23 March, 2019

City Life

I spent last week in Boston, accompanying Katherine while she attended the 2019 National Art Education Association convention. She serves as Vice President of Communications for the Maryland Art Education Association, so she's fairly involved with networking with the 5,000 other attendees. Unfortunately, I came a bit too early for the conference I'd be more interested in: EAGxBoston 2019, so I spendt my time just walking through the city.

I've seen homeless people on every corner; stores with prominent handwritten signs saying "No cash accepted" (CVS) and "Leave your bags with the the cashier" (7-Eleven); a cop car on every block; and park benches with railings in the middle to prevent anyone from lying down on them.

You might think it's nicer in the mall where the convention center is located. Superficially, it is, but every power outlet in the floor has people sitting on the ground powering their devices, and every public bathroom is just a little less appealing than the restricted bathrooms I patroned in the convention center (where a guard asked for my badge before I could get through) and the hotel (where a sign clearly indicated that only guests were allowed inside. Even the Barnes and Noble bathroom left a lot to be desired.

I stopped in a fast food restaurant to get some tea, only to find someone sleeping in the corner. Apparently others found this unacceptable, because soon after two police officers arrived and began harassing him in an attempt to get him to leave.

Despite living in several cities for a few months at a time over a decade ago, I never really got used to them. It may surprise you to know that it was only two years ago when I first encountered a drug dealer offering his wares to me -- at least, it's the first time I ever knew that it was happening, and even then I didn't figure it out until a couple of hours later. (He said "you want a cigarette?" repeatedly, which, at the time, I interpreted as "do you have a cigarette?", because otherwise I couldn't understand why he'd be singling me out to ask. I still don't know what kind of drug he was offering, though.) And that same year was the first time I'd been propositioned by a sex worker, despite having done charity work for a sex worker organization a decade ago.

I don't want to pretend to be naive about this sort of thing. I just haven't had a lot of experience with it. Not because I haven't been around the shadier side of things, but because in the past I've always only been around it in the capacity of helping the people involved.

In 2009, I spent a week in Philadelphia interviewing impoverished residents in a food desert about their experiences with getting food for their families. I took pictures at a community garden and visited ultra small convenience stores that were experimenting with stocking fresh fruits and vegetables for local residents. While there, I saw a lot of poverty. There were many people who I am sure were sex workers or drug dealers, but, due to the context of my presence, they spoke about these things only as they related to food insecurity issues.

In 2008, I spent a week experiencing homelessness on the street near Walter Reed in DC. I wanted to know what it was like, and I quickly learned that it's not fun at all. I tried to take the experience as realistically as I could, with the exception of eating at a restaurant for one good meal each day. (Later, I would take the food stamp challenge while sleeping in my bed each night, so I could experience both hunger and homelessness, though not at the same time.) I depended strongly on the electricity from the local library, and I slept fitfully in the Autumn cold. (Several years later, I recreated this experience in a colder climate; I never want to sleep outside again.)

In 2009–10, I spent several months on sex worker/local police relations. I helped with creating advocacy websites, talked to local officers about how they could help make sex workers feel more comfortable with contacting them, and advocated for various methods of making sex work more safe.

I don't want to sound as though I'm naive about seeing the grit of city life here in Boston. I've seen it all before in other cities. But it still makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me want to take an uber everywhere rather than walk, and I have to force myself to walk instead, else I would miss what this city has to offer. Nevertheless, I'm glad I left after only a week. I just don't think I like cities. Furthermore, I love the comfort of my home. I guess I'm just not a travel kind of person. Sure, it was exhilarating when I summited a mountain in the Swiss Alps; it was beautiful when I hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail; and I certainly appreciate all the various conventions I've attended, whether they were for skepticismfor board games, for otakusfor sex workers, for food bank organizations, for effective altruists, or even for philosophers -- but really I just prefer being at home with Jasper and Katherine.

I have no desire to ever live in a major city again, and outside of conferences and short trips for relaxation, I expect I'd prefer to do my future traveling via the internet alone.

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