A door in the common room of my third floor condo opens to the street. It’s called a Juliet balcony, but, so far up from the sidewalk, Romeo would have to really shout to get her attention. We open the door to check the weather, to see if one of our children is finally coming home, or to follow a siren or an unmuffled car down the street. Otherwise, it stays closed.
When we moved in, I suggested we could make a nightly speech from that perch. “People of North Cleveland!” we’d begin. But none of us has made one speech.
Lately, I’ve found the balcony’s true purpose. As it’s spring in Chicago, I stand in the doorway and let my reveries run. The train roars by down the street, the same birds settle in the same spots, and familiar people pass down the sidewalk at the usual times of day. They don’t look up to see me, but I find a strange comfort in their company, the rhythm they contribute to my block. This doorway is a way of entering urban life.
The most unexpected aspect of city dwelling is its simplicity. Outside Chicago, people might picture a bustling, frenetic place, but, to someone living here, Chicago operates on a schedule predicated by the daily lives of neighbors and strangers.
On nice afternoons, all the neighborhood parents on the block gather at a set of benches with their children, and I hear conversation punctuated by laughter or some eruption of tears. The cast of this little drama might change, the location might shift a few doors down, but, if the sun is out or almost out, and it’s reasonably cool, they’re talking, decompressing, visiting.
And, though I seldom take part, I receive some benefit through my open door, a sense of companionship in fellow feeling.
When I lived in suburbia, I ended my commute with a grinding electric garage door, entered the house though laundry room, and, after changing clothes upstairs in our master bedroom, I sat down in the kitchen and cocooned. We had windows on our backyard—it was a very nice, spacious backyard—but otherwise, outside seemed irrelevant. We knew we had neighbors but seldom saw them. It wasn’t long before the TV turned on, the one window we watched regularly.
After five years, I’ve become addicted to living among crowds. We urbanites are wary. We aren’t that friendly, it’s true, but we know one another by our patterns and revel in the daily traffic of lives. We’re reminded everyday we are not alone.