Thursday, November 6, 2008

Big Apple, Little Durham

When I booked a plane ticket from Durham to New York a couple months ago, I was primarily going to see family.  But, a small-to-medium part of me was very curious about what New York would feel like after Durham and what Durham would feel like after New York.  Would the crazy crowdedness of New York make me feel good about coming back to deserted Durham?  Or would I not want to leave the big city and return to the land of cars and crap parked on front lawns.

Disclaimers/caveats: now, of course, New York is an anomaly -- no other place feels like New York -- not even Chicago.  And, of course, it's only been a couple months of residing in Durham.  What was I expecting -- severe culture shock on either end like my college classmates who would return from their exotic, transcendent, 10-week trips abroad and describe their struggle to return to the culture of cows, colleges and contentment in Northfield, Minnesota?  Puh-lease.

But still.  The trip might offer a tiny glimpse of an answer to my big question: do I need to live in a big city?  The subtitle being -- can I really live in Durham?

The first night in New York was all about family and getting to hang out with my sister -- walking the streets of the Upper West Side, eating at a Vietnamese spot and, of course, getting Tasti D-Lite.  Yes, there were more people on a single New York block at any given moment than there were on all of Durham's (lack of) sidewalks in the entire two months that I've been there.  But, so far, no major life realizations were coming to me.  I was too busy looking into store windows and trying to tell if people were dressed in Halloween costumes or if that was just their normal get-up.

Then came Saturday morning.  Everyone was out walking their dogs, getting their bagels and coffee, running in Central Park or walking down by the river.   Walking the streets of New York that morning, I was accompanied by a loud voice in my head crying, "I want to live in New York!  I can't live in Durham!  There is nothing in Durham!"  I felt panicked.  Could the move be undone?  Could I ever afford to live in New York?  Could I sacrifice space and comfort?  And would Fonzie be able to come along?  (I couldn't believe how many dogs I saw walking around New York.  And not just little dogs.  Apparently, dogs go with New York as much as they go with North Carolina.)

I quieted the voice in my head by getting some pizza for breakfast (ah, the things you can do when you're on your own) and by mapping out my shopping for the afternoon.  I had decided to hit some sneaker stores while I was in town.  Although I love my sneakers, I had never made it a point to look for sneakers in New York on previous trips -- probably because I was living in Chicago (although the majority of my collection comes from the internet).  But, now that I was a country bumpkin, I had to hit the big city to get my fill of civilization (aka colorful high tops and American Apparel). And get my fill I did.  I spent the afternoon with my cousin and his wife in Soho and the East Village, first eating a $15 corned beef sandwich, and then fighting the crowds to walk down sidewalks to peak into packed music-blaring shoe stores.  It was the deadly combination of being in store heaven and being on a budget.  I'd blink and see a store I like and have to steer myself away from the entrance.  

Luckily, after a few hours of what felt like shopping blob tag in Soho, I felt done for the day.  I had drained my budget and had that raggedy blown-out feeling you get when you spend the entire day running around going places or when you spend too long at the Super Target.  It was nice to go back to a home-cooked meal in my aunt and uncle's calm and beautiful Upper West Side apartment.  

The next morning, while 40,000 people ran the marathon, I slept in and ate bagels and lox for breakfast.  And then it was time to head to the airport and go back to that place where I live.

The planes I took to and from North Carolina were little -- so small, that, on the way there, they had to put sandbags in the cargo area to increase the plane's weight, and, on the way back, passengers had to move to empty seats in order to balance out the plane.  Apparently, no big plane is needed to schlep the people to and from North Carolina.  In fact, I was a little concerned that I had got on the wrong plane, as I had been on the phone when we boarded, and it was one of those small-commuter-Comair-no-sign-on-the-board-at-the-gate-we-don't-really-care-what-small-city-you're-flying-to-because-we-would-never-want-to-live-there planes.  But, sure enough, I spotted a man in Tarheels Carolina blue gear sitting a couple seats ahead of me.  I was on the right plane.

Willie picked me up from the airport, and it was a beautiful warm sunny day in North Carolina.  I took Fonzie for a walk as soon as I got home.  There were a couple people out -- it was a nice day after all -- but it was back to Deserted Durham.  

DD keeps me out of stores, as there are few to go into that don't require a trip to the mall, and even fewer open past 5:00 p.m.  It gets me outside, with the help of Fonzie and his ever-curious nose.  But, one short trip to New York has not given me any answers to my big question.  I still don't know if I need to live in a big city, and I probably won't for a while.  What's more, I really have no clue how I feel about living in Durham.  But, at least for the moment, there is a four-legged creature helping me to crowd the empty streets of this place where I live.


Last night Fonzie answered one of the questions for me.  As we were taking our nightly walk, we came upon an outdoor music fest of the alternative variety.  There was a small hipster crowd, and people were drinking beer and hanging out.  (Interestingly enough, or maybe not interesting at all, a couple people have told me that Durham has been referred to lately as "Little Brooklyn."  If that were indeed true, there would be an American Apparel here.)

I tried to get close enough to see what was going on while staying far enough away so that Fonzie wouldn't get freaked out. (He is not a fan of Petsmart or other chaotic places.) It took him only a minute before he started to lose it.  We started heading away from the crowd and even crossed the street.  It was too late; as the band started to play, all Fonzie hell broke loose. He began barking loudly and pulled hard at the leash as he tried to run free.  I hung on tight as he pulled me for about a block.   We passed people who were giving me disapproving looks and moving out of the way -- here came crazy dog and girl with no control over crazy dog.  It was extremely embarrassing, although I also couldn't stop laughing.  

Fonzie wouldn't last a second in New York at this point in his life; he needs the deserted in Deserted Durham.


Joan said...

It was a great gift to have your blog to read this Saturday night. I feel more tired than I like to admit, I was going to go to the Ujima show but it turns out it was sold out, but you gave me a little vicarious travel/adventure. Your blog provided lots of vivid visuals, Fonzie among them. I love the way you phrame (apparently a cross between frame and phrase) your questions.

Claire Just Claire Like Cher said...

Finally, in December, getting to enjoy the November blog entries. And I definitely get it, the neverending struggle for where best to call home. And YES, AA is a key component. ;-) (SVMMOTL!) This is the best stuff to read, you KNOW I love it!!!!