15 August 2008

Midwest Immersion

The summer weather in the midwest is nearly impeccable-- bright and sunny, breezy, with dazzling blue skies everyday. How could the heavy humidity on the east coast ever beat this? On the surface, I have completely immersed myself into the slower, nicer, brighter midwest culture since I have nothing pressing to do on a daily basis, but there are still a couple of lurking nuances yet to be addressed:

Waiting: Perhaps transportation here is not as reliable and therefore commuters are accustomed to waiting. I have been on a lucky streak with the L and have not had to wait too long for any trains (yet), but I can already sense the heightened ability that Chicagoans have to patiently stand around the platform while their L train putters along the track. The other day, the entire red line shut down due to a medical emergency. Although a couple of people scowled, everybody cooperated and walked two [freakin long] blocks to catch a bus. I can only imagine the seething pandemonium that would arise in Manhattan if an entire line were to be closed. Normally, if I were to wait extensively for a train or if there were a delay, I would intentionally look at my watch every couple of minutes and act really annoyed just to non-verbally communicate to everyone else, “Yeah, I feel ya. This IS taking a really long time. What the fuck, right?” But here, the most acceptable way to indicate impatience is to stick my head over the rail and peek to see if there are headlights coming.

I have also experienced the delays that plague O’Hare. Aside from general weather delays, however, I realized that all of the airport traffic is also attributed to the politeness of the people here. They patiently form lines for services that either don’t require them, or they form lines in front of kiosks where there are no representatives. Unknowingly, other people join the line and voilà! there is your delay. But nobody complains, so you think the lines are legit. Meanwhile, I have been spoiled with the BOS / LGA / DCA shuttles, their accompanying last-minute check-ins, and the passive-aggressive fights to advance deeper into the boarding cluster by subtlely wriggling your toes and pulling your body and rolling suitcase along. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I would say, apologizing to the person in front of me for rudely pressing against them while hovering, after a quick glance askance at the scapegoat behind me. That’s how it used to work…

Interacting: “Now this is curious—you would think everything is on sale with all the people who are in here today!” I looked out the corner of my eye without turning my head to double-check that the woman was talking to me. “Oh… yes…” I was sliding some nectarines into a plastic bag at the time—was I doing it wrong? Perhaps the supermarket was only frequented by true regulars and I was spotted as the neighborhood newbie and it was her indirect way of saying, “I’m onto you.” I was suddenly self-conscious as I weaved my grocery cart through the rest of the fruit & vegetable section. My cart was flawless, but I felt like I was maneuvering it as though it had a bum right wheel… like it was obvious I hadn’t operated a cart in a number of years and would have been safer getting grocery cart liability insurance before shopping.

I made a hurried run through the frozen section. I didn’t want anything to melt and the supermarket was just so big and unfamiliar! I accidentally cut off a couple of unsuspecting patrons, but pardoned myself as I swung into the detergent aisle, slightly out of breath from the rushing around. A woman pulled up next to me. “Sorry,” she said with a big smile. She chuckled at the same time and the word practically came out in friendly chunks. “Oh… no problem…” I was unsure what she was apologizing for, whether it was my inability to push a grocery cart around, or her presence that could have distracted me from thoroughly perusing all the soaps. I was used to people apologizing only if they bumped into you—and that was only if they jostled you enough to make you drop something you were holding… almost like a means of compensation so they wouldn’t have to pay you to replace your newspaper that they made you drop into a stale puddle, or the apple that they made roll across the subway floor. That’s how it used to work…

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