I’d just settled on the bench, purse and my bag of leftover food from work on my lap, one per leg. Done with work, time to wait for the F train and go home.
I looked up to see a familiar face, soft round features I recognized but couldn’t place. Danny’s, I knew that’s where I knew her from but . . . I felt my brain sputtering to find a name. None came.
“It’s Kyle,” she said.
Kyle. Yes. That’s right. The name I was trying to remember was wrong — I was thinking of her doppelganger who’d worked nextdoor.
“Is this for real?” she asked, half smiling.
“Yeah.” My only word. Still in shock.
“Do you live in the city?”
The M train screeched to a stop. The doors opened.
“Yeah.” Again, all I could manage.
“All right — me, too. I have to get on this train, but it’s good to see you.”
She climbed aboard. I stayed where I was, smelling tbsp on me, thinking of Danny’s, and trying to soak in what just happened.
In a city of 8 million strangers, I’d run into someone I knew from home.
Growing up in small town America — “small town” meaning a town with two main intersecting roads and no traffic light — running into someone I knew required only that I step out the front door. Or the back door. Neighbors, even if I didn’t know them well, I always greeted with a “how’s it going” when I passed them in their driveways on my way to the library, bank, post office, or park. I only didn’t vocally greet neighbors if I was running or if they were the creepy ones. But I took for granted that I’d see people I knew — even if I traveled 45 minutes to the nearest Walmart, I expected to run into a familiar face.
It’s not like that here. There’s one older short, black man I end up on the same bus and train with every once in a while. We nod our acknowledgements and occasionally shrug our shoulders at each other in response to weirdos on the F. But that’s it. And my not seeing people I know isn’t just because I don’t know anyone — even New York natives are surprised when they run into a friend on the street.
There are a lot of things I miss about home and school, living in the City. Most of them have to do with fundamental differences between rural America and urban life, and most of them I rarely thought about before living here. Running into familiar faces is one. Below are nine more.
1. Going “the back way” on quiet dirt roads canopied by trees.
There’s nothing like following a long day of work with a quiet drive through the hills. The roads are narrow — I typically pray the whole time that no one will come the other way — but the silence, the scenery, and the dirt and stones your tires kick up as you ride over hole after hole is well worth it.
2. Air that smells like water, dirt, and trees — not exhaust fumes, smoke, and dust.
Because even the exhaust coming out the back of your little 2001 Corolla doesn’t ruin what the trees and creeks are giving back. And let’s face it — people, even when they try to smell good, still smell bad.
3. Local food that’s actually local, as in you picked it yourself in your backyard or your neighbor’s field.
If it’s not in season, it’s not fresh and it’s not local. Strawberries are one of the first crops to ripen. Then raspberries, then tomatoes, then blueberries, apples, corn, potatoes. Picking, processing, and freezing things yourself is the best (though labor-intensive).
4. Backyards with enough room to play volleyball, soccer, and run through a sprinkler — all with their own space.
This would be my backyard at home. And a lot of my neighbors’. Plus, there’s a park two blocks away with basketball court, playground, baseball diamond, and enough grass for casual soccer and football games to take place simultaneously. When I’m home for less than 24 hours in a week and a half, I’m going to find some grass and roll in it.
5. Fresh roadkill venison you don’t think twice about eating because you know who hit it and when.
I grew up eating more deer meat than beef, and I miss it like crazy. It’s a meat you eat and still feel healthy afterward. At least, I do. And yes, a lot of what I ate was hit by someone’s car. These things happen on dark, curvy roads at night. No reason to let the animal go to waste.
6. Open fields, open roads, and open roads next to open fields.
One of my favorite views is driving home south on 205, where the road runs along the hillside and the valley lies spread out beside it, trees, fields, a barn here and there. You realize how big this one corner of the world is, and then how big the world must be in comparison, and how small you are. And you quiet.
No trains rumbling past. No airplanes or helicopters flying low overhead. Cars, but few buses, little honking, screeching brakes typically belonging to teenagers or a tractor-trailer or that guy nobody likes. Sirens, but not constantly and always making way for a crew of emergency personnel you trust, because you know them. They live down the street.
8. Trees. Good for climbing or just sitting under.
Maybe an evergreen or a maple. And if it’s maple, best if someone taps it in the spring for sap — thus, real maple syrup. Trees are everywhere: the front, back, and side yards; the edges of the park, all over the hills that border you on every side. In the fall, they’re the best: orange, yellow, red, evergreen. In the winter: snow-tipped, the pines looking like frosted shredded wheat or something equally sugary and delicious. In the spring: new leaves, like a new page of a new life, budding from thickening branches. In the summer: green, green, green. All shades.
9. A clear, cool creek you can wade in barefoot and follow under the road and into town in one direction, or up the hill and into the woods the other way.
Toward what we like to call “civilization” or away from it, into what actually looks more orderly and less chaotic than anything people put together. No honking bus drivers or swearing cabbies, no swerving around or weaving through slow-but-not-really lanes of traffic, no derailing trains or flooding subway stations — because there aren’t any. Just you and creation. And the reality that, yes, this is good.
Bringing you up-to-date:
Sunday: Church. Worked out (my route in 10:38 plus sprints and various other things).
Monday: Internship. Worked out (included 51 push-ups).
Tuesday: Work. Worked out (sprints with my housemate, plus core).
Wednesday: Internship. Worked a catering event for Spoon.
Friday: Work. Made a specific goal of applying to writing jobs this weekend. Ran into Kyle while waiting for the train to come home.
Saturday: Mother’s Day brunch at church (always a weird thing to be part of as a woman who’s nowhere near motherhood). Choir. Worked out (highlight: box jumps on the front step). Did laundry. Read narrative nonfiction/longform articles (reading recommendations coming tomorrow). Wrote this blog post.