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Americans and Their Comfy Seats

·605 words·3 mins

On my city bus ride into campus this morning, I was sitting in front of a British man and his female co-worker,  a native Ohioan, one of the locals. Listening to him ask her questions about the area, it brought me back to the first months that I spent here, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to do nearby. Sure, Cleveland proper is a large city (population of approximately 400,000), but what amazed me even more when I visited was the surrounding area. Greater Cleveland (population 3.5 million) is an extraordinary sprawl, with suburb unfolding into suburb — each a city in its own right — covering a huge area. And since I had a few dozen new area friends overnight (friends and acquaintances of lovers), who were from a variety of suburbs, I took it upon myself to learn each and every Greater Cleveland suburb’s orientation with regard to Cleveland (N-E-S-W) and some fact about that place. I found it helped when I had a friend whose face I could associate with the suburb. It might sound a bit dorky and OCD to methodically study my new home in this way, but I found it helped immensely with the confusion and anxiety that my new surroundings provoked.

My biggest source of anxiety was that not only did I know essentially nothing about the area when I moved here but I’d never lived in a city before, having grown up in rural Maine. The streets in the Midwest are a lot wider than the ones on the Eastern Seaboard (designed for early settlers who were not driving cars), and as I walked around the suburbs, I often felt vertigo and that the streets were wide enough to swallow me. Not only that, but the sounds of the suburbs during the summer — lawnmowers, children playing, cars driving by — were intrusive and unsettling, like constant static in in the background. I felt as though the sounds of my neighbors going about their daily lives were voices in my head that I couldn’t escape, couldn’t silence.

I’ve had a number of adventures here. The first time I boarded a city bus, I waited 30 minutes on the wrong side of the road before realizing the error of my ways and corrected my mistake. Then I rode to the end of the line before realizing I had read the transit directions wrong and gone the wrong direction to meet up with my transfer. I could very well have stayed on the bus and ridden it all the way to the correct stop (as my bus driver was going to loop around after a short break), but I was so embarrassed that I gave up on the trip (was going to meet Skyspook at a bowling alley for one of his work events) got off there and walked the 2 miles home, a reasonable distance but one that feels much longer when you’re doing so out of shame and not wearing the right shoes.

So as I listened to the British man ask his co-worker questions, much of it was very familiar, explanations about the layout of the area. However, he was city acclimated and much more focused on soaking up what he considered to be essential aspects of US culture. For instance, he was keen on going to a movie theater with padded recliner seats as he felt that was quintessentially American and was astonished that the bus driver wasn’t ringing a bell at the stops like UK bus drivers do.

It was so entertaining that I was sad when they got off at their office.


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