All Cities Dream
An Excerpt from ‘Invincible Summer’
[Editor's note: Former Seattleite Mike Daisey recently presented a workshop performance of his new monologue, Invincible Summer, at ACT. The final version won't make it to Seattle for some time, but here's a sneak preview to keep us sated while we wait.]
ALL CITIES DREAM, and this should surprise no one—after all, if even dogs and dirty apes can do it, why not cities? Not only do they dream, they humble us with their grandeur: While we dream in urges and colors, cities dream in infrastructure, the streets and roadways mapping out the urban planning of their fondest desires, written in pavement and steel.
And every city's wishes come true as it sleeps. London dreams of its history, drunk on stately timelines from the Roman soldier to the Victorian doxy getting her throat slit down by the Thames. Across the pond New York dreams of itself, coked-up on its own gorgeous atmosphere—it's the Paris Hilton of cities, staring into its mirror, so certain of its up-to-the-moment hotness that if it could find another city named New York it would marry it and fuck it senseless to the end of its days, stupidly and enviably blissed out.
And Seattle? Seattle dreams of its future—the Seattle of the Next Moment, the moment that will never arrive. It wears its heart on its sleeve: the Space Needle, named in a bygone era when "Space" affixed to any noun transformed it into the fantastic—Space Kitchen! Space Living Room! Space Cadillac!—a future so removed from now it is hardly imaginable, replete with flying cars and automats where we will buy all our meals precooked in single serving sizes. If that seems too quaint, look south of downtown where stadiums rise that only billionaires can afford, floated on the backs of taxpayers: open steel, green glass, and dot-com architecture above the ruins of a perfectly fine stadium we hadn't finished paying off before it was annihilated for not entertaining us sufficiently.
And, of course, the monorail. Not the tinker toy that now exists, but a full-on MONORAIL!, roaring in pneumatic pleasure above the streets, running for miles on the good vibrations of every rider's perfectly aligned heart chakra, singing with the holy message that an eco-friendly, kid-friendly, and human-friendly transportation system has come to Seattle! You can anticipate Seattle's barely veiled relief: Finally, I am at last the world-class city I've always known I should have been. After all, what could be better than a monorail, even if we'll have actual flying cars by the time it's paid off in 2078?
Well, a subway. Dirty, nasty, brutish, and intemperate, New York's subway creaks and groans beneath the city, dragging nearly five million people to work every morning and sending them home at night. Built over the course of a century, the subway is a monument to desire: Its first 150 miles were tunneled and laid in just four years. I moved to Seattle, lived there, and moved away while Seattle took a series of thoughtful pauses in its endless mass-transit debate—four years is unimaginably fast. Of course, New York killed 54 immigrant laborers in its transit zeal, but you know the old story about omelets and broken eggs, right?
If I could bring New York and Seattle to the table and make them learn from each other, I'd wish that New York could pick up some of Seattle's table manners, and Seattle's earnest desire for things to turn out well, which is replaced in New York with snark. And in Seattle I'd point to the subway and say, "Learn from this. Consensus isn't everything—show some spine, suck it up, and learn how to take a punch." Then we'd have dinner together. New York would be loud and rude all night, and Seattle would say nothing, but go home and blog about New York's behavior mercilessly and anonymously.
As I write this, word has come down from on high—random searches of New York City subway riders begin this week. The repeat performance of the London bombings has tripped some switch requiring action, even if the action is obviously futile. Cities are too complex to secure, too complicated for pat-downs and targeted frisking to do anything more than slow transit and create a sudden spike in marijuana busts. Tonight, while these cities dream of impossible security, I will dream about the F train going dark the way it often does: its lights flickering on and off, again and again until you get used to it, straight down the long tunnel under the East River.
Mike Daisey is a monologuist, author, and professional dilettante. He can be found on the web at mikedaisey.com.