I began this post while visiting my sister over the weekend in Atlanta. I love my sister, and I’m going to miss her dreadfully when she moves to Japan in a couple of weeks.
I’m probably annoying my sister. It’s not intentional, and its not really that big a deal, but I’m walking around Atlanta with wide eyes. I haven’t been here in a while, and so everything seems new. There are shiny glints that catch my eye at every corner. The elevator had ten times as many buttons as I’m used to seeing. Things are tall. There are plenty more people to look at. It is all very interesting.
I have had a wide range of experiences. I have lived in a number of different places. I consider myself more urban than rural. But here in this metropolitan city, I’m not so sure I’ve claimed the right label.
I like where I live a little too much. I like that I can’t hear the neighbors or their dogs, for the most part, though I wouldn’t mind not being able to hear them practice shooting… I like the smell of green and soil when I take a walk. I like watching the sun rise and set over fields. I like the extra produce from the generous bounty of neighbors. I like the sound of crickets and cicadas in the evening. I like that I can see the stars.
But I’d like some of these urban things, too. Going many places without getting in my car. Amazing options available all close and accessible. The amazing diversity of people meshed in together.
That, I think, is what I wish I had more of. I wish that my area was more diverse. We’re pretty homogenous. We have people with different levels of education. We have folks with different economic strengths or histories. We have folks who work with their hands and tools. But the community I interact with is more alike than different.
Part of life in a rural area is that folks have been living in the same place for generations. It is part of the strength of the place. Families are extended out and know the history of the land. Generations live together and can celebrate the growing and care for those growing old. It seems that everyone is related. There is an incredible strength that underlies the culture.
But I would like a easier way to get good coffee. I want to be able to dress cute, sleek and gorgeous. I like that a commute means walking, not stuck in a car all the time. I like that by the mid morning I have gotten half of the steps I need to stay healthy.
There is a bit of country bumpkin in me, I know. I want to start a conversation with those around me, and I want to learn why they are here, what they do, and how their history has brought them to this time and place.
I asked my seat partner on the bus on the way down some of those questions. I learned about her career, her travels, her past. I caught a glimpse into her life, and into her thoughts on current events. She was kind, and caring for her godchildren, who were sitting ahead of us. She apologized every time she grazed my arm or side when we happened to touch.
It was a very different experience of mass transit than I have had in the past. I chose to sit in a seat next to someone, but nearly half of the seats were empty on the bus. The air conditioning was too much, even though I had prepared for it. There was so much space. Open space. We were given directions to not be obtrusive. And my luggage wasn’t in my lap or under my feet, but in the bin prepared for it.
When I lived in Africa, I took mass transit there as well. The busses available there are called matatus. They are generally fifteen passenger Nissan or Toyota vans. There are also larger busses, but the matatus are ubiquitous. When you pay a fare on a matatu, you relinquish your right to your personal space. It is not longer your own, but communal. Luggage goes with you in your seat, so you learn to pack light. There is no climate controlled air, unless you include the windows. Seat-belts are required under the law, but in truth they are either nonexistent or broken, and definitely filthy.
There are a few similarities. Everyone has a phone. Most of us had a meal or food to eat on the ride. And the majority of the people on the bus were black.
I took the bus because it was convenient. Some took the bus because they were meeting friends. The bus can be much more reliable than a car with issues, so it may be safer. I am glad I got a nap.
But what does it say about our nation that the majority of people in mass transit are minorities? It’s it cultural? Has the economic cheapness of mass transit been discerned and exchanged for the liberty of being in your own vehicle? I paid ten bucks to get from Charlotte to Atlanta. I had to plan ahead, and get a ride there, but it was practically painless. I wish I had taken it down to visit my sister earlier.
Then maybe Atlanta wouldn’t cause me to have such wide eyes. But I wish I could see more and learn more while I was here. The bumpkin in me is still curious.