Sometimes they come out and ask me directly—often with a look that expresses doubt, wonder, confusion, and incredulity with one subtle glance. Other times you can see it in their eyes—as they listen to me explain that I am, indeed, not from this place originally. In one form or another—it comes: So why did you move here from
Their reactions always surprise me a bit. After all, it’s not uncommon for people to migrate to
. In fact, if you believe the stories about Ellis Island, notice the Dutch Origins in many street names; or order Falafel from a street vendor—just to name a few—there are many indications that I am not alone at all in deciding at some point long ago that my life need to include a stop in New York City. New York City
As with most stories, especially most of mine, however, the story is a little more complex than that. It comes down, largely, to one name: Richard Scarry. His books—my favorite companions in my early childhood— told of wonderful, active, exciting towns and the “people” who inhabited them. The “people” took the form of various animals- from Postman Pig to Lowly Worm—and their adventures were just like those of the humans who would occupy any mid-sized city with distinctive Swiss-like architecture. It was a lively place—and the cut-away drawings of the homes and the businesses added an even greater vitality, as well as a subtle hint of the vitality always going on behind the walls or the curtains in any community.
Those books contributed to my love of going downtown with my Dad to his job. At the time he had an office on North High Street in
Columbus in the very official sounding . A couple of times a year I would make the trip with him and, while he worked, I would explore the streets of the city. Some may find it odd—a nine or ten year old kid wandering the streets of the city. Those people obviously have no idea of what downtown Federal Building was like back then. Or what it wasn’t. With over 70% of its surface covered in parking lots and a distinctive lack of human beings, downtown Columbus bore little resemblance to what most would consider a vibrant urban core. Even today—after years of extreme effort, tempered by the recession, downtown Columbus hasn’t quite returned to what it was fifty or one-hundred years ago. Long before the outside of the donut (the ring suburbs) swallowed up the people; and the jobs; and, ultimately; the downtown mall—leaving the center as something like the land between the Moon and Earth—just now beginning to refill. Columbus
I think often about walking those
Columbus streets, especially when I walk through Times Square or down 5th Avenue and have to fight through, around, above, and below swarms of people. When I walk by window displays, or saunter a two minute walk to get milk or bread at my local store—no automobile required. I don’t mind the people—or the scale. That’s the funny part. That compressed humanity does something for the soul. It fills you with a sense of life, sometimes even when you don’t really want it. Within these neighborhoods of Charles Dickens or Jane Jacobs are all kinds of dreams—thoughts- and realities, compressed upon you, much the way the earth compresses coal into a diamond. The effect of my time in has been the same. New York
Sometimes my mind wanders back to “BusyTown”—where interesting people would be on every corner, some adventure just behind a Swiss Chalet Wall—and I realize that on those streets, and on the more empty ones of my urban childhood adventures-- were planted a need and a desire and a dream. A dream to fill something—to create something that I didn’t recognize then, but that I feel now. Without even knowing it, on these busy streets here in this ultimate “Busytown” -- I have been trying to fill that hole in the middle.
A Typical Richard Scarry Scene