Saturday, September 27, 2008

"Street People"

To me, one of the most fascinating things about being in a big, bustling city is the people you encounter every day. When I was working in Philadelphia I had a six-block walk from the train station to my office. During the morning rush, I was in a stream of pedestrians walking in a northerly direction up 16th Street. Of course, there was always a stream of pedestrians headed south, so the two groups passed each other on their way to work every day. After a while, I noticed that I was seeing some of the same faces every day. I tend to look at people when I pass them. If they look friendly I usually smile. There are always those who smile back, some reluctantly and others who seem to mean it. Over a period of months, the ones who seem friendly and smile at each other eventually may utter a quick "good morning". You never learn that person's name, but it's a kind of passing (literally) friendship that you come to look forward to.

Over the months, there was one particularly pleasant young woman with whom I exchanged a daily smile. I thought "she seems like a nice person". Then there was a particularly pleasant young man who always smiled and said "good morning". I never stopped to talk to either of these people... it was just friendly strangers being polite on their way to work. This went on for six months or so. Then, one day I saw the nice young woman and the nice young man (I sound like a grandmother, don't I?) walking together and talking. I thought how nice that the two of them somehow got together.

Another person I never met, but we waved to each other every day. I walked past an elegant old office building that had a big, palladium-type window on the second floor. The occupant of this office was visible as he sat at his desk overlooking the street. He had placed a life-sized ceramic dog in the center of the window, which caught my eye. Every day I guess I glanced up at that dog. Eventually, the man in the office saw me looking up, and waved at me. I waved back. From that day on, we waved at each other every time I passed by that window. This went on for years. I never met the man, but he was part of my daily routine.

Then there were the street vendors I passed every day. In a previous post I mentioned "Gus". Gus was a short, stocky older man from Greece. He was there on the corner every day, selling some kind of Greek sausage. He wore a little knit cap on his head and an old white apron slung low around his waist. Gus was friendly with everyone. He would always nod and smile and say "good morning". One day, he even stepped out of his little metal cart and curtsied to me.

Another metal cart was manned by a Chinese family. There was an older couple who I took to be the grandparents, and a younger couple with a toddler. You could just tell they were a family unit. Sometimes the older couple was there alone, sometimes the younger couple was there alone, and sometimes the whole family was there. The toddler was adorable, and you could tell the grandparents doted on her. I always exchanged smiles and greetings with them. This went on for months and months. One day, suddenly, the grandfather came out from their cart and gave me a little hug and said "we love you". It was very unexpected but very touching.

I enjoyed the city. I enjoyed the people. I found it to be a very friendly city. Of course, I had frustrating encounters, too. The smokers standing outside a building so that when you walked by your hair smelled like cigarette smoke the rest of the day. The bicycle rider going the wrong way on a one-way street with whom you almost collide. The people who liked to take up the whole sidewalk and not give anyone else room to pass. But it was, overall, a very pleasant experience. I miss it.


Jenny Jill said...

What a lovely narrative, Judy! I spent 25 years living in downtown Toronto (pop. 5 mill.), then moved to Ottawa for 25 years, a smaller, but more family oriented city. Now, my home is in a town in cottage country ("My Muskoka"!) with a winter population of 650. Now that the tourists have gone home I like to reflect back on my city life, in the peace and quiet of Autumn. Our social scene has changed vastly even as the scenery now holds a different kind of beauty.

Natalie said...

This is such a lovely narrative (Jenny Jill said it first, and I have to agree!) Your recollections, the attention you pay... I think it reflects a warmth and kindness you possess... the kind of sincerity and goodness that would compel a *stranger* to give you a hug.
I'm so glad you shared these memories.

judy in ky said...

Hi Jenny Jill, Hi Natalie,
Thanks so much! Isn't it funny... now, instead of meeting friendly people on the streets of Philadelphia, I am meeting friendly people on the internet! I love hearing from you.