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Posts tagged ‘City life’

Invitation

The boys hopped off their bicycles at the corner. Propped on kickstands, the bikes stood like trusty steeds by the watering trough awaiting their riders. One boy fastened his helmet to the handlebars while the other wore his. They strode to the door and entered the Starbucks store. I squinted at the activity from a nearby table on the patio.

Despite it being December, I sat outside the café in shirtsleeves, enjoying the sun shining into my eyes. I tried to write but pages of my notebook flapped like crows in the escalating wind.  I watched the bicycles and traffic and passersby with an increasing sense of urgency: Where are the boys? When are they coming out? The bicycle rims glowed and taunted me.

Bicycle friends, unchained and free.

Bicycle friends, unchained and free. © JustHavingFun

I grew up in cities—not particularly dangerous ones—places where you had to be on the lookout because bad things could happen. Even from an early age I knew if I left my bicycle unattended it might not be there later. I had a chain. I had a lock. I had a quick-release hub for the front wheel. One simply did not leave the bike unattended. To do that would be an invitation for a thief to steal my most prized possession! Why didn’t the boys chain their bikes?

The wind whipped my pages faster and blew over one of the bicycles. Another patio-sitter jumped up and righted it. I cranked my head toward the store. Where were the boys? A nod to the rescuer and I returned to my pages.

I’m a mother. My mothering powers expand and include all within my gaze… and beyond. My mom-sense hackles were bristling. Another gust toppled the same bicycle. The rescuer rose again, righted it, and I gave her a wan smile. Since I couldn’t write, I capped my pen and went inside.

“The wind knocked over your bicycle,” I informed two boys about 13-years old. One wore a helmet and the other was finishing a latte. The boys thanked me, and one went to peek outside. When he returned I turned my mom-powers on him. “Let me ask you a question. I write a blog and I’m curious: how come you didn’t padlock your bikes?”

Their innocence made me smile. “This place is so safe,” the blond one said. “You don’t have to worry about theft.” True, we were in a modern shopping village development, but I wouldn’t believe it. “I live down there,” the helmeted one nodded toward the gated community a quarter mile down the road. “Nobody ever bothers our stuff.” I nodded and listened without judgment. They felt unassailable. They excitedly told me about a Ravens football player they saw while biking to the coffee shop. All was normal in their world.

So precious. So fresh.

We were not so far from the dangerous, crime-ravaged city but we could have been in a different country. Less than 5 miles away houses sit abandoned and the poor abound. Storefronts hide behind barred windows and people meander on mean streets.  Here however, a boy drank coffee in the afternoon with his friend while their bicycles waited on the sidewalk. This verdant, safe suburb we sat in nestles behind an invisible, invincible curtain. These youths were wrapped in a butterscotch coating of safety and security.

You never know who you’ll encounter in a coffee shop. We chatted a bit, the mom-powered lady and the youths too candid to catch the irony of the situation. I bade them goodbye and pondered upon an upbringing so charming and charmed near Charm City. Though I ventured into the suburbs I couldn’t leave the city in me behind.

Dark Satanic Mills

England Industrial Revolution illustration

England’s Industrial Revolution illustration

I was listening to the song “Jerusalem(1) and was struck with the oddity of the phrase “dark Satanic mills” among depictions of “England’s mountains green” and the establishment of a new Heaven (a/k/a Jerusalem) there. Blake poses these bucolic visions of beauteous England with heavenly pastures and clouded hills then plops down some odious hulking factory spewing viscous smoke and spitting brimstone. According to University of Houston’s John Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History, Blake refers to the Industrial Revolution by the phrase “dark Satanic mills.”

British Cotton Works, mid-1800s

Great Western Cotton Works, Barton Hill, Bristol, England circa mid-1800s

The Industrial Revolution turned civilization on its head. We once lived a largely agrarian, rural way of living. With the Industrial Revolution, we became an industrialized, urban-centered society in roughly 150 years. The railroads transported materials and goods widely from around the 1830s. Whether flour, bricks, cotton, or steel mills, the smokestacks darkened the skies and sulfured the air. One can imagine the hum of industry in the cities and the phenomenal social changes.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, the “Steel City,” before the demise of the steel industry in the late 1970s. At night the sky glowed red from the blast furnaces less than two miles from my bed. Rather than thinking of the mills as being “satanic,” they provided me and the other residents of the area with a stability and identity. For the longest time, Pittsburgh was steel. Long before steel, Pittsburgh was glass. The area has been synonymous with industrial activity for centuries.

People flocked to the region to work in the mills. Workers received relatively high wages. Aye, the work was dirty and dangerous. However, the mills symbolized opportunity, prosperity, and pride. I can imagine that the nascent Industrial Revolution in England had the same allure for workers there. More than one worker who left for the big city sent money to support his family back home.

If we think deeply about the changes that occurred during that time, we might opine that it was the change in the social dynamic that could have seemed “satanic,” and not just the mills. Spewing smoke, noise, and sparks, some industrial facilities could have seemed like Hell on Earth.

But look what they led to. Life today. Certainly we’re not living in Heaven, but we’re also not living in Hell.

Or are we?

 

 


(1) “Jerusalem,” based on the poem “And did those feet in ancient time” by William Blake (c. 1804), with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.

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