July 31, 2008


Between various work-related trips and vacations, I have been away from home for almost an entire month. I just realized that during that time, I have been to the three largest U. S. American cities: New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. I covered the breadth of the continent and waded in two oceans.

My first trip, in late June, was to Los Angeles for a conference (the seen of the somewhat abortive "live blogging" attempt in my last post). Just five days after getting back from L.A., I found myself in New York City. In Los Angeles, I drove for miles of highways under flawless blue skies. My one attempt at walking in Los Angeles -- a mere half mile from the conference hotel to a restaurant for lunch -- required taking my life into my hands, as the sidewalk was non-existent in some areas and the cars speeding by seemed oblivious to the presence of any life unencased by steel panels. In New York, I walked miles of sidewalk under cloudy skies in the shadow of skyscrapers, muscling my way through crowds of pedestrians. Absolutely no driving was attempted! In Los Angeles, I drove down Sunset Blvd from Fairfax to Brentwood, observing with interest (through the sealed compartment of my rental car) the diversity of neighborhoods that street runs through. In New York, diversity hit me like a hammer over the head the moment I stepped out of the Port Authority Bus Terminal into the cacophony of 8th Avenue. Within minutes I had heard at least five different languages being spoken and seen more examples of humanity than I did in an entire week in Los Angeles. To be sure, Los Angeles is a diverse city, but the sprawl and the car-centered culture lessen the intensity of the experience for the visitor significantly.

Both of the two cities include pockets where you could easily forget where you are. In Los Angeles, it was the Farmer's Market, with its densely packed fruit and vegetable stands, food stalls, and souvenir shops. In New York it was Central Park, with its gardens, lawns, forests, and even a castle.

My travels included visits to both the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. In Los Angeles, I spent an afternoon at Venice Beach, and my trip to New York included a quick jaunt to the boardwalk in Atlantic City. While the cities of Los Angeles and New York City couldn’t be more different, the two beaches felt much the same. The sand was different, but the seascapes weren’t that different, and the boardwalks were lined with the same souvenir shops, ice cream parlors, and busking musicians. It’s just that Atlantic City’s board walk was peppered with casinos, while Venice had muscle beach.

And then there’s Chicago. After a two week hiatus from the city, spent in the oasis that is Pinewoods, I returned to Minneapolis for two days and then flew to the Windy City for a work-related meeting. Chicago seems so straightforward compared to New York and Los Angeles, the archetypal city. More dense than Los Angeles but minus the cacophony (and the stink!) of New York, this trip made me realize how much more comfortable I feel in Chicago than any of the major American metropolises. Maybe it’s because it’s Midwestern. Maybe it’s because as a native of the Land of 10,000 Lakes I feel more comfortable in a city on a lake than an ocean. Or maybe it’s because they say “pop"? and not “soda."?

I’m back in Minneapolis now, and I’m staying put for a while. Well for another week, anyway. Then I’m off to the airport again. . .

Posted by ldfs at July 31, 2008 11:03 PM