Downtown used to be a place that I barely gave much thought to. It was just some mysterious collection of skyscrapers in the distance; an unknown place that I passed while traveling from one suburb to another. Only very occasionally did I venture downtown for an occasional outing with my children, or to run an errand, or the once-in-a-blue-moon volunteer mission to feed the homeless. But I never lingered — only slipped into the city and out again without much venturing.
Recently, however, I have been commuting downtown by light rail train. And rather than read or study during the ride, I’ve been gazing out the windows, fascinated by the diverse architecture I pass each day. Crumbling red brick buildings from a long-gone era squat stubbornly between sleek modern structures of steel and glass. Thoughtless storefronts and rubbish-filled vacant lots give way to the graceful gothic curves of an old cathedral, which give way to the rows of modern giants, who touch the sky like the fingers of gods.
In a way, it’s like being on a Disneyland ride. Only, instead of mischievous pirates or international choirs of children, my ride weaves through a 3-D museum collection of Gold Rush era artifacts and modern-day masterpieces. I admire the shapes, colors, and design of each building, and I’m filled with a sense of curiosity about their stories. What foods and drinks are people enjoying inside those dozens od restaurants and bars? What would it be like to attend a concert or comedy performance at the old theater? Who are those suit-wearing people walking briskly toward our state capitol building? (And what is inside the walls of our capitol?). Why are the windows of the glass store so ironically boarded up? How will the face of downtown change after the empty, ghost-town mall is demolished so that our city can build a new basketball arena?
It was easy to ignore the city when I was not a part of the city. But now that I, too, belong to the downtown, I am taking it all in in the way that I typically take in life — through the windows of a moving train, filled with questions that may never be answered, observing and wondering. Sometimes I wish that I were brave enough to step off the train at a different stop. Perhaps I could walk inside the Capitol building and see what’s inside. Or eat at a restaurant I’ve never been to. Or see a concert at the old theater. Perhaps.
Or perhaps, it is just as satisfying to write my own story about downtown life. Because surely, beyond the walls of the Capitol building hides an enormous time machine, and those people clad in business suits are secret time travelers on their way to explore ancient civilizations, hunt dinosaurs, or live on space colonies in the distant future…