On my third day in Dublin, I rented a bicycle. The bike was too big, the gears wobbly, but it was Ireland and I wanted to ride a bike. By the end of the week, I knew the back roads. I rode the narrow shoulder past green yards, mossy little cottages set back from the road, bits of Irish countryside in suburbia. I took the bus on rainy days. Mornings, I rode with students in school uniforms talking about homework, mugging in the aisles. I sat upstairs, peeking into the walled gardens at forgotten laundry.
In Austin, I walked past elegant stucco homes to the bus stop. Spanish oaks sprawled over the sidewalks, birdsong filled the morning air. In Tampa, I bussed 45 minutes to the abandoned looking downtown, inventing lives for the people getting on and off at strip malls. On the bus in Vegas, I talked with a beautiful showgirl, smiling and helpful, on her day off.
In Waikiki, I abandoned wheels and walked everywhere. That city belongs to locals in the morning. Barefoot surfers, heading for the waves. Old ladies, taking constitutionals in the shallows. Street artists, preparing for a day of bamboozling tourists. Once, I saw the human statue without his costume. He was in shorts and a tank top. I could see his dark brown skin. But his face,to his hairline and shirt collar, were completely metallic.
The pace of a bicycle, the bus, your feet, changes everything about how you experience a place.