“Excuse me, Miss?” This Is Not New York

Something happened recently when my sister was in town that just crossed my mind today. We were out walking through Capitol Hill, just the two of us, and as we had just crossed a street a stranger approached us saying, “Excuse me, Miss, excuse me.”

Now, what I did was stare straight ahead, pretending that I could hear no one, and continued walking pretty much the same pace as though nothing was happening. My sister, on the other hand, stopped and listened to the guy. He was just visiting in Seattle and needed directions to where he was going, directions only I could have given him because my sister was a visitor as well. If she hadn’t stopped, I basically would have looked like a total asshole.

Of course I didn’t stop because that’s what I had learned to do in New York City. I had learned from experience, as all women do in the city, that “Excuse me, Miss” is almost always followed by unwanted words of sexual harassment.

As I looked back on it, I wondered if there is anything a man could say to me on the streets of New York to make me stop and listen to him. Saying “Excuse me, Miss” seems the most polite way to approach someone on the street if you need directions, but I wouldn’t stop for that. People handing out flyers can get very creative in New York, stopping you in your tracks because what they’re saying sounds so weird coming from a stranger, such as, “Is your birthday coming up?” or “You never responded to my text last night.”

But even those comments I learned to tune out while walking. I won’t tell you my birthday, I didn’t get your text, and excuse you, sir.

Maybe if I was a braver (or just less paranoid) person, I would have opened myself up to pleasant street interactions more in New York. I saw them happen for other people – eccentrics or neighbors getting to know each other right there on the sidewalk corner. And sure, there were some conversations I’d have with strangers in the subway when our train was inconveniently stopped underground for a while.

But not on the streets. Not in New York.

Because whenever I did stop or respond to “Excuse me, Miss,” I was greeted with unwanted sexual advances, such as “You are so beautiful, God Bless you,” (which may seem harmless, until you see how angry they get if you don’t smile or say something back), “Can I get your phone number?”, or the absolute worst, “Are you pregnant?” (something I think some men just say to piss women off or hurt their sense of self-confidence because you show no interest in them).

Fun Fact: One time I responded to an old man saying “Excuse me” on the sidewalk in Washington Heights and he barked in my face. Right up in it.

In the smaller big cities that I’ve visited, I think there is less enough people that you can expect an “Excuse me, Miss” to actually lead to something harmless like asking for directions or the time. And not to say that street harassment doesn’t happen everywhere – Seattle is safe, but it’s not immune to crime. However, the man eyeing me up and down to compliment the pattern on my pants had a very noticeable difference in his tone of voice than the one calling out “Sweetie” from across the street. And I should have noticed that tonal nuance when that guy asked my sister for directions.

I would like to open myself up more to kindness on the streets in Seattle and other places. Obviously street smarts are essential for any woman in any city, but maybe if I could just tone down the high-alert security system I seem to have put between myself and everyone on the street everywhere, I could actually meet some nice people and help out fellow travelers to new cities. I’d like to try.

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Sounds of the City: The Birds and Bells of Austin

When you think about city sounds, you most likely think about loud noises such as ringing sirens, honking car horns, roaring garbage trucks, and people yelling on the street.I used to talk about the sounds of the city a lot in New York. While the noise tends to overwhelmed visitors, most New Yorkers say that the city sounds act as a comforting white noise as they fall asleep.

If you were to ask an Austiner what the city sounds like, they would probably come up with something like this:

These birds are called Grackles, and they are funny little creatures. A lot of people online share stories of these birds coming up very close to you and trying to be friends. Some people even own these guys as pets. I didn’t get to stay in Austin during migration season, but apparently the birds fill the skies over Austin during that time. I love sitting on our balcony and listening to the bird calls reverberate throughout the tall surrounding buildings.

Living in Burlington, I thought that I needed to have be in a city that was close to nature, specifically on the water. However, after my time in Austin, I found that a few trees and parks here and there, plus the sounds of the birds, were just enough reminders of nature to make this city feel all kinds of alive.

The church bells are another favorite sound of mine in Austin. They remind me of Florence, Italy, and bring about a general sense of community to the air. My next adventure is in Phoenix, and I’m wondering if the sounds of the city will be different there as well. For now, all I have to say, is that the variety of every city is something your senses pick up on. You can hear the difference.

The Nearest Road to New York Is Abandoned

Rutland Railroad, Vermont Rail System, railway, Burlington, Vermont, tracks, abandoned, railroad, graffiti, harbor, sailing, Lake Champlain

“Vermont Rail System’s story began with the closing of another.”

I uncovered a piece of Vermont history on my jog the other day. As I was running down the bike path along Lake Champlain, the concrete sidewalk abruptly ended and became a two-inch wide dirt trail snaking along the side of the sailboat yard. The trail split in two, and finding it hard to fit my footing along the trail just wide enough to fit a bike wheel, I turned left toward larger path that soon became a half-buried set of railroad tracks.

I followed the tracks that shortly ended in a sailboat harbor. What I saw around me was graffiti both old and fresh to my right and rusty old train parts overgrown with foliage to my left. I stood there for a while taking in the scene, and in that time nobody came into the abandoned lot. This seemed like the kind of spot where all the teenagers might go to drink beer without their parents knowing.

Vermont Railway System, Vermont Rail System, railroad, train tracks, abandoned, Burlington, Vermont, New York, history, Rutland Railroad

The Vermont Rail System came into fruition as the Rutland Railroad’s time came to an end. The tracks upon which I stumbled were part of an extension of the original Rutland Railroad called “The Island Line.” A portion of The Island Line is still in use, but the tracks which crossed Lake Champlain by connecting a series of small islands that fill the center of the lake are now completely abandoned. But what was this old and forgotten railroad used for? Primarily to transport the most valuable and highest-quality products the state of Vermont has to offer: Dairy.

Comments on pages that detail the history of this abandoned railroad mention that you can only find it if you know where to look. Unless of course you’re a new resident of Burlington, wandering off on your morning jog to catch your footing. If you follow the miles of land bridges that used to carry the railroad, you’ll end up way out in Rouses Point, New York, just south of the Canadian border. Maybe I’m too much of a poet to take a history lesson, but it seemed ironic to me that the only abandoned railroad in Burlington heads directly to the state I left behind.

Lake Champlain, sailing, harbor, Burlington, Vermont, abandoned, dock, boats, water, lake

During my research I realized moronically that New York has been in my backyard this entire time. The mountains I see across the lake from my balcony are the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. I secretly wished upon learning this that New York City would have been located on Lake Champlain instead of the Hudson. But if that were to be the case, I could never hope to see the large pack of Bald Eagles that are said to migrate here to Burlington in the fall. New York might be sitting in my backyard but there’s a giant lake between myself and those mountains, and the only path that leads me directly to them is broken and mostly buried.

Still, the tracks led me down an interesting route of investigative research, and I have a feeling that there will be more pieces of history to dig up in this city over the course of the next couple of months. In the meantime, I’ll be looking out for those eagles on my early morning jog.