It is so frustratingly — and dangerously — difficult to bike in many modern American cities. Bike-friendly cities do exist, but most U.S. cities are designed for cars. Including Miami. And if you attempt to ride a bike, you run the risk of getting hit and mauled.
Walking too, is an interesting experience. You walk through parking lots of big box stores, across busy intersections, breathing heavy fumes. And besides the beach, you are hardpressed to find anywhere you can go barefoot.
It is sad that we have so few opportunities to connect with the earth through our feet and to get anywhere without getting in a gas-guzzling, carbon-monoxide-producing, impersonal vehicle.
In non-U.S. cities, the streets are full of life. Yes, they may be not as clean, shiny and new. Getting what you want may not be quite as sterile, 24-7, predictable and convenient. But the experience is rich; sensory; satisfying; stimulating; real. You meet and kiss the cheek of a stranger. Stop for afternoon tea in an outdoor cafe. Stumble upon interesting, locally owned shops full of unique and rare finds. Admire old-world architecture. A sudden soccer game erupts in a plaza as old men watch from a bench. Outdoor markets are bursting with dynamism and interaction. Music plays, couples dance. You breathe fresh air, feel the seasonal elements, and at the end of the day, you eat and you sleep well.
When I came back from Buenos Aires, this was striking: how our standard of living was technically much higher, but the quality was much lower. The streets were wide, but dead. The stores are all the same. You never interact with anyone, because everyone is in their house or in their car.
Give me the second or third world any day, if it means I can actually be one with my surroundings, surroundings that may be raw but are beautiful and authentically real.
Oh — and the billboards are disgusting! There was one displaying fungus-infected toes! And Target, Old Navy, Ross, Whole Foods, Borders, Olive Garden … why must I have to see the same exact places in every town I go to? It’s so boring, so unappealing, so deadening. I’m so sick of highways, strip malls, parking lots, buildings, big box stores and billboards.