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Thoughts on ordinary and not so ordinary adventures in the life of one Mom

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Charm of the City

        Living in Hawaii has reminded us that the city can sometimes be hectic.  There is so much going on, all the time, it's easy to overlook the wonderful scenes unfolding all around you.    On our walk to the Waikiki Community Center, we almost missed our opportunity to help a lady, a neighbor, who was stuck on her balcony on the 15th floor.   She couldn't get back into her apartment and didn't have a phone to call for help.  We wouldn't have noticed her had it not been for the elderly man on the sidewalk who was looking up the side of the building.  It is a well-known fact of rubbernecking, that if someone is looking up at something, passersby will immediately follow suit and look up, even if there is nothing to look at.   Even though he didn't seem to understand her predicament or how to help, this stranger's  simple act of looking up in the middle of a busy sidewalk, called enough attention to her situation that help soon arrived.  That's where I came in.   I managed to speak (or yell) to the stranded lady during the 60 second breaks in the noisy traffic on Ala Wai Boulevard.  I got her apartment number, and we decided on the best plan of action.  I called the building manager and checked on her to make sure she was OK.  She was so appreciative, but I assured her that it was "no big whoop".  After all, we live in a city.  Someone was bound to help eventually.

        This scene reminded me of growing up in Brooklyn.  We were constantly talking, or rather, yelling, from our apartment down to the street.  In fact, we would often toss items down to our family members or friends from our 6th floor window.   If the ice cream truck stopped at the park down the block, there was always someone running to the building to "call" their mom so that they could "send" down some money.  This was before cell phones.

        There's a lot about Honolulu that reminds me of Brooklyn.

  Take the parks, for instance.  There are many small urban parks in our neighborhood.  Each has a playground, patch of grass and a rundown building -- a rec center, where they hold classes, do arts and crafts, and play games.   After your hasty first impression, you soon realize that this is the heart of the community for the kids.  My first job ever was a playground assistant at our rundown rec center down the street.  It was my job to play with the kids and organize games for them.   At Paki park, here in Honolulu, Miss Jess is much more than a playground assistant.  She leads most of the weekly classes that are offered, including Ceramics, Hula and Science.  Nicki's signed up for all these classes, Alex signed up for two.

        There is so much "hustle" on the streets here, another reminder of my days in NYC.  People are getting from one place to another on their feet.  This is not only true in the toursity areas, but the residential neighborhoods as well.  People walk to the store, the park, the library, the restaurants, to get shave ice,  just like we did in Brooklyn (but we got Italian ice).    I love my car and have always loved the freedom that comes with being able to pick up and drive wherever you want.  But there is also a freedom that comes with being able to get around without a car.   I try to nurture this freedom wherever I've lived by sometimes abandoning my car and getting around on my own two feet.  We have had some success in Phoenix.  We often walk to Safeway and the library, and take the light rail when we can.  We picked our neighborhood because we could walk to the park!  This freedom is a priority for me even in the most car-essential places.

        Diversity is a hallmark common to all major US cities, though each has its own special brand.  New York is melting pot, truly, but each neighborhood has its own ethnic identity, the ethnic group that you most associate with a city or a neighborhood.   Seriously, there is a street in our old neighborhood in which practically every family is Greek.  My old apartment building, it turns out, is the place to live if you are a Russian immigrant.  A short walk will reveal Honolulu's ethnic identity as Asian, a unique blend of Japanese, Filipino and Polynesian peoples.  Naturally, there are many Asian tourists here due to Hawaii's location, but my impression is that the majority of the locals here are Asian, too.  It's probably different in the suburbs or outside the city, but here in Waikiki, we look less like natives and more like every other American mainland tourist.   I think there is value in experiencing "minority" status.  Not to say that anyone has been rude to us or denied us any service because of our ethnicity, but I think it's good to notice that not everyone looks like you, and it's OK.  Nicki noticed this in her hula class.  It made her a little uncomfortable at first, but she'll get used to it.  She'll appreciate it, the same way I appreciate my experience at Brooklyn Tech High school which was predominantly African-American and Asian.

        The noise is another telltale sign of city living.   Right outside our window, Ala Wai Blvd and Kapahulu Rd are constantly zooming with cars and mopeds, sirens blare at all hours of the day, the driving range across the street provides a constant backdrop of clanks and smacks, and even 20 stories up you can sometimes hear people partying or arguing on the street.  Add to that the occasional bird and wind and you have a Honolulu chorus of white noise that makes for wonderful night's sleep.   I've always been one of those people who find the quiet disturbing.  I don't have to worry about that here.

        Living with a lot of people in a cramped space is difficult.  As a family in a small apartment, we certainly can't get away from each other.  There is no privacy, no space.  You cannot avoid what someone is saying or watching or listening to.  As a person in the city, you are never alone, not in the elevator, on the street, at a park.  Luckily, you are not even alone when you are trapped on you balcony 15 stories up.    I'm glad I grew up in a city and I 'm glad my children have a chance to experience it for a few months.  I want them to know what I know.  That the most charming thing about living in the city is the people.  Whether you like them or not, or even know their name.  Whether they're family, friends or strangers.  Even when you want to be alone or want to party on the street.  Living in a city is a clear reminder that you are constantly sharing a space with others.  Which is something that's true no matter how big your space is, but is easy to forget elsewhere.  And I find this truly comforting.  I guess you can take the girl out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the girl.  Even in Hawaii.

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