Tender is the night
The boy has intense, mischievous eyes and a piercing on his lips. He wears a jacket with the Obey the Giant insignia and carries a messenger bag. Popping out of his dirty bag is a bouquet of pink roses that he shields from the crowd on the train with his hands. All is right in the world.
Pattern is repetition
“Palo Alto! Palo Alto! This stop is Palo Alto. After this stop this train will express to Mountain View.” I’ve been hearing this phrase or variations of it at least three times a week for the past five years. I live in San Francisco but the company I work for is based in Palo Alto and I divide my week between our San Francisco and Palo Alto offices.
On the days I have to go to Palo Alto I take Caltrain. It takes me usually 45 minutes to commute between the two cities. I always have a black coffee in hand, an Americano to be more precise, my Kindle, my iPhone and sometimes magazines. My goal while I’m on the train is to forget I’m there and most of the time I’m successful in my search for isolation.
Other times I feel particularly distracted or tired and I let my eyes wander. At the station I observe the morning crowd. There are many young people wearing jeans and sneakers, with their backpacks and bikes, headphones on, ready for another day at Facebook, Google, or other future-shaping company of Silicon Valley. There are the older engineers in khakis and comfortable shoes. There are Stanford employees as well as students in green scrubs. There is also this very elegant, stylish man in his thirties, carrying a big leather bag and wearing Oxfords with super slim shorter-than-usual pants, a scarf and hat. He looks fabulous and completely out of place. He stands out because he is following his own sense of style and personality. He doesn’t seem to feel the need to belong to a particular crowd. The patterns that form his life have a different cut. What is he doing there? Where is he going? And yet there he is, taking the same train to Palo Alto.
I look at myself and the other commuters at the station, each of us ready for another day at work or school, each trying to build meaning as we start new conversations, check emails, read articles or post status updates from our phones. Even though our morning commute seems to bond and integrate us in its choreographed routine of movements, the consistent repetition of it can also free our minds to wander and imagine different realities.
Sometimes I don’t even have to imagine new worlds if I’m willing to pay close attention to those people and things that are nearby and I take for granted. My eyes and mind can find new possibilities out of the patterns I believe I know so well. A curious eye will always find its way out of repetition and encounter inspiration and awe.
What do you see?
You’re in the subterranean garage of Whole Foods at Franklin and California, in your car. It’s a nice summer evening. You notice a window right above your car. You decide to look at the window since you don’t have anything better to do while you wait for your partner to finish shopping. You see a stretch of street, two or three buildings and people walking by. This is what you see over the course of 15 minutes.