A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
Jen and Bryan sat nursing beers when I joined up with them. Sitting with them on their last night in Sydney we dove in to what we knew was going to be a long haul but a fun one. It was 6:30 and I’d just completed the uphill hike to their location with depressing indie music playing and me laughing at how perfectly the weather and world was coming together. We pondered what to do, discussed options haphazardly, and largely didn’t figure out anything. That is more or less how it works between Jen and I. We start off at one of our houses, attempt to create a plan, keep getting side-tracked by conversation until one of us finally decides impulsively, move to said location, and repeat. Our last DC adventure found us hitting the monastery, a café, possibly another café, possibly a restaurant, and then Jen’s house over 12 hours. This was also several months ago because despite our living in the same city, coordinating anything social between us is a Herculean feat.
And so we talked about life. Of the joys of the Outback, the culture of moving to the middle of nowhere from the cities to find ones fortune, or at least a living. After all, someone must man the outposts that dot the way between things that matter. And someone must produce the food that keeps the cities and towns alive. And the cows aren’t going to man themselves out in the unfenced wilderness. The mines aren’t going to empty themselves of natural resources, which then won’t transport themselves to processing plants.
We discussed the differences in cultures, in infrastructure, in cities. Melbourne and Adelaide don’t go in for tagging – the lazy punk’s method of gaining notoriety with no real accomplishments to back it up. They go in for graffiti – the street artist’s method of giving back to the city by creating something of value. They also apparently go in for a lot of heroin use as evidenced by the omnipresent needle collection bins in public restrooms (or those cities have a very high incidence of diabetes if you want to be an optimist about it). And they filled me in on the joys of traveling the southeastern quadrant of the country. The beautiful tranquil beaches and rugged sea cliffs, the slowly changing nature of trees to sparse trees, to brush, to sporadic bushes clinging to the side of plateaus. The overwhelming volume of the sky when you’ve escaped the cities. The overwhelming presence of bugs as well. The recurring theme of sails in the opera house design, home awnings and various other places. We spoke of plans, of family, of siblings and significant others, of our pasts and our futures.
And we walked and savored the night. Pub to hotel to harbor bridge. Through dumb luck we witnessed a fireworks show on the bridge. And we continued on to North Sydney, a land beyond the reach of most tourists not based on distance but on lack of opportunities to get pissed and laid. We stumbled upon the greatest playground I’ve seen in years. A giant spring-loaded seesaw capable of crushing my foot (which it did) and multiple spider web lattices of various shape and dimensions perfect for creating standing waves or climbing over, balancing on, or falling through (which I did). We celebrated with child-like glee and noticed that no one walking by seemed to care of our presence. Back home we would have been asked to leave several times over.
And then we found it. Luna Park. The waterfront amusement location created “Just For Fun.” A strange Coney Island-style relic with baseball carnival-caliber rides and an entrance through a giant mouth. Even at 11pm it seemed that the bumping in the park had just shifted from cars to bars. Corporate shindigs at a carnival. Beats the hotel ballroom for sure. And despite the activity of the crowds, despite the lights on high, the place still gave me a sense of decay and desolation. Carnivals and amusement parks all sing to me of the joy and wonder Americans had going to see them in stock footage from a bygone era with no set year. The 1930s? The 1960s? A time when bathing suits came in white and polka dot and thick rimmed glasses were cool in a mainstream way. That same way that circuses with elephants and lion tamers and clowns can only hope to recall some of the excitement that middle-America felt in seeing the exotic back in the days before television in every home and zoos in every city. Sure they still exist, but even in their best iterations of old-style design the pinnacle of achievement is to create the excitement that they once did. They exist because they used to exist and tradition has kept them going. They are culturally historic.
And so we walked through this eerily-active window to the past, taking photographs and laughing in funhouse mirrors. And we savored the night and we savored the conversation and time together. Wandering through a relic of the past with my oldest friend, hoping to connect again to what used to be.