Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

urban explorer

after midnight mass, i missed the last bus home.

i walked home in the dark, my eyes watching for shadows because it's 1 am in the big city, and one never knows.

i avoided the main roads and the train stations - i felt safer walking than catching a train down at that stretch of city - for the wealthy strips of apartments and mansions and condos with elegant cars and elegant gardening. i felt safer surrounded by security systems and sleeping citizens with expensive dogs and good phones. if something evil happened, i only had to trip a fence alarm to bring the polizei.

i got lost because of the night and the new, twisting streets of elegant homes, but i wasn't completely and totally lost. i had my landmarks in the skyline, i just hit them from a weird angle through all those rich homes.

i wandered onto the military base between wiesbaden and erbenheim, but i was on this obscure end of it. i flagged down a passing MP patrol car. i asked him if he knew the way to erbenheim from here because i was lost.

he told me he'd only been here two months and he had no idea.

i asked him how to get back to the autobahn because i figure i'd rather walk the main road fast at this point (i was getting sleepy, after all, and the bars had been closed for over an hour, and i had already snuck around the train station and the city park where the dealers pace the dark) than be lost until sunrise among mansions.

the MP told me how to get to the autobahn.

i laughed inside because i've only been here two months, too. i didn't tell him that.

i know my way around, mostly. i've walked these roads up and down for days. i've climbed every mountain i could find (wiesbaden's is called Neroberg). when i was lost that night it was because i was walking through the winding houses instead of the highways and pedestrian paths. if the sun had been up, i'd have known north from south and i'd have found my way home fine.

i've been working here, too, for two months. i've learned my way around mainz, wiesbaden, munich, berlin, freiburg, himmelreich, titisee, buchenbach, bierstadt...

this tough guy in a patrol car at night carrying a gun is supposed to be the adventurous one, right? he's supposed to be trained in maps. he doesn't even know the cities a half-hour walk from where he rests his head.

easter vigil was beautiful, even if i had to walk home. the adult converts are christened with oil. everybody holds a lit candle in a dark room in this gorgeous eighteenth-century church. streetlights hit the stained-glass windows at strange angles, enhancing the hidden messages of midnight in the glass.

a drunk kid opened the side door of the church and shouted "teuffel!" as loud as he could to shock the church before running off. people startled. but, the ceremony didn't stop. cantors sang in unison. people prayed with one voice like a single organ with every key held down.

and after dark, when i missed the bus, nothing evil found me because i knew how to get home safe, even if it was a bit slow.

people used to ask me what i really wanted to do with my life before i sold my book. i didn't tell them about the writing, usually. i usually told them i saw myself as an urban explorer. i always look for new places, new hidden corners, new cafes, new roads, new directions and how all the people live there.

i wanted to explore the old ceremonies in an old congregation in an old church. i did. then, i got to explore the city in the dark, when all good boys and girls are too afraid to walk from wiesbaden to erbenheim on account of bad boys shouting for the devil in the dark.

i got home just fine.

i'm an old hand at urban exploration.

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