Parked car

In Hong Kong in June the temperature sits at 30º C well into the evening. Outside the public housing in Chung Sha Wan older men listen to the radio and fan themselves with newspapers, feet up on the table benches and flip flops sitting idly below. Across the street children do laps around a roller skating rink under lights. The humidity is here, a constant presence in this world where all wear masks out of doors, but by June it goes unremarked on, a fact of life.

Along the street taxis are starting to park as traffic slows. A couple of friends sit in their car, windows down, smoking and scrolling their phones. In dense communities the cars become another room, their location along a nearby street a minor inconvenience when everything is walkable and close. I walk into the station thinking about those friends.

In a parked car by the station
I am using my imagination

My street has a lot of parking, arranged parallel to the flow of traffic for greater density. In the evenings it is contested as access to a plethora of restaurants. Late nights it fills with taxis and tired men wiping down the seats before heading home after a late shift. In between, in the evenings, it is a neighborhood of solitary smokers, of couples on dates and in fights, of individuals seeking space to surf the internet. These parked cars, windows on all sides, stationed in front of busy restaurants and 7-Elevens, with dozens of passers by at all times, are private spaces. Carved from public by the metal and glass, they are bubbles we have all agreed to allow, for each other’s sake, amid these dense towers of small floor plans.

Occupying parked cars is not a Hong Kong-only solution, though it is common here. In Japan cars are rented by office workers to serve as solitary lunchrooms, and in San Francisco’s Mission district they were similarly occupied by denizens of dense multi-family dwellings and lone homeless, though both were far more subject to police awakening.

I remember how much of my high school life took place in parked cars, in mall parking lots, parks, and odd secret spots, and sympathize. That child of upstate New York’s open spaces was lucky enough to find places with a view of the lake rather than a view of the subway station, to find trees to park beneath rather than street lights. And yet I love these dense neighborhoods, how everyone commits to whatever space they can share. Watching friends get take out from a restaurant to eat in their car in the parking space in front, barely two meters from the tables being served on the sidewalk, we all seem a little closer.

I dreamed to sit in an illegally parked car
For all eternity

Quoted lyrics from Tina Dico’s Parked Car’ off of 2018’s Fastland

Boxes just the same

In Shaoxing it rains, and I stay in my little box, waiting for a phone call. From inside I could be anywhere in China, anywhere in the world. Hotels are designed to be interchangeable, and I forget my location.

In San Antonio a year later the room on the thirty fourth floor looks out over a pool. Lit and empty in the Texas January, the water shines green into the night. From this box the weather is impossible to discern, the pool’s lack of use a solitary clue. Through the glass of this Hyatt’s windows it is a hovering square of aquamarine composited with the reflections of lights beside the bed and over the desk. Above the rooftop the evening is still, save for planes landing far off in the suburbs.

In Japan, years ago, the room was tatami-floored, and the sliding glass of one wall opened on to a balcony. Through the laundry swaying from the rafters came the evening sun, and with it a view of the Saikyo line to the left and Mt. Fuji to the right. Shared with a dozen others, the balconies were sectioned off with partitions flimsier than the wind, so those on either side pretended for their privacy as they hung laundry in the mornings. Tiny on the inside, this glass wall gave the box a sense of the world, an ability to feel the breeze.

Two weeks later the hotel room in Washington D.C. could again face any city in the world, with the train tracks elevated beside it, clattering away as the light fades. With the shades wide the bed has a view of the sky, contrails and wisps of clouds in March, a blue that gives no sense of location. The furniture has the same sharp edges as everywhere, the same reddish brown wood.

In Shaoxing I check into my hotel in the evening, having found it via taxi from the train station. The air is gray, up above the street lights, and I am tired. There will come a time for exploring this city, for business and the lonely hours of solitary travel to foreign countries. For now, though, a little box of my own is all I desire, shelter from the weather and space to breathe.