Big City Superpowers

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Living in big cities will make a superhero out of anyone. Look past the $5 lattes and the champagne brunch and what you will see is an urgent need to survive, the pressure of which mutates us all into super humans in our respective hives.

As most readers of this blog know, the Carpetbagger is a former political wrangler from Washington, D.C., who is now tenured as the lowest nobody in Hollywood. The superpowers needed to survive in those two shark tanks, while thematically similar, are vastly different in application. What follows is a brief summary.

Superpower: Navigational Strength

DC: Your body’s daily rhythms are no longer tethered to the rising and setting sun. Instead, your entire existence is pegged to train schedules. From that simple DNA, civilization takes form. You know what Metro lines run late at night and if there is a delay at Metro Center or L’Enfant, you are capable of running the three blocks to pick up the Orange or Yellow Line to get around it. When someone asks if it’s faster to take the Blue Line all the way to Crystal City or wait to transfer to Yellow, you have a fifteen-minute lecture planned out on the various dynamics associated. And for your gold medal performance, you once got drunk in two cities in one day because – hey – Amtrak is everyman’s DD.

LA: You come to understand the streets of LA the way your ancestors understood the Mississippi Valley watershed. The freeways are the rivers and the boulevards are their tributaries, each with their own patterns of flood and drought. Over time you develop an instinct for what jams when and by the second month of a new job, you are taking different routes to and from work because rush hour in the morning and rush hour at night have as much in common as a hale storm and a hurricane.

Superpower: Ability to occupy space in a socially unconventional ways

DC: You pack into subway cars and elevators with dexterity that would make your yoga teacher proud. You tuck your leg underneath the businessman, your arm against the window, and you have perfected a very neutral way to lean on the stinky bum whose back is turned towards you. As the train cuts left-right-left in the underground tunnel, you preserve this posture without a thought of losing your balance. And the piece de resistance: you do all of this without making eye contact with a single person onboard.

LA: Formation flight is a cinch. When you watch Navy stunt pilots perform their high-speed, Top Gun maneuvers in full afterburner you become drowsy with boredom. That’s because you now merge into Ziploc-bag sized slots in traffic twice a day while moving at 60 miles per hour through winding mountain passes. Your ability to maneuver in the world’s thickest traffic with nearly surgical precision has made aircraft carrier landings and stunt plane maneuvering seem oddly pastoral, as if they were just another dull pre-occupation of a simpler time when people still enjoyed baseball, board games, and ribbon candy.

Super Power: Ability to Care About Absolutely Nothing

DC: You share everything with strangers, from sidewalks, to park benches, to apartment walls; and in a sense, you are never alone. From this grows an unstated law of conduct between the city’s well-bathed inhabitants: when in public, only speak when spoken to.

The day you become a signatory to this treaty is the day you begin your slide into big city moral ambivalence. This starts by heeding your instinct to ignore jerks handing out fliers for their shitty bands and political causes and crystallized into less honorable form when the city’s homeless become invisible to you. Your slide into total human indifference is aided by the Raybans you wear at all times and the earphones you never step outside without.

LA: You are in a place where people have built a world around the notion that one should always make a molehill out of a mountain. “No worries” is the answer to everything because everything in Southern California is about being cool, and that includes empathy, a feeling that while loosely related to what is “right” and “wrong” is mostly about what is “in”.

Wars, disease, and suffering are trendy things to care about – part of cocktail party conversations about how you no longer go to the Polo Room because it’s owned by the Sultan of Brunei and how you’ve given up your seats at the Staples Center because of Donald Sterling. You witness people make these tough sacrifices everyday and it all makes sense to you, the outsider, who still has some notion of Southern California’s beautiful absurdity. This is life in an urban Eden that flowers from water piped-in from far away and prospers on a steady flow of cash mined from the world’s imagination.

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