It felt like Paris on those early summer mornings, one beautiful city masking itself as another. The air was cool and fresh and smelled like trees, there was no blaring light or noise yet, the streets were silent and still. A man with a newspaper walked past to buy croissants in a cafe. One stray, late-night taxi delivered its last passenger. Life felt simple, unstrained, as if some small amount of change in your pocket could buy breakfast.
Along the streets, the doormen, dressed in uniform, washed the sidewalks with water. The streets were not dirty, this was not a neglected neighborhood. No garbage, no debris, hardly a misplaced leaf off a potted geranium accumulated during the night. Even the dogs were careful with their business. But the doormen washed the streets, as part of their job no doubt. Sometimes, as a favor, a man would rinse a resident's car with water too. The water came out of a hose; it came out easily when a knob was turned, and the water flowed across the sidewalks or against the cars, slipped down into the gutter and continued in rivulets along the gutter---having washed the sidewalks---into a drain that led to a river.
This water that washed the streets and cars, though it was clean and pure and fit for consumption, wasn't often used to drink. The people preferred different, imported water instead. The plastic bottles that contained the imported water were shipped into the city, just like lemons, oranges, basil, kiwis, coffees, olives, many kinds of fish and other delicacies. Many wonderful things were delivered to the city---exotic things that were, eventually, taken for granted, rarely graced, and sometimes even discarded.
The bottles of water delivered to the city were delivered in boxes that were heavy to move into the trucks from the bottling factory, heavy to carry over the highways and bridges and through the streets. It required a lot of petrol to move the heavy trucks. The boxes were heavy for the men to lug into the stores, and heavy to carry out of the store to the car, to the house, and into the kitchen. It required a lot of energy, those bottles of water. Meanwhile water----clean, pure drinking water-----came out of the hoses to wash the sidewalks and ran down the gutters to the rivers.
We were always going places in those days! If we lived in the south, we drove north. If we lived in the north, we drove south. People in cities drove to the coast for the weekend, people on the coast commuted into the city to work. We drove around so much we hardly got to know our neighbors. But if we didn't visit people or see places, it was feared that we would miss something, I think, or be bored for a day, or die unfulfilled.
Soon there were so many cars driving north and south that the roads became blocked and everyone had to slow down to avoid running over each other. The trucks carrying the bottled water were in the way; the basil trucks and orange trucks and lemon trucks---they were all in the way too. Sitting in traffic to go somewhere, the big trucks would have gorgeous, huge images of a green peaceful farm, and one would dream of entering the image and leaving the traffic jam.
So the traffic slowed to 15mph sometimes for nine hours straight, creeping along from city to city. Ridiculous! we said. I could walk faster than this!
So why didn't you?
Walk? Places were too far, the air too hot was so many cars. It was too impossible. But I know that people did like to walk, when given the chance. In the city where they washed the streets with drinking water, the park was closed to cars at night, and what happened every evening was a sight to behold. Hundreds of people emerged from the streets and the places and the everywhere, to walk. They ran, and biked, and roller-bladed as well. They went alone or in groups, with friends, and in teams. They encouraged each other along, they respected each other's privacy. They respected the proper lanes. They smiled at each other. The courtesy was old-fashioned, not what you’d find on the highways in those days.
There they were, so many people! The young and the old; the overweight, and the fit; the brokers; the actors; the pregnant; the deaf; the marathoners; and the lines of speed skaters wishing by like helmeted swans continually pushing off the water. Thousands of miles ere covered in one evening by thousands of feet, in one park. The sound of the runners feet against the road and the bikers wheels were the only sound now in that usually roaring city. An occasional conversation or word was spoken among the passing. The breath of runners IN! out... IN! out... coming up from behind was like the sound of a heart beating, no doubt exactly like the sound of a heart beating in an ancient desert a thousand years ago.