Sunday my family and I went to NYC, NY to meet some friends.
Like a lot of best made plans, the HOPE was that we would meet them, and for more than five minutes between subways. Unlike many of those plans, we actually DID manage to meet and even share a meal together.
Before we met our friends, my family toured NYC via ferry. If you want to see a lot of the city while ignoring people, do it by boat. I liked our tour guide, but wished I could have turned down his volume. And I definitely felt like the video and the audio did not match, because I could never see the things he was pointing out to us (except for the bridges).
The big deal for me on this ferry tour was seeing the Brooklyn Bridge, which for nearly twenty years had been my symbol of all things big city and fashion over function. Things I was over. Things I was not. And even though I saw it from behind the windows of a ferry, and maybe it would have felt different if I had been walking across it, I don't know, but it was right there and I still wasn't impressed.
The piece I wrote about it as an undergrad, Lecture Notes: the Brooklyn Bridge is not something I have published or that has been widely read, even among my peers and BETA readers. Despite that, it is the essay that has meant the most to me, defined me, and been my mission statement (of sorts) over all this time. A little over a year ago, when my husband's job opportunities might have landed him in the five boroughs instead of Athens, Georgia, I had a massive panic attack. In Pennsylvania, three short hours from NYC, I have not recovered. There are too many things from Lecture Notes that I don't feel I have lived up to. And I hate disappointing anyone.
So I was having this experience that was not easy for me to explain or understand. The lack of awe-struck experience with an old bridge was almost as breath-stealing as a profound experience might have been. I can't help but think of the bridge architect as someone who built a casino for you-know-who and thought he was going to get paid without being screwed. He knew better. I might have warned him, had I known him. But he thought his outcome would be different.
What would move me, on the other hand, would be stories of all the workers who died because their literal choices were between working to death or starving to death. Still I wonder why they collectively could not have picked up the blasted architect and tossed him over his damn bridge. People would get to that point. Labor unions and better working conditions and women's suffrage -- all hard fought battles people lived and died to obtain. And I sit in the AC -- breathless, helpless -- thinking about how far we have and have not been able to come.
I had always believed that a college degree would assure my comfortable life. I don't know why. My parents both had college degrees and were both overworked, underpaid individuals. Their lack of financial success in no small way provided the complete funding of my undergraduate degree. So to look from my parent's experience to that of my college professors who gave the class from which Lecture Notes was born, I just figured it had to be something my parents did wrong. How could a student who wasn't even 20 recognize the boatloads of privilege that separated her professors from her parents? I would learn a lot that year about privilege. Nothing compared to what I know now, which will be nothing compared to what I will know in the next five, ten, or twenty years down the road.
Since I left Arkansas, I have really been thinking about privilege. How one side has used it. How one side can't group together to overcome it. How easy it is to get stuck in one place, unsure whether that place is a safe landing or merely a ledge gripped with sweaty fingers.
New York has many things going for it. Tons of tourism opportunities. Lots of museums. Plenty of offices and skyscrapers. But for my money, I want to do one of two things upon my return. One, I have more friends in Brooklyn and Queens. They know the lay of the land and I would learn a lot from them about their experiences as city dwellers. Two, I would just hop from taxi to taxi, going wherever the drivers took me, learning their histories and making sure they got their daily quota of fares.
Where have your travels taken you? Or where has lack of privilege prevented you from visiting?