I sent my mom a Gchat from class this evening. “Random question: What would you say the tallest building back home is?”
After a moment, she wrote back: “There are tall buildings in GP? I think there’s a brick thing downtown that is… um… multiple stories.” There was a pause, presumably while she conferred with the people around her. “Beth says there is a 78 foot tall hotel.” Another pause. “Oh. I think it’s that tan brick thing with the mural on it. Pathetic.”
“That tan brick thing,” as it turns out, is the Redwoods Hotel, much of which sits vacant today. As you can see from the end of this video, it’s a majestic Art Deco-type building that towers over its surroundings, rising a whopping six stories into the air. (And yes, there is indeed a mural on the side.)
I asked this question not out of mere curiosity, but rather because I was sitting in class discussing the development of skyscrapers in New York and Chicago and was thinking, not for the first time, that I really had very little frame of reference for the sort of cities we were discussing. That, in many ways, sets me apart from the vast majority of my peers here on campus.
If you had asked me a few years ago to describe what kind of place my hometown was–if it was urban, suburban, rural–I would probably have said it was pretty suburban. It felt like what I always imagined a suburb would feel like. There were some housing developments, or at the very least some nearly-identical houses. There were grocery stores and gas stations and drive-throughs. There was everything you needed to live a decent life and relatively few extras. There’s just one problem with calling it a suburb: There’s no “urb.” The nearest city-like place was Eugene, two hours north; the Big City, Portland, was another two hours past that.
That’s something that I think a lot of people here don’t quite get. I’ve listened to people from New York and New Jersey talk about going into “the city” on the weekends, just hopping on a train like it was no big thing. To say that this idea blows my mind would be going a bit far. It doesn’t really register to me as reality. Even a lot of people who grew up in relatively small towns at least lived near a bigger city, for the most part. I know people who lived in Manhattan, which to me sounds like some kind of fairy tale. That’s something that only really happens in movies.
I’ve listened politely while friends laughed the brand names that were popular in when they were teenagers. I waited until they were done to explain that the coolness of your clothes at my high school largely depended on whether you’d gotten them from the mall 30 minutes away or from the one two hours away. Juicy Couture wasn’t cool, because Juicy Couture didn’t exist at my school. Juicy Couture didn’t even exist in the same world as my school.
Meanwhile, people give me funny looks when I explain that I knew people who raised farm animals. That our town had a public bus, but that I don’t think I know anyone who has ever taken it. I had neighbors to either side, but not much of a neighborhood because the space behind our house was all BLM land. I don’t even try to explain the peculiar phenomenon that is Boatnik.
And yeah, some of the differences here have to do with class, and that’s probably a whole post just on its own. But a lot of it is simply a matter of growing up in a very different world. For most of my formative years, the tallest building around was six stories high. It wasn’t exceptionally bizarre. It just was. I, like many people, assumed that my experience was the norm. For the last three and a half years, though, I’ve been adjusting to the idea that for a lot of the country–for a lot of my fellow students–my experience is the abnormal one. It’s an idea takes some getting used to.
Still, things change. A week or so ago, I was Skyping with my sister when she mentioned that she wanted to buy some skinny jeans. “I bet you can find cheap ones at H&M,” I told her.
She gave me a look like I was a little bit dense. “Yeah, but there isn’t an H&M here.”
I had forgotten that the nearest one, which opened just a month ago, is in Eugene. For better or for worse, maybe I’ve adjusted to being a city girl after all.