Choreography of the City

Last month, I was walking to work when a bus passed with a giant Smuin ad on the side of it.  I was so excited to finally see one, but I wasn’t fast enough with my phone.  “Which bus was it?” someone asked at the office.  I hadn’t noted that, but I did know that the bus had turned the corner onto Market Street as I waited for the light to change.

The next morning, I caught the same train, which put me at the same corner waiting for the light to change at the same time.  It occurred to me to keep an eye out, and sure enough a bus turned right then (our ad wasn’t on it, but now I knew it was the #21!).

As long as I caught the 8:19 train, I would see the #21 bus turn onto Market Street.  In a moment of breathless excitement, I realized that this was the choreography of the city.  All of the many scheduled things—buses, trains, stop lights, business hours—are, essentially, choreography.  The music is both the silence of time and the sounds of the world.

Somewhere in offices, people make these timetables.  They are published, letting everyone know the timing.  And then, every morning, the city begins its performance.  I don’t know how the people making the timetables can sleep with the anticipation!

Unlike most performances, however, the city’s choreography includes a tremendous amount of improvisation.  Every pedestrian, every personal vehicle, is improvising alongside the set choreography, trying to seamlessly fit in without disruption.

I’m fairly consistent.  When I’m in Cast A, so to speak, I take the 8:19 train; when I’m in Cast B, I take the 8:34.  But sometimes I stop for a doughnut!  Or sometimes (unfortunately, frequently) the train is delayed due to police activity or a medical emergency.  When that happens, I diverge from my set choreography.

Does this have any impact on the greater choreography of the city?  No.  Surely it cannot.  And yet there is a trickledown effect.  Depending on how long the train is delayed, it impacts my day at the office, potentially shifting meetings or deadlines.  So the minor divergences impact the choreography of MY day.

There’s also a semi-regular cast of characters.  For ages, I saw the same man waiting for the train at the end of the day.  We always boarded the same one and had nearby “spots” on the train.  I haven’t seen him in some time, and I definitely noticed that.  His choreography changed.  Meanwhile, I have noted that I do NOT see the same people when I get on the train in the morning, which I find surprising given my own consistency.  This presents its own set of problems, when these alternate casts go in!  For example, at my station stop, passengers wait to board the train in two lines, starting on either side of the door and stretching backwards along the platform in opposite directions.  However, some mornings there is only a single line—and some mornings there is no line at all, only a cluster of people!  How do I adapt myself to this new choreography?  (Answer, not very successfully, and always with frustration.)

I am, absolutely, stretching the essential definition of choreography here.  But when I was in college, I took a dance composition class.  As a warm up exercise, we would often be directed to simply walk our own path around the room.  Inevitably, as the minutes passed, the group would end up walking the very same path.  Order out of chaos.

The next time you go about your regular routine, consider the choreography of the world around you.  “All the world’s a stage,” the line goes, “and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII).  Think of it!  Every morning, you’re making an entrance.