Sunday, July 10, 2011

An Urban Window

So we have arrived in Northern Virginia. The first thing we noticed about the surrounding area was the hills. I didn’t remember the hills as vividly as we have been driving up and down them the past few days. There are no hills in Florida, particularly when you live on a barrier island on the coast. Our town was as flat as the granite countertops lacking in our Florida home--one of the criticism of a prospective buyer who didn’t buy. And when we left Virginia I didn’t drive a car with a standard transmission. I do now. There is nothing more exciting then stopping at traffic lights while pointing straight up a hill. As my daughter continues to point out the surrounding hills I explain to her about using the emergency brake to hold the car as you slip the clutch and step on the gas. She will be negotiating these hills in about 2 ½ years. For now she just gets to enjoy them, and in particular the hills on Hunter’s Mill Road, that is if you hit them just right. If you do you can produce that momentary glimpse of weightlessness. Just like jumping in an elevator.

And speaking of elevators…we have one in the apartment we are renting until we find our new home. As it turns out the elevator is right across the hall. I’ve always thought it would be neat to have an elevator that opens right into your apartment…we don’t have that but it is right across from our front door. We get to meet all the neighbors’ right in the hall. And our dog gets to tell us about them as well. It all feels very urban. I’ve never really lived in quite this urban setting. I’ve worked in the city but never lived so close to all these people. And it’s not just the hall way and the elevator and the parking garage. We have an urban window…or a series of windows and a porch. It all over looks the town center and all the activities that take place below. We see the hordes of people and hear their voices as well as the screams of their children playing in the fountain. We smell the food being prepared in the numerous restaurants that surround us and we’ve got balcony seats to hear the music from the bands that frequently play in the square. This is the square that the average person gets to see from ground level. We have an urban window into so much more. It’s a reality television show that’s always on and doesn’t cost us a dime. All you have to do is look through. And, from the moment she walked into her room, that is what my daughter has chosen to do.

Her bed is pushed up against the urban window in her room. We are on the third floor so I am more worried about her jumping on the bed than a drive by shooting. As such she has been outlawed from even thinking about jumping it if she wants to keep her room in that configuration. But with her bed in place and the blinds pulled up she can sit in front of the window for hours. She likes to draw. She does it there. She likes to listen to her iPod, she doesn’t have to move. See likes to open the window and listen to the sounds coming through. And she can gaze out the window and make observations about the life that passes her by…some of it late at night. I told her to enjoy the window because when we move she may never have a window quite like this one.

My wife and I also get to enjoy the urban environment. Some of it can be fun. Some of it is just people watching. We already know the schedules and shifts of all the restaurants as we see the workers on their way in to prepare for the lunch crowd. Some of it’s not so fun. Like when the pre-screening of the new release of the movie “Transformers” was shown at midnight the day of its release. It must have been screened to a full house because at approximately 2:37 am the parking lot erupted. The first people to leave the movie must have been full of adrenaline. Their cars screamed out of the parking lot. It sounded like a high speed chase. When we awoke and gazed out the window our first thoughts were of Armageddon. When you see several hundred cars exiting a parking lot at the same time, in the middle of the night, it makes you wonder if you should also be getting in your car and heading towards the mountains or some underground shelter. It didn’t take us too long to figure it out…but it made us wonder.

A few days later we were awoken on the morning of the Fourth of July. It was the National Anthem playing loudly in our room. I stared at the clock trying to figure out who set it and why it was playing, it didn’t even look like a clock radio. I stood up and walked around the room. My wife was yelling at me and calling me a dumb-ass for setting the alarm on a holiday and I was trying to figure out if I should be standing at attention as the National Anthem played. It was an awkward moment. Then I realized the music was coming from outside the urban window. I looked through the shades and sure enough, hundreds of people were gathered. Oddly they were all dressed in running shorts and tee-shirts. It was the beginning of the Fire-Cracker Five Mile Run—an annual foot race hosted by the town center.

There’s more…much much more…all in the last two weeks. The people, the cars, the dogs, the police, the sounds, the smells, the sights…all to be experienced over the length of our stay. And then we will move into a residential suburb and leave our urban window behind…I will keep you posted.