I made a trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul recently. I was looking forward to the trip and at the same time, the thought of the long drive and the city traffic made a knot in my stomach.
Driving in a big city is like dancing in a highly choreographed dance. City traffic behaves almost like an organism rather than just individual cars. Cars move in and out, around and through, flowing like red blood cells through a body’s veins and arteries. Drivers speed up, slow down, merge right, merge left and move on and off roadways with smooth synchronization and do it at 70 miles per hour.
It all works as long as nothing unexpected happens. If someone fails to yield, has a tire blow out, or fails to slow down with the rest of the traffic, then the dancers fall all over each other and the results can be disastrous.
People who live in cities tell me that one gets used to driving in traffic. I’ve never been in a big city long enough for that to happen. When I get in the driver’s seat, my hands grip the steering wheel tightly. My shoulders become tense, and I’m sure my blood pressure rises. I feel more confident if I know where I’m going and have made the trip in the past, but I’ve never “gotten used” to city driving. I wonder if anyone really gets used to it or if drivers simply become used to living with an increased level of stress.
In spite of having to drive in speeding, bumper-to-bumper, traffic, I do enjoy visiting big cities. Some of my favorite people live there. Having the opportunity to visit museums, art galleries and concerts is exciting. Shopping can be overwhelming and fun at the same time. There are so many things to do and to see. Even just watching people is fun and interesting. My city family and friends are always busy. The busyness and pace of life is contagious.
I’m not sure how many of the things I find interesting about city life–the museums, galleries, concerts–my city friends take in when they don’t have out-of-town guests. It seems to me they are too busy working, driving to and from work, driving to the grocery store, working on their yard and in their homes or driving children or elderly family to some appointment or lesson. City people always appear to be in a hurry.
When I drive home from a long weekend in Minneapolis/St. Paul, I feel my body gradually start to relax. It takes until I’m north of Grand Forks to fully get rid of the adrenaline in my blood stream. I love visiting the city. I love even more coming home where I can look out my window and see the horizon in every direction. Traffic by my house is nearly zero and while I still have to stop and look both ways before I pull out on the road, I never have anyone impatiently honking their horn behind me if I take my time. Most of us aren’t impatient if a friend stops us for a visit. I can hear birds sing and only occasionally is the quiet disturbed by the sound of vehicles in the distance.
I’m not sure that people in cities work any more or any less than we do out here on the Northern Plains. Farmers drive with almost the same intensity during spring seeding and harvest. Long hours and long days are common in both the city and the country. Some of us drive long distances to and from work. Many parents are kept busy getting their kids to and from activities. There is something different about the pace at which we do all of these things.
Some of my city friends understand why I like living where I do. They dream about someday leaving the city for a place in the country. Judging from the long line of cars heading back to the city from the lakes, they are not alone. Other friends tell me they could not stand living where I do. Some find driving for an hour on a rural highway without seeing another vehicle just as unnerving as I find driving on the freeway. Others wouldn’t know how to cook if they were more than five minutes from a grocery store. They tell me they thrive on the pace of city life.
Some places are good to visit and other places are good places to live. It’s fortunate that those places are each different for different people. If it were otherwise, where would we go to get away from our own daily lives?
Copyright © 2011 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains