It takes awhile to truly know a place. You can travel the world and see all the sights (and sites), and still never connect with any one location.
There is a scene in the Radiohead documentary (yep, them again), “Meeting People Is Easy” in which one of the band members (Colin?) is asked what the band thinks of Germany while they’re there on tour, and he replies (I paraphrase) they haven’t actually seen any of the city (in his polite, apologetic British manner), which fits into the narrative of the movie of these 5 men getting thrown across the world by their sudden success.
I’m not writing a post about the hard lives of traveling rockstars. Hell, there are thousands of professions that will take you all over the world, all of which have their ups and downs.
But having seen the world doesn’t mean you have truly experienced the world.
What is it to experience the world? Well, I’m not going to claim to know as that’s really up to every individual to say. I’m certainly not belittling the rockstar experience (I’d dig it). But I think we can all recognize the inherent difference between visiting a place and living there.
When I first started 10 Cities / 10 Years, my main motivation was wanderlust. I’d spent the first 22 years of my life in one town in Eastern Kansas, hardly the nexus of great worldly happenings. While Lawrence is a very cool town, it is a town. There is only so much to be seen.
My younger self imagined these 10 years in a more itinerant vein, never setting up shop for more than a few weeks, a month tops. But as I actually got around to developing the project, it became clear that the modern world isn’t really built for that sort of lifestyle, and I like showering.
1 year in a city makes sense. It’s easy to get a year lease, and it provides a natural rhythm and pattern that I can plan around. Plus, it’s good to experience all 4 seasons in a given city.
Is a year enough time to really know Chicago or San Francisco, or even the comparably smaller Costa Mesa? I’d say yes, but with an asterisk. Obviously I didn’t see everything there was to see, drink at every bar or become privy to the secret worlds of lifetime natives. But I also didn’t just pass through without looking around.
Hey Man, Slow Down, Slow Down, Idiot…
“The Tourist” was written by Jonny, who, explains Thom, was “in a beautiful square in France on a sunny day, and watching all theses American tourists being wheeled around, frantically trying to see everything in 10 minutes.” Jonny was shocked at how these people could be in a place so beautiful and so special and not realize it because they weren’t taking the time to just stop and look around.
I hate tourists. I hate being a tourist. Through no fault of their own, most people will never be able to experience most of the world except as a tourist. I understand that, it just doesn’t mean I like it.
When I live in a city, I want to see the tourist traps and the hidden gems. I want to experience the city. I want to live the city.
To quote Sinatra, I want to be a part of it. I want to have a bartender who knows my name (and my drink). I want a favorite bookstore and a guilty pleasure pizza joint that I order from when I don’t feel like cooking. I want inside jokes with coworkers and the family history of my friends.
The 10 Cities Project is ultimately about belonging, all the while being an eternal stranger.
Which, I guess, makes the whole thing a metaphor for life. Huh.