I don't have much use for driving. Growing up in Manhattan, I wasn't raised with it, and even after 20 years in Southern California, I view it as a necessary evil, one of the compromises I've had to make with where I live. It's not that I'm uncomfortable behind the wheel; in fact, I tend to be more uncomfortable when someone else is behind the wheel. No, for me, the issue is that I have to pay attention, which (paradoxically, I suppose) feels like a distraction, pulling me away from things I'd rather do, like read.
I've been thinking about that this week since I've been in New York, where I travel everywhere with a book. It's like a dream: Get on the 4 or 6 or E train and read for half an hour, and then (miraculously) you are there. Such an experience is available in L.A. also -- but I don't commute by Metrolink, and the Metro doesn't extend to where I live. For me, then, the art of subway reading remains particular to the first city I ever lived in, and when I'm here, I re-experience it with a mixture of nostalgia and glee.
This week, I was reading a book about New York in the 1970s. Its touchstones were scenes that resonated for me -- the fiscal crisis, the early punk days, the sense of the city as a broken landscape, not so much apocalyptic as shattered, to borrow an image from the Rolling Stones song ("bite the Big Apple / don't mind the maggots") of the same name.
Thirty-plus years later, New York is very different, an urban theme park, Times Square like the Grove on steroids -- although, as of this spring anyway, there were still bedbugs uptown. But reading this book as I subwayed back and forth beneath Manhattan's pavement brought back my earliest experience of the city as public space, with a force that I can only describe as visceral.