Since my cousin moved back to Vancouver from Manhattan, I’ve noticed that she has a strange, urban serendipity about her: every time she walks to a street corner, the light instantly changes in her favor. I’m not kidding about this; every time I walk with her downtown, she never has to wait for the ‘Walk’ signal. It comes on the second she approaches the curb, and with no conscious effort whatsoever on her part. And, since I first noted this in my cousin, I’ve been seeing the same crazy luck in both my aunt and her boyfriend – who, like my cousin, are self-proclaimed urbanites living in a very trendy part of downtown.
It was all a strange coincidence – until it started to happen to me, too. Whenever I approach a street corner downtown (this does not work in the suburbs), the light just seems to change in my favor, regardless of my intent to catch it. I used to have the worst luck with my timing downtown, always just missing the light I wanted. Now… well, I don’t think I’ve had to wait for a light to change in weeks. Even my friends are pointing out to me that I have the greatest luck with these things.
I have a theory about this urban serendipity. Cities really do have a pulse. That pulse becomes the pace of the whole city… and that pace is the speed at which each traffic light turns after the other. I think that people who spend a lot of time in the city, like my urbanite family members and now myself, start to fall “in tune” with the pace of the city. Over time, we just develop the perfect pace of walking that gets us between streets right as the lights turn, because it’s such a consistent rhythm.
(This kind of pulse isn’t something I see much of in the suburbs, but I think that it has to do with the lack of traffic and the length of suburban blocks. Suburban streets are more likely to be empty, so we tend to jaywalk more often. And, at least in my neighborhood, the blocks are much larger than those in the city, so it takes a long time to walk from one street to the other – long enough to distract someone from developing the rhythm a city would have.)
With or without the logical explanation for it, the idea of being “in tune” with a city – belonging to a city – is so romantic to me. There’s comfort in knowing and loving a city inside out so much that everything between the limits feels like home. My favorite expression of belonging and comfort in a city are the opening lyrics of “Under the Bridge” (1991), the most successful and best-known song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers:
“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner
Sometimes I feel like my only friend
Is the city I live in, the City of Angel
Lonely as I am, together we cry
“I drive on her streets ’cause she’s my companion
I walk through her hills ’cause she knows who I am
She sees my good deeds and she kisses me windy
I never worry, now that is a lie”
Then, later on in the song, is my favorite verse of music:
“It’s hard to believe that there’s nobody out there
It’s hard to believe that I’m all alone
At least I have her love, the city, she loves me
Lonely as I am, together we cry”
Lead singer and frontman of the Chili Peppers, Anthony Kiedis, actually wrote the song about his former heroin addiction – and the full lyrics strongly hint but not explicitly confirm this (though Kiedis himself has). This song once almost lost the potential to become the hit it did because Kiedis had hid the lyrics due to their personal nature. I thought this was odd because Kiedis has sung some pretty wicked-crazy stuff over the years. And those are just the lyrics I don’t feel guilty linking to; some are so explicit I wouldn’t even dare – and some of the above are still pretty graphic. Point is, this is not a guy who’s afraid to put it out there. (Much too literally sometimes.)
Many other musical artists and writers have similarly paid tribute in some way to the cities they love. The cities that seem to get the most love are New York City and pretty much anything in California. Wikipedia has lists (linked in the previous sentence) of hundreds of songs dedicated to NYC, the state of California, cities in California, and even individual streets in California. New Yorkers and Californians really love their homes.
Yet there are hardly any songs (I found two, neither are known widely enough to have lyrics posted anywhere online) dedicated to my city of Vancouver, even though we’re ranked third internationally for quality of life. Canadian cities just don’t get the love they deserve.