Outside the Rabbit Hole

October 13th, 2008 § 0 comments

Leaving Gotham, if for a day, felt like leaving a Las Vegas casino. Designed to contain for as long as possible, much for the same reason new york likes to contain—both trying to rob you of as much money as they can—casinos provide for all human needs. There are shops, restaurants, shows, concerts, countless venues to gamble away your money, women, stunningly fake architecture, and painted blue skies with round frothy clouds to stop time, or at least your knowledge of its passing. If all of these elements appeal to, and meet, your “human needs” then it is easy to forget how long you have been sitting in front of the same slot machine. Gotham has these same kinds of attractions but it replaces them with other “needs”, or perhaps it simply offers more. All of the above can still be found plus gardens, museums, a waterfront, parks, and so on and on. However appealing, the city still crowds and hems the landscape into something claustrophobically familiar.

new jersey

Taking the train to Philly, through New Jersey and a bit of Pennsylvania, reminded me of a lot of things I had forgotten. Outside Manhattan there are trees, open spaces, roads and neighborhoods that stretch and meander because there is no need for them to do otherwise. Like walking out of a movie theater into unexpected daylight, I was surprised to realize how used to the city I have grown. Though we live adjacent to the last wilderness in Manhattan, it is simply not the same as open land and towns designed with space, and Manhattan, as small is it really is, becomes as large an area as outlying farms and fields. I notice the weather changing in the city by clothing styles shifting toward boots and sweaters, farmers market produce disappearing or turning to pumpkins and squash, and by the temperature of the morning and early evening when I walk to and from home and 34th. Outside of the city I remembered and observed the beginnings of a Richmond-like fall, where the leaves have begun to turn with the oncoming chill but have not yet taken on those lush colors of orange and red. The old industry and dingy quality of most of the Jersey landscape is appealing in a way that starkly contrasts with Gotham.


I was very taken with Philly last year when I visited, but there is some truth in saying that new york ruins other cities. I asked a man where the metro was at the train station outside Philly. He puzzled over the question for a while before suggesting I was inquiring after a thing they called the s-u-b-w-a-y. Perhaps because I spent a good amount of time seeing the city and even the outskirts last fall, or perhaps because it lacks the vibrant and diverse culture of new york, but it seemed surprisingly bland. I almost shudder to think what Richmond might look like now, and going back, both literally and metaphorically, might ruin the bits and pieces of the town I remember and miss. Dare I say if you are going to live in the city at all it ought to be new york? No, I don’t think I will.

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