This morning we returned from a week in Southern California. As vacations go, this one was pretty good; we stayed in the home of some friends and enjoyed the sun, the beach, and the luxury of doing nothing all day and not feeling guilty about it.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but whenever I travel anywhere I think what it would be like to live there; what if this place was my every day. Inevitably I return to the fact that, despite loving travel and our vacations, for me, there is no better place to live than New York. A friend of mine whose husband is from San Diego told me that he says of New York, “It’s a great place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit” and that is so on the money that I am jealous I didn’t think of it first!
Why is New York so great, in the humble opinions of the 8 million or so of us who live her? The first thing that always comes to my mind is the lack of the “car culture”. In Southern California, as in almost everywhere else, you need a car to do anything. Some days it feels like you don’t really see any other people, because, like you, they are all ensconced within the cocoon of their car. (It is a telling statistic that carpool lanes require only 2 or more people to be in the car. 90% of all people on the road are alone in their vehicle.) In New York, we walk, we take the subway or the bus or if we’re feeling particularly lazy, a taxi. We are moving, active, interacting – whether we want to be or not.
But that’s not the core of it. I thought about it a lot this week, and I think that, for me at least, what puts New York above all the other places I’ve ever been is possibility. In the city, every time you step outside your door you enter a world of possibility. You never know what you will see or who you might encounter. I’m not just speaking of celebrities, although we New Yorkers do love our celebrity stories. Usually because they are so random and normal; sitting next to Kyra Sedgwick at a local diner, working out next to Madonna at Pilates, making keys for Eddie Izzard (when I worked at our locksmith shop), watching Hugh Jackman catch, in mid-air, a toddler (not his) who had fallen head first off a platform at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. Ok, so that last one is not really normal, but then again, he is Wolverine.
But it’s other stuff as well, like going out to do an errand and stumbling upon artist Peter Woytuk at the opening of an installation of his art, which is now on display up and down Broadway. It might consist of running into someone I know, which happens far more often here than it does when I visit my hometown. It might be as simple as discovering a new store or food truck and making it part of our routine. The flip side is discovering that a favorite haunt has closed since you last walked by it, which can prompt any number of calls to friends, “Oh my god! Did you KNOW they were closing?”
Maybe there will be music. You might hear an acappella doo-wop group on the subway (and some are better than others) or a mariachi band. I’ve heard Julliard students playing violin and cello on the street, raking in the money from tips thrown into their open instrument cases. One time we stumbled on a Rolling Stones concert (I’m not kidding) as they played 3 songs from the steps of the Julliard building to kick off a world tour. Paul McCartney played outside on the marquis of the Ed Sullivan Theater, where Letterman has his show, and I still can’t believe we missed it.
Even if ‘nothing’ particularly eventful happens, there is always something. You can’t help but be influenced, inspired or entertained by the intricate, complicated and sometimes funny dance that is daily life in New York. Example: The headline on the back of today’s Post read, “The Mets are undefeated: 161 Games to go!” Which some might see as optimistic, except this is the New York Post we’re talking about. Can you say sarcasm?
What does this have to do with unschooling? Nothing in specific and everything in general, since our surroundings cannot help but influence our outlook, our opinions, our learning. I finished reading Jonah Lehrer’s book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works”, and in the section on cities, he says:
“…the sheer disorder of the metropolis maximizes the amount of [knowledge] spillover. Because cities force us to mingle with people of different ‘social distances’ — we have dinner parties with friends, but we also talk to strangers on the street — we end up being exposed to a much wider range of worldviews.. It is the sheer density of the city — the proximity of all those overlapping minds — that makes it such an inexhaustible source of creativity.”
The possibilities are endless.