No matter where we are or what we do, we all fall into certain routines. They make life more predictable, less surprising. Some are done actively, some done without notice. These routines numb us and at the same time give us time to think about what we think should be thought about. Getting on the toilet with a coffee and a cigarette after downing an aspirin and a vitamin is one of mine. One day, a few hours after my daily ritual, one of my two friends and I were in a car driving down a very familiar road having a very familiar conversation, and the traffic was just terrible. I can’t remember where it was, but after inching along, after way too long, one of us quickly suggested a left-hand turn down a very small road. Why not? Within seconds, we were transported back in time. The road wasn’t straight, curbs were non-existent and it was full of people not paying attention. After spitting out the window to clear my throat of the three packs of cigarettes I had smoked the day before, I noticed an old lady lighting one of those cylindrical pieces of coal with some scraps of wood. An old shirtless dude was tightening a teetering load onto his three-wheeled bicycle. In the back of it, there were a few huge, empty baijiu bottles and a stack of neatly piled fangbian mian containers amongst other things.
This month, I warn you all not to forget these places. I warn you all sometimes to step out of the regular routine and smell the passion because though others might say that the passion on these small roads stinks like a Staten Island landfill*, I say it smells like home. We live in a city that goes beyond the Ferraris and mango margaritas. While on that road, my friend and I were laughing at how much fun we used to have before the days of C-Stores, when on wooden stools outside the local shop we would drink warm beers and jars of baijiu over a few hands of cards. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t because we didn’t have the cash, but we did it, rather, because it was what you did. It’s easy to get along these days by going to the same stores, admiring the same cars and having the imported drinks, but the essence of living here is still found down these small roads doing things that people have done for many years. Go there, get out and break the routine. It’s a breath of home.
*The notorious Staten Island landfill was the largest in the world. Strangely enough, it was just as I moved from there that New York garbage started going elsewhere. Now it is officially closed.
By Tim Hoerle