When gangs took over the [abandoned public land in Philadelphia] and the neighborhood took a turn for the worse, horses became a way of saving lives. By getting boys interested in raising a horse rather than killing another human being, these cowboys gave the youth something positive: father figures, focus, and the ability to stand tall.
Along the way I stopped into a coffee shop. All around me normal, everyday city types were going about their normal, everyday affairs. Lovers were whispering to each other, businessmen were poring over spread sheets, college kids were planning their next ski trip and discussing the new Police album. We could have been in any city in Japan. Transplant this coffee shop scene to Yokohama or Fukuoka and nothing would seem out of place. In spite of which -- or, rather, all the more because -- here I was, sitting in this coffee shop, drinking my coffee, feeling a desperate loneliness. I alone was the outsider. I had no place here. Of course, by the same token, I couldn't really say I belonged to Tokyo and its coffee shops. But I had never felt this loneliness there. I could drink my coffee, read my book, pass the time of day without any special thought, all because I was part of the regular scenery. Here I had no ties to anyone. Fact is, I'd come to reclaim myself.
Everything in modern city life is calculated to keep man from entering into himself and thinking about spiritual things. Even with the best of intentions a spiritual man finds himself exhausted and deadened and debased by the constant noise of machines and loudspeakers, the dead air and the glaring lights of offices and shops, the everlasting suggestion of advertising and propaganda. The whole mechanism of modern life is geared for a flight from God and from the spirit into the wilderness of neurosis.
.. The solitude was intoxicating. On my first night there I lay on my back on the sticky carpet for hours, in the murky orange pool of city glow coming through the window, smelling heady curry spices spiraling across the corridor and listening to two guys outside yelling at each other in Russian and someone practicing stormy flamboyant violin somewhere, and slowly realizing that there was not a single person in the world who could see me or ask me what I was doing or tell me to do anything else, and I felt as if at any moment the bedsit might detach itself from the buildings like a luminous soap bubble and drift off into the night, bobbing gently above the rooftops and the river and the stars.
Abe, he says, it wasn't the country that was so beautiful about the whole Arcadian experiment, don't you see? It was the people, the interconnection, everyone relying on everyone else, the closeness. The villages are all dying now, small-town America is dying, and the only place where the same feeling exists now is here, in the city, millions of people all breathing the same air. This, here, now, is more utopia than utopia, more than your pretty little house out in the middle of the forest with only woodchucks for neighbors. Can't you see? All of we kids are here, almost all of the kids from Arcadia, are here in the city. We've gone urban because we're all looking for what we lost. This is the only place that approximates it. The closeness. The connection. Do you understand? It doesn't exist anymore anywhere else.
So he bought tickets to the Greyhound and they climbed, painfully, inch by inch and with the knowledge that, once they reached the top, there would be one breath-taking moment when the car would tip precariously into space, over an incline six stories steep and then plunge, like a plunging plane. She buried her head against him, fearing to look at the park spread below. He forced himself to look: thousands of little people and hundreds of bright little stands, and over it all the coal-smoke pall of the river factories and railroad yards. He saw in that moment the whole dim-lit city on the last night of summer; the troubled streets that led to the abandoned beaches, the for-rent signs above overnight hotels and furnished basement rooms, moving trolleys and rising bridges: the cagework city, beneath a coalsmoke sky.
[Soho] is all things to all men, catering comprehensively for those needs which money can buy. You see it as you wish. An agreeable place to dine; a cosmopolitan village tucked away behind Piccadilly with its own mysterious village life, one of the best shopping centres for food in London, the nastiest and most sordid nursery of crime in Europe. Even the travel journalists, obsessed by its ambiguities, can't make up their minds.