Saturday, January 15, 2011

Not My Town

When I first moved in '83 from a 5000-person town to the 500,000-person town of Austin to go to college, one of the first things that struck me was residents' utter rudeness. Most particularly: Newly arrived, I remember passing people on the sidewalks or in classroom-building halls, trying to make eye contact and nodding or saying "hi." I was depressed by not having my eyes met, not being acknowledged at all.

Was it a "city" thing? My next experience with another big city was in '94, when I moved from Austin to San Francisco to attend grad school. Again, people there were oddly unfriendly: Once, when walking on the streets looking at a map, I got hollered at from a passing car -- "Fucking tourist!" And once, when a friend was visiting and we walked into what looked like a friendly pub... the whole small bar came to a stop when we entered. We had our one beer and then quickly left. My two years in San Francisco were filled with constant random, petty ugliness like that, sugar-coated with the city's constant publicity mantra of being "tolerant." The bad energy there was pervasive and psychotic.

New York City, though, and Jersey, were the opposite of "psychotic"! There was energy and aggression in the air, but the aggression was normal and directed at those really fucking up, not at the hapless. While I was there, I asked for directions a million times from doormen, passersby, etc. Every single time, got a completely civil, helpful answer. And while I was there, I, a completely random person, walked into a dozen places that I wasn't familiar with, ranging from Tiffany's to the Rainbow Room to Chelsea drag bars -- and I never once got shit for being there or for asking questions or for looking like I didn't belong there. New Yorkers were down-to-earth in the best way. As were Jersey people.

It totally was not a "city thing" but rather a "place thing." Austin and San Francisco, in my personal experience, are, despite their striving for "laid back" and "cool" status, actually repressed, rude assholes of cities. New York City and the few cities in Joisey that I experienced, on the other hand: Despite their outer cliched reputations for rudeness, the people there were/are actually much nicer. Maybe more brusque on the surface, but a lot saner in how they interacted with others.

I bring all this up tonight because of a couple of petty things that just happened to me today (in my Austin):

(1) Heading out today, I walked down my apartment stairs and passed another resident walking up. (My apartment complex is small -- maybe 24 units.) I looked at her to say "hi" as we passed and she didn't even acknowledge my presence. Flashback to 1983. Back when I was 18, that kind of Austin rudeness was deeply depressing to me. After 27 years, though, I now know... It's just the creepy culture of this particular town. I hate the simultaneously passive and "holier-than-thou" vibe here. I hated it for over 20 years before I left in 2007; and I hate it, after my "break," today. It's just common courtesy: Nod to your neighbors when you pass them! Were you raised by creepy, lethargic wolves??

(2) During my walk around the neighborhood today, I was about to cross a 4-way fork in the road. A big ol' pick-up truck was headed toward me. As I started to cross one street, he screeched to a halt and then attempted to do his version of a donut in the road, which forced me to walk a long way around him. As I continued walking, he continued screeching and attempting to turn around and park right in front of me. What was his point? It wasn't just a normal guy driving and trying to find a parking place, but rather an asshole trying to use someone walking as his target. (Reminded me of another Austin "event" from the '80s: On a street outside Dobie Mall one day, a frat-boy had parked his car to talk to friends and was blocking traffic. I sat behind him for a few minutes, then finally tapped my horn. He was outraged, ran over to my window to tell me what a "loser bitch" I was.)

When I was younger, I used to see this "city" behavior as normal; given my 5000-person hometown, I'd never known any different. But today, at age 45... None of this Austin bullshit is necessary. You know, when I lived in NYC/Jersey for those 3 years, I NEVER came across this completely weird, sociopathic bullshit. People acknowledged each other when passing; people did not do drive-bys to scare pedestrians; people, if they parked their cars in the middle of the street for whatever reason, acknowledged their error with a "yeah, yeah" and did not go psycho on the people reasonably asking them to get out of the way.

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