Hello new visitors. It’s quite possible you’ve found this site because of the Newsweek article. If you haven’t already read it, I recently wrote about 10 Cities/10 Years for Newsweek’s “My Turn” feature, which is a space for people to share their unique life experiences. In the article, I discuss the details of the project, what I learned about myself through doing it, and what I learned about America in general.
It was an honor to write for the feature and I’m quite pleased how the article came out. You can read it here:
City living is a great way to be reminded that America is uniquely complex, that there are millions of Republicans in “blue” America and millions of Democrats in “red” America. One of the silliest notions I’ve ever heard is that there is a “Real America.” According to many politicians, because I grew up in a town of less than 80,000 people, I’m from “Real America.” This concept, that “Real America” exists in the heartlands of the country, outside of our main metropolises, led me to wonder: What does that make the over 15 million Americans I lived among, in big cities, from 2005 to 2015?
After Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, I heard frequently about the “liberal bubble,” but that never fit with the country I experienced. In the cities I lived in—many considered liberal strongholds—I met all kinds of people whose views fit more neatly in the “conservative” box. There was the transgender woman in New York who adamantly defended the U.S. government’s use of torture on terrorism suspects after 9/11. There was the co-worker in Nashville who assumed, because I am an atheist, that I “sacrificed” children—her interpretation of abortion. For that matter, there were all the residents of so-called liberal cities who went to church every Sunday. I encountered all types of political and religious views over my 10 years; rarely did they fit in an easy category.
If you’d like more background on what exactly the 10 Cities project was (and continues to be), there’s always the About section. If you want to read some stories from the road, you can check out “The Book” section (scroll down and start with the Prologue). You can also check out other Press coverage. Or just take a look around the site; you may stumble across something I’ve totally forgotten I wrote.
Whether you’re a regular reader of this site, someone who used to be a regular reader and is just checking in, or someone who came across 10 Cities/10 Years because of the Newsweek article, I’d love to hear your thoughts: on the article, on the project, on life, on the 1962 Chicago Cubs, whatever. Leave a comment, show some love.
Cheers from Madrid,
P.S. Anyone who is interested in keeping up with my ongoing adventures, including my life in Spain and future publications, can add your email address over on the righthand side.
P.P.S. If you live in Madrid or are going to be in the city in mid-October, I’ll be doing a talk about the project and my writing at The Secret Kingdoms, a recently opened English-language bookstore in Barrios de las Letras. Get tickets here.
I’ve been known to indulge in my share of excavating. As I prepare for my next big move, I’ve been looking back, not only on the decade-long 10 Cities/10 Years, but also on my youth and even more recent history. Writing these chapters from my life has been rewarding, allowing me to scrutinize my memories and re-examine pivotal moments in my history, recontextualizing my history as it relates to my present. But there are other ways to explore the past.
One of my favorite tools for documenting my life in real time is Last.fm, a website I’ve mentioned not infrequently in these pages. It’s the simplest of ideas: the website tracks the music you listen to on your various devices and compiles that information into charts and data points. It’s extremely nerdy and entirely unnecessary, and I love it.
I started using Last.fm just a few months before I set out on my decade of travel, so I have a document of all the music I listened to throughout the entire journey from day one: my ups and downs, my relationships come and gone, my periods of depression and moments of hysteria, all of it soundtracked. It’s the kind of thing that I can nerd out over for hours, and often do.
I decided it would be informative to look at my Top Songs charts for the various years of my 10 city project to get a sense of the tenor of each year through my musical obsessions. I’ve taken a snapshot of my Top 5 tracks, so now, if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to take another look back at my project, this time through song.
How predictable. In my first year of traveling, I was still mostly listening to the artists who had gotten me through college, so Radiohead and Rufus Wainwright had been getting heavy rotation for a few years by this point (and still do). “Fake Plastic Trees” was my go-to favorite song for years, though its stature has diminished some over the years.
In terms of evolving musical tastes, The Decemberists were one of the many new artists a friend introduced to me while I was living in Charlotte. Especially in those early days, the Pacific Northwest band was known for their whimsical and eccentric mix of British folk and sea shanties. I was besotted with “The Engine Driver” which has this one verse:
I am a writer, writer of fictions I am the heart that you call home And I’ve written pages upon pages Trying to rid you from my bones
It’s the kind of melodramatic sentiment that I absolutely adored back then. (Eh, still do.)
Not much had changed in terms of favorite artists, though I was definitely listening to a more varied selection. “Come Pick Me Up” is my all-time most listened song and has never lost its “Favorite Song” status, but by this point I was starting to seek out more obscure artists. Mirah was another new discovery from my year in Charlotte, and she rapidly ascended into the realm of favorites. Though I’ve only followed her career intermittently recently, I was fortunate enough to see her play live just a few months ago at an intimate benefit show for LGBT youth. She was lovely.
Ghosty, for those that don’t know, is (was?) a band from my hometown in Kansas. They played a set at the famous World Café in Philadelphia and I saw them perform. Staying after to talk with the guys, I was surprised when the lead singer said that he actually knew me because he had seen me read poetry back in Lawrence. That was wholly unexpected and kind of cool.
For a time, Beirut was the musical artist I felt most spoke to my increasingly disparate tastes in music. I used to say that if I had any musical talent (I do not), I would make music exactly like Beirut. It’s interesting how, as especially so-called “indie” music has expanded in form and genre, the once unique Baltic sounds of Beirut have become just another common trope. I still enjoy Beirut, but my fervor has lessened considerably.
Starting to see some more female artists gain prominence in this list, though none of these three particular artists would be in my favorites. Still, Beth Orton’s Central Reservation did receive considerable play for a few years. “Concrete Sky,” which is off of a different album, features one-time Orton beau, Ryan Adams, so that probably helps explain its high chart position here. It’s also just a beautiful song.
“No Children” is, for me, the perfect song about a doomed relationship, that kind of love where the two people are terrible for each other but still work in a twisted sort of way. John Darnielle is a storyteller, and the entire Tallahassee album is arguably the best novel he’s ever written (though his two actual novels are worth a read).
My fifth year was, at times, arduous, as you might recall, so it’s not really surprising that the songs that got the most airplay in that year were in large part downcast affairs. I adore Neko Case’s entire oeuvre, and I consider her song, “Star Witness,” to be one of the defining songs of 10 Cities/10 Years (I’m frankly shocked at its absence on these lists). Although “Don’t Forget Me” is a Harry Nilsson cover, she definitively makes it her own.
Yeasayer’s “Tightrope” stands out from the other songs on the chart with its propulsive and infectious rhythms. It appeared on the Dark Was the Night charity compilation (along with Iron & Wine’s “Die”) and was basically the standout track from two discs of excellent but mostly similar sounding indie rock and folk music. Worth tracking down.
In the wake of a bad break up in Chicago, Nashville’s list consists of a lot of old favorites; comfort food, I suppose. Ironic that the one Adele song that I was really into that year was actually one of her more upbeat tracks. Also, “Dear Chicago”? How on the nose could I be? (Granted, it’s a fantastic song.)
Ryan reclaims the top track, but this time with a song that was never officially released. Both “Karina” and “Angelina” appear on the famously unreleased 48 Hours (bootlegs are available, obviously), which was scrapped in favor of Demolition, a solid but ultimately less cohesive album. I’ve said this elsewhere but, after Heartbreaker, 48 Hours is Ryan’s greatest album, and the fact that it has never officially been released is a tragedy (a few songs appear on Demolition). “Karina” is his most sympathetic and piercing character piece and deserves to be loved by millions.
Otherwise, this list clearly reflects the counter-intuitively sunnier times I was having in Seattle. Also, funny to note just how much Childish Gambino has evolved as a writer and performer since those early days. “Freaks and Geeks” is still a banger.
This was another hard personal year, but still a year with a lot of partying, which is nicely exemplified in the dichotomy of Justin Timberlake and a pair of The National’s bleakest songs. The Divine Fits’ “Shivers” splits the difference, an old school proto-punk cover with the lyrics:
I’ve been contemplating suicide But it really doesn’t suit my style So I guess I’ll just act bored instead And contain the blood I would’a shed
Considering my state of mind that year, the song was clearly speaking to me. (The song also includes one of my all-time favorite lines of shade: “My baby’s so vain / She’s almost a mirror”.)
I’d been a fan of Death Cab for Cutie since college, and yet, somehow, I had never bothered to acquire their most critically acclaimed album, Transatlanticism. I rectified that in Boston and soon after became enthralled with the eight minute centerpiece. I was also still obsessing over Hurray for the Riff Raff, a folk/mixed genre band from New Orleans that you should also be obsessed with. Get on that.
(Also, yes, Justin Timberlake made the list two years in a row; no shame.)
And then came Brooklyn. Kanye West is an asshole. Kanye West is too full of himself. Kanye West lacks impulse control. All true. Also true: Kanye West can produce some amazing music. When Boston roommate, Emily, helped drive me to my tenth and final city, “Power” literally started playing the moment we passed the city limit sign. There couldn’t have been a more thematically appropriate song for that moment.
I had a brief fling with a French girl when I first moved to Brooklyn; my infatuation with The Stills’ french-language “Retour a Vega” lasted much longer. At the same time, I fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with HAIM’s debut. Their latest release is very good, but I still play the hell out of Days Are Gone.
Goddamn right JT threepeated.
Notably, while many of my favorite artists are represented in these lists, there are plenty of others that don’t appear (no Sufjan Stevens, no Elliott Smith, no Spoon, no Rilo Kiley), while a number of artists who I barely listen to anymore (Night Terrors of 1927, really?) showed up.
I could have done this kind of list with my Top Artists or my Top Albums and gotten some very different results. For instance, these were my top albums from my year in Charlotte:
All five albums came out between 2005 and 2006, yet only one, Picaresque, is represented on the most played songs. I suspect that I was still getting to know these albums and thus listening to them straight through instead of just cherry picking my favorite tracks.
I chose to look at my top songs instead of albums or artists because I think they reflect my moods in those years more accurately. The album lists lean heavily towards recent releases, and my top artists stay pretty static from year to year (Radiohead and Ryan Adams are almost always in the top spots). By contrast, my ever-changing top song lists across my ten year journey illustrate not only an evolving musical taste, but they also provide insight into my mental state in those particular years.
Perhaps this sort of thing is only interesting to me (if so, you probably aren’t still reading, so who cares), but if you have a Last.fm account, I recommend taking a gander into your own past. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself.
For the completists in the continually dwindling crowd, I’m including my second and third year lists from my time in Brooklyn. As I’ve written about previously, the music of Songs: Ohia carried me through a very difficult post-project year, hence The Lioness charting so many tracks. And then, this current year’s list is a result of my concerted effort to seek out more diverse artists and voices, in particular more women.
Brooklyn (Year 2)
Brooklyn (Year 3)
Ideally, the list will continue to evolve every year because I will continue to evolve. In that way, these charts serve both as a document of the past and a challenge for the future. Who knows what my playlist will look like after a year in Spain? I look forward to making fresh comparisons next August.
[Reminder: Names are sometimes real, sometimes changed, sometimes made up because of whiskey.]
Three months changed my entire life.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
In the years immediately following 9/11, a confluence of political conservatism and social frivolity made California’s Orange County the darling of pop culture. With its green money, yellow beaches, and rainbow of white epidermis, the OC-
…the OC was everywhere. Regardless if media was glorifying or satirizing the place, all of it helped mythologize that immaculate corner of America.
Orange County’s cultural bubble had burst by the time I arrived in 2007. I don’t mean to say that the county wasn’t still wealthy – it was – but it no longer captured the ADD-ravaged attentions of the collective television audience. It had lost its aura of cool (or ironic cool), so it was the ideal place for me to move.
In fact, I moved there because of Amber. Like myself, Amber was inflicted with a compulsion to write. We had met the previous December in Los Angeles at what could loosely be described as a writers conference. Our mutual appreciation for, shall we say, spiritual matters had led to a fast friendship, and whether in LA or at meet-ups in NYC, we made swift work of a bottle.
In the waning months of my year in Philadelphia, I still hadn’t determined where I would move for Year 3. I was leaning towards Chicago, but that felt too easy since I had spent a considerable amount of time in the Windy City during my college years. Then, one evening, Amber mentioned that she needed a roommate to fill an extra room in her Costa Mesa apartment. That was that.
At 24, I was single, young (not that I knew it), and living in the land of milk and silicone.
Oh, and I had hair.
Our days were filled with beach lounging, eating sushi, and drinking; our nights spent clubbing, seeing comedy shows, and drinking. My alcohol intake soared, and with it came confidence. Not with women, to be clear; just with my self-estimation of artistic relevance. Now in my third year, 10 Cities/10 Years had taken shape. I envisioned the future, the path ahead: a decade documenting hard partying in America’s coolest cities.
If my alcohol consumption was at an all-time high, my art consumption was almost non-existent. Orange County was woefully lacking in anything resembling culture. Sprinkled near the beaches were an assortment of art galleries that I’d sometimes peak in, but they were invariably unimpressive showcases for some hobbyist painter’s gaudy beach porn. Live music, usually lifeblood for me, was hard to find; I attended one concert the entire time I lived in Costa Mesa, and that turned into a bit of a mess.
Amber and I took it upon ourselves to address this deficiency by holding poetry readings in our living room. Mostly, they were gatherings of writer friends, like Ivy, our resident mystic and one of the driving forces behind the initial writers conference. The get-togethers occasionally involved the reading of poetry, an unsightly event we are all better to forget, but sometimes we did more seemly things, like the evening I manically insisted every new arrival watch “2 Girls, 1 Cup.” I like to think I did my part for culture in the OC.
Oh, we had jobs, too. I worked as the music manager at a nearby Barnes & Noble (now shuttered), while Amber tended bar at a local gentleman’s club (also closed now). I learned quickly that, like almost every city in the southern half of the United States, Orange County’s public transportation was abysmal. With my apologies to Leo, good public transportation is all alike; every bad public transportation system is bad in its own way. For Costa Mesa, that meant meticulously clean buses that only arrived once every hour. Not that it mattered. Only the help took the bus.
(Costa Mesa has been nicknamed Costa Mexico because, being slightly inland and more affordable, it houses much of the immigrant population that sustains the lifestyles of the rich and famous.)
I bought a bike.
It was stolen.
I bought another bike.
One day, as I rode to work and barreled down the sidewalk (Orange County bike lanes being a joke), I spotted a pretty young girl walking towards me. Not wanting to run her over, I deftly turned my tire to swerve around her. In my head, I saw myself soaring just past her, my hair waving behind me like Fabio. In reality, my front tire hit the lip of a jutting sidewalk slab and my momentum thrust me over the handlebars and hands-first onto the pavement. As I quivered in pain on the ground, scrapped and bleeding, the girl passed by me without a word. It was the most OC experience imaginable.
After six months of living together, Amber and I were still enjoying each others’ company, which, in my vast roommate experience, is a rare thing. In fact, we were almost inseparable, so we started talking about living together for a second year in a different city. Amber was a young, (generally) single woman with nothing holding her in place, so why not?
I had already set my eyes on San Francisco for Year 4, and as we discussed the possibility of moving together, we fed off one another’s excitement. In mid-December, we drove up for a Wednesday night in the City by the Bay. Our belief that San Fran would be bumping every night of the week, it turned out, was mistaken.
Of course, we could’ve planned our visit better. Renting a room central-ish to the city, we unloaded our stuff and started walking. As dusk fell, we strolled through our future home together and anticipated the wild, drunken stories that awaited. While we walked, a homeless man stopped us and asked for change. Amber replied…
I’m going to be honest here: She made a comment that, although not meant in jest, cracked me up in the moment. After joking about it for months afterwards, though, and with many years to embellish the memory, I can’t recall what she actually said. So, here are some options, pick your favorite:
“Can you break a hundred?”
“Could you take a debit card?”
“No, but do you have a cigarette?”
We wandered on through the dwindling light until we came across a streetcar to nowhere. We hopped on, hoping it would take us to the night life, but as the city light receded behind us, we realized we were heading in the wrong direction. Debarking in the dark, we sought a taxi.
“Where to?” The cabbie asked.
“We’re looking for a dance club,” I told him
“Got it.” After fifteen minutes, we arrived at our destination: a strip club.
“Not that kind of dancing.” Amber and I discussed it amongst ourselves and surmised that if we wanted mid-week dancing in San Francisco, there was only one group we could count on: The Gays.
“Take us to a gay club,” we instructed.
“Got it.” He drove us across town and deposited us in front of a garishly painted building with a large black sign that read in bold, stenciled letters, “STUD.” Oh yes, this would do nicely. Not knowing what type of bacchanal to expect, we giddily threw open the door and entered into…
An empty bar. In the void stood Nick, a solitary bartender occupying himself with the polishing of glassware. One man sat at the bar, but it was readily apparent that he was less a patron than a down-on-his-luck chap being tolerated because no one else was around. Nick’s face immediately lit up when he saw us approaching.
Apologizing for the lack of festivities, gay or otherwise, Nick offered us a drink. After two hours of fruitless searching, we saddled up. With no one else in need of Nick’s services, the three of us chatted for hours. We told him of our plan to move to the city next year and Nick assured us that, despite the evidence of this evening, we would adore San Francisco. Upon request, he happily played music so Amber and I could dance on the vacant floor by ourselves.
For every drink Nick poured Amber, he tossed me one on the house. In Costa Mesa, Amber received free drinks all the time from bros in the bar. Frequently, I milked a couple gratis cocktails from the guys trying to usher me out of the way. In the Stud, the roles were reversed. I’ve set off my share of gaydars in my time, so I knew to turn into the slide. By the time we called it quits, I’d paid for one drink and we had a new friend waiting for us to move up. Nick hugged me warmly at the door.
(I never saw him again.)
The next day, Amber and I toured the city that would be our future home. In the light of day, there was no doubt that San Francisco was one of the most beautiful metropolises I’d ever visited. I was already picturing the possibilities.
There was just one hiccup in our plans: Though I’d been preparing for this move since I deplaned in June, Amber hadn’t been anticipating a relocation. 2008 was dawning, with five short months until my intended departure. So she asked: Was willing to delay my move through the summer to give her extra time to save funds?
Sure, I said. What difference could three months make?
In the interim months between our trip to San Francisco and the time I had originally intended to move, things between Amber and I changed. Mostly, I suppose, it was simply the passage of time. I made friends at work and had developed my own sort of life, while Amber dated and went out with friends from different circles. Our drifting apart was, at least partially, due to the inevitable entropy of existence.
With the summer approaching and the move less than three months away, I was keenly aware that Amber’s financial position seemed no different than it had been in December.
I can’t speak for her. There are dozens of reasons why a person may decide to stay instead of moving, most perfectly understandable. I suspect for Amber there were a number of reasons, including the simple fact that she had built a life in Southern California. She may have also concluded that while I had a specific (albeit esoteric) rationale for moving, she was just going on a whim.
In those final months together, Amber and I didn’t talk much. Our lives were on different tracks. I had fallen head first into a romance with a coworker and my plans for San Francisco were quickly – and dramatically – changing. Rooming with her had been the best living situation I could have hoped for, but that phase of my life – like so many before it, so many after – had to end.
I ruminate often on how much my life changed because of that one choice to stay an extra three months in Costa Mesa. If I had arrived in San Francisco in June instead of September – before the Great Recession had kicked into full gear – I quite possibly could have found work right away instead of being unemployed for five months. I would have lived with different roommates instead of an emotionally damaged woman and her abusive boyfriend. I wouldn’t have had to move halfway through the year because of mold eating away at every surface of the apartment.
Something might have kept me in San Francisco. Maybe I would’ve done the next six cities in a different order, or picked different cities altogether. A thousand divergent paths came into existence the moment I made that seemingly minor deviation.
I will never know the ways my life changed because of those three months.
What I do know is, I would’ve never fallen in love with Selene.
We are going to remember it for what we lost. We are going to remember it for all that happened, and for all that we had hoped would happen, but did not. There will be times when the memories will come back to us in waves of pain and anger and utter dismay. We will not be able to forget.
And we should not.
I remember 2008.
I was living in Costa Mesa when January 1st, 2008 rolled around, rooming with a woman about my age, a bartender and a fellow writer. She had been invited to spend New Years Eve in San Diego with one of her regulars, and because we were close friends at the time, she got him to extend the invitation to me. It was, if memory serves (though it rarely does) my first time in a limo.
It was also my first and only time getting V.I.P. bottle service in a club, which we followed up by bouncing from house party to house party with a limo driver who was more than game. It was an auspicious way to begin what would be one of the most transformative years of my life.
In retrospect, 2008 was the year that solidified 10 Cities/10 Years. While I had already made three moves by then, there was still a part of me in that third year that assumed something would come along to get me to stop somewhere. By 2009, I was committed to the project.
The first few months of 2008 weren’t all that remarkable – there was one pretty bad date – but springtime herald a seismic change in the form of a girl. It’s no exaggeration to say that meeting Chandra changed the direction of my life, though perhaps not as much as I changed hers, for better or worse.
Frankly, my life’s course was altered fairly easily in those days. Throughout the project, but most especially in those first four years, I was a leaf in the wind, boundless and subject to whims. Falling in love was both a tether and a weight, which in time would feel constricting, but at first simply felt like security, like a purpose.
When Chandra and I moved to San Francisco for my fourth year, we had only been dating three months, we were madly in love, and a global financial collapse was looming. I’m almost certain there’s no connection.
2008 was the year I couldn’t find work. 2008 was the year that I spent two weeks in a hospital for a medical study just to pay rent. 2008 was the year my hair started falling out. I’m almost certain there’s a connection.
In November of 2008, Barack Obama won the presidency of the United States of America, and for the first time in my life, I felt pride in my country.
It wasn’t that I had ever hated America or felt ashamed of the nation of my birth. Up until that point, I had been largely disengaged both socially and politically other than being a fan of Jon Stewart. When Bush won in 2000, I shrugged. When he won in 2004, I was surprised and disappointed, but largely blasé about the results. 2008 was the first time the results of an election moved me.
I had tears in my eyes. Most of San Francisco did, too.
As Chandra, our roommates, and I sat in our living room watching the results come in, we could hear the celebrations in the street. But at the same time, I also vividly recall that indescribable mix of feelings as we realized that, while we had just elected our first African American president – I had voted for a black president – California had simultaneously passed Prop 8, the statewide ban on Same Sex Marriage.
Now I see that moment as a warning, a metaphor for the next 8 years of American history. Each victory for justice, every step towards progress would be met with an equal force of opposition, a step backwards.
The next few years would bring gains and losses in equal measure, often because of choices I made that year. 2008 remains a notable highpoint for 10 Cities/10 Years, but not because it was my happiest year – far from it. In fact, that year included some of the lowest lows of the entire decade, including near homelessness. But surviving 2008 made me conclude that I had to finish the project. It gave me resolve.
Similarly, 2016, a year of extreme lows (with a few peaks), has helped me realize that what I need in my life more than anything is travel. I adore New York City, have thoroughly enjoyed living in Brooklyn, but I haven’t found my final home. Maybe I never will.
Everything about this moment in history feels uncertain, and 2017 looms ahead of us like a dark forest. If someone claims to know what the future holds, expect the tithe buckets, because one way or another, they’re coming for your money.
I hope in 2024 I can look back on this year with the same clarity that I now see 2008. I hope when eight years have passed, I recognize this moment as the point where I made the decision that shaped my life going forward. I hope I’m still traveling.
And, above all else, I hope in 8 years, I can feel proud of my country again.
When I started, my beard resembled a mess of pubes glued to my face; now white hairs spike out from it (the beard, not my pubes). If you need a less hirsute way to appreciate the time span, think about this:
The best selling album of 2005 was by Mariah Carey. The show Supernatural aired its 1st episode the same year. David Letterman was still on television! (Crazy, I know.) No one had even heard of an iPhone when 10 Cities / 10 Years began.
It’s, quite literally, a different world than it was in 2005.
I’ve been doing this a long time, long enough to feel simultaneously old yet fresh to the world. I’m relearning how to think about life in terms longer than year blocks, but I have no idea what sits ahead of me even a few months from now. I remain, to my core, a stranger.
Currently, I bartend, and I find myself listening with quiet bemusement as people rant confidently, definitively about this nation from the singular, narrow perspective of their hometown. As if the whole world could be seen from one window.
People ask me where I’m from, and I say Kansas, because, yes, technically that’s true. But when it’s said back to me – “Oh, he’s from Kansas!” I hear whenever someone mentions the Midwest – it rings false. “Kansas” (or any small state) is essentially code for “Inexperienced rube.” To city-dwellers it’s quaint; to hippies it’s idyllic. In reality, it was neither.
I grew up in Kansas, sure, but in a more accurate sense, I grew up in the United States. I discovered how to be on my own in Philadelphia. I learned how to survive famine in San Francisco. I found out how to recover from heartbreak in Nashville and then thrive on isolation in Boston. My perspective is not born of one town, one city, one state, but one country.
In that way, it’s still limited. The map is vast and I’ve only explored one corner of it.
Most people define themselves by where they’re from.
For a decade, I’ve defined myself by where I’ve yet to go.
I’m not done yet. My year in Brooklyn officially wraps at the end of August, meaning that there is still 3 more months until this project ends. And even then…
It looks like I got out of Boston at the right time.
The timing of my project has been mostly fortuitous, it seems. When I move to a new city, there is no way for me to predict what will come next. The job market might be booming or it might be abysmal. My new roommates may be fun to hang out with or they might be disgusting pigs who leave a centimeter of grease caked onto the pans. My favorite bands might play ten minutes away from me, or they might skip my city altogether to play in Bumsfuck, ID.
The most unpredictable aspect of my journey, though, is the weather. I’ve spent time in every climate in the contiguous United States, whether it be tropical New Orleans, or marine Seattle, Sunny Southern California or frigid Chicago. But I’ve been lucky. In the entire span of my 10 year project, I have yet to face the wrath of a major storm.
10 Cities / 10 Years began in the summer of 2005, the same summer that New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I was 700 miles away in Charlotte where the storm system barely made a blip. When Superstorm Sandy devestated the Northeast in the fall of 2012, I was down in New Orleans. For almost every city I’ve lived in, the year before or the year after I arrive seems to result in a near catastrophic storm (you’re welcome).
I haven’t missed everything. I was living in Seattle in 2012 when one of the biggest blizzards in recent history hit the area. While Seattle did get its share of snow and the city was largely disrupted because the locals didn’t know how to drive on the stuff, for the most part I was unaffected. In 2007, while I was living in Costa Mesa, Southern California had a series of wildfires that forced the governor (Arnold) to declare a state of emergency. From my apartment I could see the smoke, but it never reached anywhere close enough to be a worry to me.
And then there was the summer I moved to New Orleans. Hurricane Isaac hit the United States on Wednesday morning, the 29th of August. It caused widespread flooding and power outages throughout the south, including in a small neighborhood named St. Roch where I was set to move on Saturday. My future roommate suggested that I put off my move but that’s not how my project works. I was set for the 1st, I was going to arrive on the 1st.
As longtime readers might recall, it wasn’t pleasant. In the wake of Isaac’s passing, the city was bathed in 100% humidity with temperatures easily in the triple digits. No electricity meant no air conditioning and five minutes after stepping out of the shower I was soaked in sweat yet again. Two days later when the power came on, my roommate and I literally hugged each other we were so happy.
Despite those close calls, though, I would still say I’ve had a fairly lucky run of moves.
Last year at this time, I was living in Allston, the college student-infested hub of Boston. We had a lot of snow and it was very cold, but for the most part it was an average winter. This year… poor, poor Boston, buried in mounds of snow and more still on the way. I hear my friends are getting to work via the Iditarod.
I’m sure a lot of my ‘fortune’ is due to perception bias. Some part of this country is going to get hit by a major storm every year, no matter what. I just happen to notice when it hits a place I’ve lived or am planning on living.
But I still feel lucky. It’s possible that in this, my final year, New York City could get pummeled by a massive blizzard. But so far, while I can see a few fluffy flakes gently floating to the ground outside my window, a mere 200 miles away, Beantown is getting a decade’s worth of powder.
I guess there is no other conclusion to come to other than, New York City is safe as long as I’m still living here.
Or, maybe next year the big storm will come for us.
You know, I should probably start planning a trip now…