It looks cold outside.
I take extra care in putting on my boots, gloves, hat, and coat. The truth is I like being buried under layers of fabric, feeling the splash of freezing air on select parts of my face while the rest of my body is insulated in relative comfort. I see the wind ripple through leafless branches and prep myself for that burst of cold. It’s a wake up call of sorts. It makes me feel alive, part of the world of people who still venture out into the streets. A dying breed in urban centers all across America, a self-imposed form of isolation made easy by the world of commerce at the tip of a finger. There is a sense, a glimpse really, of lives being lived in the stretch of houses that line the way to the bakery. At night there are lights visible behind curtains and shades. During the day, clouds of heat exhausted into the cold air, cardboard piled on the curb on recycling day.
Half a block from my front door I see the first signs of other life. A delivery driver illegally parks her van. She dances to loud music coming from a stereo system pushed to its max volume. She sorts through a pile of packages, scans them quickly, then she’s off on quick trot down the block, door-to-door deliveries at a breakneck pace. I watch for a moment with interest. Our eyes catch. I feel awkward for some reason, like an apparition, out of place and time. I’m like an inanimate object, something she needs to navigate around, complete the impossible job she’ll only finish for today.
The next block is a clean slate of empty streets and sidewalk. I walk slowly with nothing think about but the silence, which is broken the moment I really begin to consider it. A large brown van comes sweeping around the corner and passes in a flash. I watch its tail lights pulse as it navigates a series of quick stop signs before it’s finally gone.
I finally get to the main road and the flurry of commercial activity is more pronounced – more packages, more vans, more men and women lubricating the wheels of commerce, manifesting goods that were abstract yesterday, become real today, and will be refuse tomorrow.
I leave the bakery, bread and coffee, in hand, a luxury in-person transaction complete: words exchanged, items selected in the moment, inspected in reality. I walk the same line back home, encountering the same people, doing the same job for what seems like one or two different companies. This is the city as a poster advertisement of urbanity. The neat rows of houses and apartment complexes as facade for lives lived behind walls and doors. The city becomes a romantic notion instead of a lived reality.