Everyone Should Live in a City

The fewer people you're around to serve, the easier it is to be self-serving.

I don't know how many times I've seen cars with Kentucky or Kansas license plates stopped in the middle of a busy, Chicago street.

It happened to me again recently as I pulled into an intersection not realizing that the minivan three cars ahead had stopped and put on its four-ways. When the light changed, I remember being so angry at this driver not because he made me wait, but because my car was now blocking all of the cross traffic. In the blink of an eye, his decision affected dozens of other people.

The delay only lasted for seconds, but the impression it left with me did not. Hurrying past him in my smug, city-boy manner, I took note of the Nebraska plates, the disheveled map sprawling over the dash, and the perplexed look in the eyes of a man who was clearly lost. But what I felt was not pity or sympathy. I thought to myself, "He should know better."

Being from a state whose largest city is less than a tenth the size of Chicago, I understand why some would feel moved to defend him. He's not from around here; he's probably just a country boy who's not used to seeing more than one or two cars on the road at the same time. Give him a break, city-boy, and let him find his way. The only problem is you're not just asking me to do this--you're also asking fifteen other drivers who are now late for work to do the same.

John Skylar wrote about this last year in his popular article, "New Yorkers Aren't Rude. You Are." In it, he makes the case that the delicate flow of cities like New York is often disrupted by tourists who blame the locals for not catering to their ignorance:
You may just be unaware, you may have failed to learn about the city before you came to it, you may have forgotten to keep in mind that you're inconveniencing a horde of other people. No doubt many of the times this happens, it's just inconsiderate absentmindedness. That said, it's still rude.
Urban life isn't fast-paced for its own sake; it's fast to accommodate higher volume. Which means that city folks aren't rude, they're just trying to be considerate of more people than you are.

This is the reason why I only eat taco salads now. When I moved to Chicago for college eight years ago, I quickly became a fan of Taco Tuesday's. But, being a man who takes fifteen minutes to make a sandwich, my peers were not fans of me. One bold soul finally yelled as I was neatly stacking tomato cubes, "Hey buddy, you're not the only person in line!"

At home, the time it took me to prepare my meals didn't affect anyone else. Living in a city of three million people, on the other hand, will force you to experience the butterfly effect one action can have. So while it seems unfair to expect our featured Nebraskan to understand the consequences of doubled-parked map-checking, that's really like saying it's unfair for him to have to think about anyone but himself. And there's no better breeding ground for such self-centered thinking than the places where no one is nearby to correct you.

But you don't have to live in a city if you don't want to. Just make sure you know where you're going when you visit one.

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photo credit: Chicago Loop (City Clock) via photopin (license)

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