Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Midwestern Hillbilly in Harvard Square: Seeing and Being Unheard

Last August I took a trip to the East Coast and I wanted to write what I hope will be a series of blog posts on that experience. I’ve been reminded twice now in the past twelve hours of my time in Boston. The first occurred last night in an experience I delight in. I wanted to do some light reading before bed and began reading Tuesdays With Morrie. I have to admit, I’m probably a quarter the way in and it’s already tugging at my heartstrings. The author, Mitch Albom, gave an account of Harvard Square and I was transported back to that beautiful locale. Probably my favorite part of traveling is knowing what an author is talking about when they speak of exotic (to me) places. At the moment, I’m listening to Penny Lane and, while I’ve never been to England, can’t help but imagine there are plenty who know such supple vicarity. The picture provided is my second favorite place in Boston.

How vastly my loneliness was deepened,

How poignant and amplified the world before me seemed…

Pardon the egg salad stain, but I’m in love. ~Billy Collins

Things Left Unsaid

The latest remembrance occurred as I was going through my morning media breakfast and listening to Penn Jillette's vlog. His latest vlog theme seems to be an introspective examination into the effects of technology; today’s topic is cellphone checking in conversation. This topic shot me back to Cambridge and my time spent as a fish-out -of-water. In the video, he talks about his fear of asking rhetorical questions because people will whip out their phones to fact check.

While in Boston I was lucky enough to be put up by some very nice Bostonians who were friends of a friend. They were incredibly generous people and it made my experience richer and me less poor. Maybe it was the aura of Boston itself, but I also felt I was in the presence of very accomplished people in early middle age. When in that part of the country, I was puzzled by a certain aspect of conversation. While speaking, if there was some kind of interrupting sound or moment, the people I was with would take note of it, and return to the conversation without letting me finish my point. This was probably the most off-putting of my experiences in New England and I wanted to know if others had noticed this as a trend in their own lives?

City of Brotherly and Self Love

A similar experience occurred in Philadelphia. I stayed with an academic couple who were magnanimous in their hospitality, to say nothing of their intellects, with a combined I.Q. of probably close to 300. I was looking forward most to staying with them in many ways, since professors are my rock stars. Food and accommodation were not spared and for that I am utterly grateful. And yet, a similar conversational emerged, but this time, one of them would pontificate a point and then suddenly “become busy” and I was left feeling like the front wall of racquetball room.

My eastern odyssey left me to reflect on the difference between there and here. In the Midwest, we have plenty of food, but not a lot of entertainment; on the East Coast, they have lots of entertainment and culture, but things people typically need, like parking spots and restrooms, are scarce. So, in the Heartland, people have lots of what they need and little in terms of wants; in the East, they have lots of museums and leisure activities but a good hearty meal and a spot to relieve oneself can be a trek to find. This played out in the hospitality of others: they gave me the things I needed (a bed, bathroom, and sometimes food), but extended little in the way of social exchange. This lead to the first several stops of my excursion quite lonely, a bitter experience which made the end of my trip so much the sweeter – which I will discuss later.

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