catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 11 :: 2005.06.03 — 2005.06.16


The neighborhood on foot

I come from the land of cars, the Midwestern United States, where you’ll find a junkyard full of car culture oddities. On my grandfather’s farm, for example, I grew up believing it was not possible to check the mail at the end of his driveway without driving to get it in the car. Here’s another one: my brother-in-law, Tim, used to drive across town in his car on a beautiful day, the distance equalling about a 20-minute run, to go to the gym and jog on a treadmill for half an hour. And then there’s my hometown, Sioux Center, Iowa, which holds Summer Celebration every June. It’s the one day in the year when people are allowed to take turns lining up their hotrods at the stoplight in the middle of town, and in front of rows of onlookers, burn the rubber from their tires, filling the air with a lung-scratching mixture of exhaust fumes and smoking rubber, the engine racket shaking Grandma’s windows.

From where I come from, either your car is your second home, or your car is an Alcatraz, a prison you can’t escape from.

That is, unless you’re willing to leave the Midwest all together.

I enjoy living in my neighborhood here in Madrid. Yes, there are cars in the streets. But this barrio

has a reputation, it’s a Bermuda Triangle. Either you spend the next 45 minutes making laps around the area with about as much chance of getting where you have to be as a dog does of catching its own tail, or you somehow make it into the neighborhood only to find yourself in a giant version of one of those mazes kids like to fill out with a pencil in the back seat of the car, only now you’re being pushed around by beeping horns from one-way street to one-way street until you’re cornered, angry drivers looking at you from both directions, with no chance at erasing this mistake.

Even if you find the street you’re looking for, good luck trying to find a parking spot.

It’s not that I hate cars. When April and I are home for a visit, I do the driving. I can drive for hours. I just wonder if people realize that when they buy cars, when everyone you know drives a car, it changes things. There’s the ozone layer, of course. But I’m talking about a way of life, a sense of community.

There are differences between my hometown in the Midwest, and my neighborhood in Madrid. For starters, people who don’t have cars walk places. My life in Madrid is within walking distance.

Because I walk, and I’m not separated from the rest of the world by metal, glass, and speed, I get to know people. I bump into a friend while I’m waiting to cross the street, and we talk about summer holidays. I pet the neighbor’s dog sitting in the shade outside the bar down the street. On my way to the mercado, I say hello to any member of the family who owns the Alimentacin and is standing at the front door of the shop getting some fresh air.

I get to know the neighborhood, too. I know where to go to get the best loaf of bread. I know where to go to get keys made or to buy flowers or to get copies of free newspapers. I know where to go to get things laminated or to buy spices. I know where I can get a cup of coffee, a croissant, and an orange juice for only a euro fifty. I know where the kids loiter after school. I know where the street cleaners keep their carts, and the bar they go to next door on break. I know the street where you can stop on the sidewalk and listen to the musicians at the conservatory practicing in their rooms with the windows open because it’s a warm day.

This is life at a walking pace.

My life is my neighborhood. I know people here, I go places here, I buy things here, and because that’s true, I’ve invested a lot. And when there’s a whole lot of people who have a whole lot invested, I think it makes for a better place.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus