Good Morning

I’ve been walking to work about once a week lately, which is worth mentioning since it’s a little farther than two miles.  Obviously, I haven’t been doing it for the time efficiency; rather, with my work having been so pedestrian focused as of late, I’ve adapted this form of transportation to more parts of my life in attempts to practice a bit of my preaching.  And, of course, it gives me the illusory feeling of being in a big city, one for which I’ve hungered since leaving Rome.  On this particular day, I had left the house later than usual, and as I came upon a certain intersection, I spied a somewhat familiar sight.

He was a white-haired gentleman likely in his eighties.  Wheelchair-bound, I could always count on him to be parked on the sidewalk in front of his apartment building, black leather jacket on despite all weather conditions and a cigarette hanging placidly out of the corner of his mouth.  I usually only saw him as I biked past at this hour and was secretly pleased to now be able to get a close-up look at one of the characters in my commute.

He had his back turned toward me as I walked up, and so as not to startle him, I passed in front of him before unleashing my excitement.

“Good morning!”

I had startled him anyway.  “Good morning,” he repeated, voice a little raspy.

And that’s all.  I smiled and continued on my way as he continued with his cigarette.  However, with the encouragement of that first greeting, in that two mile walk, I passed through six neighborhoods of vastly different demographics and exchanged 14 “Good Morning”s with a real sampling of the Long Beach community–with chatty crossing guards, busy gardeners, young folks and old.  No commitments had been made, no friendship offered, no privacy sacrificed–yet, basic human connections had been realized.  And it really made my morning.

It’s convenient to isolate oneself even when so close to strangers–to roll up our windows and pretend that we live in a box.  But if we’d each just reach out, just enough to acknowledge each other’s existence, we’d have everything to gain from it…even if it’s only a more enjoyable walk.  Go on, see for yourself.

(Helder Santana via Flickr)
(Helder Santana via Flickr)

 

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Good Morning

Home, Sweet Home

Well, it has been about a year since I’ve taken my writing (typing) pen out.  I am married now, and my last name is officially not Tran anymore, but I think I’ll keep it like that on here for a while longer.  Maybe.

The last ten (?) or so months have been quite full–full of love, full of life, full of new and old joys.  I’m not sure where I was in the planning of this the last time I wrote, but last September, I decided to move out of my mom’s house and into my first place of my own.  I chose downtown Long Beach, somewhere between 8 and 10 minutes walking from my office, upstairs from a coffee shop in a former naval hotel.  Not a bad kind of life, I’ll tell you, walking a few minutes to and from home to get everywhere you need to be.  It was my way of liberating myself from the stink of suburban Southern California, and though it lasted only six months’ time, I cherished every day of my little European life.

In thinking about a place of my own, I began to think of the meaning of “home.”  Yes, it is sweet, and yes, it is where the heart lies.  But why is that?  What is it exactly about a place that causes us to bestow such affections upon it?

I began this train of thought a couple of weeks ago.  My husband and I had just moved into our first apartment after our nuptials and were in the midst of unpacking.  Although no longer walking distance from work, I had moved only a couple miles to east Long Beach.  He had gone somewhere on that Saturday morning, and as it was the first weekend in months that was devoid of any wedding business, I made some coffee and peeked out upon our new world.

Long Beach, California.  What do I love about it?

The people here share.

Share the streets, share the parks, share the public realm.  After having lived here for almost a year, I can now easily pick out the Long Beach visitors from the residents.  When driving, for example, the visitors feel uncomfortable and especially angry at having to weave around the bus, bike, and pedestrian who are all somehow taking up the right-most lane of traffic.  The residents, however, just make their way around the obstacles, even using the center turning lane to make it work.  Living gets tight sometimes, but Long Beach residents are space efficient like that.  Congestion in this form, “is often a symptom of success” (John Norquist, CNU).

Long Beach Sharrows (San Clemente Patch)
Long Beach Sharrows (San Clemente Patch)

The city has “good bones.”

In a lunch conversation on my very first day of work, I remember asking my colleague why he thought that Long Beach was such a vibrant city.  He responded in architectural lingo, saying, “Long Beach just has good bones.”  That is, unlike many newly developed cities and towns, Long Beach has a true city street grid, with blocks that are small enough to promote walking and other forms of urban life.  This gives future development, and re-development, a much-needed foundation on which to build.

Say that the average person takes twenty minutes to walk one mile or 5,280 feet.  If your city block is only 300 feet square, think of how many directions and places a person can go in those twenty minutes.  Think of how many types of buildings and uses can have street frontage.  But if your city block is 5,280 feet square…it’s pretty likely that for the next twenty minutes, a pedestrian is limited to that single direction in which he or she started.  And it’s pretty likely that the buildings and uses are farther and fewer.

“…Summertime, and the livin’s easy”

Sublime isn’t the only one who has said that life in Long Beach is “easy”–my boss, who has lived here since the 1980s, also told me this one day.  “I really like Long Beach.  It’s just…easy.  It’s got everything you need, all in one place…even an airport.”

And so I’ve discovered for myself.  There’s more art, music, and food–and life–here than I know what to do with.

Home, Sweet Home