to me.) In addition, cell phone service is not taken for granted. I’ve gone days without cell phone service and now consider that normal. I don’t expect to have access to the internet all the time. As soon as I land in the city, though, I do not spend more than 5 minutes without touching my phone.
I have to admit, I prefer the version of myself that can readily go without cell phone service.
I have come to the conclusion that young people, including myself, have been wrongly convinced that living in a city signifies success. We pay exorbitantly high rent in order to have access to a plethora of things that we don’t use or that are meaningless. Cell phone service, all the time. Take-out ethnic food at any hour, day or night. Laundry delivery service. Grocery store delivery service. Broadway, and off-Broadway, shows that we can’t afford.
Most people I know in cities use very few of these services, but constantly brag about the fact that we can. Instead, we watch our pennies slip down the drain and into the hands of our landlords. We watch clocks tick our lives away because our days our consumed by the commute. We watch our drive and passion wither because we work too much, trying to make rent in a city that we soon won’t be able to afford no matter how hard we work.
On this trip, I have been able to converse with so many engaged, passionate individuals who have been able to excel creatively because they aren’t pushing themselves to the brink to make money, climb up a corporate ladder, or losing their days to their commutes. I admire new friends who can sit with quiet, who read books regularly, who garden and who have hobbies.
When living in DC, one friend said, “Why don’t people here talk about anything other than work? I want to know about YOU. What do you like? What books are you reading? Do you watch TV? Do you garden? What do you want, who do you want to be? Doesn’t anyone here have hobbies?”
In cities, we don’t have time to have hobbies. We are constantly on the move, getting somewhere on time, figuring out the most efficient way to get from Point-A-to-Point-B, checking our emails on our multiple devices, wondering how we’ll make rent and if it’s worth it.
Pro-tip: It’s not.