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 both denizens of dense multi-family dwellings and lone homeless, though both 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

Tokyo, two thousand seven

From Narita, several days past the four-year anniversary of leaving it.

I lived here for two years. Those words sound strange, as the Japanese that flows out of the speakers does not impart meaning in my mind. Two years. September seventh, two thousand one to August eighteenth, two thousand three.

My plane is delayed, Singapore airlines, widely regarded as the world’s best, does not start our relationship on a high note. Forty five minutes though, due to late arrival” is not enough to diminish my desire for the flight onwards. Narita. For two years Tokyo was home, and now it is a space I return to in transit, lost in the system, understanding that I am here for scant hours, and that my requirements are few. Electricity. Internet. The same things Pudong cannot provide, Narita overflows with. Five hundred yen for the day’s internet. A steal compared to some airports in Germany. A steal compared to Shanghai’s utter lack.

GSM cell phones still don’t work here. I will distrust the entire system on this basis a few weeks later. I will be forced to rent a phone, expensive yet foolishly trusting, a few weeks later.

Some days the whole world is filled with echoes, and the day itself cannot get through the mesh of time-lag and personal history. Tina Dico’s voice, lilting:

Watch my neighbors go to work
and look exhausted and burned out when they get back

Saitama rings out of the corners of my ears, my eyes, the train station emptying it’s bicycle-stealing salarymen out into the night, free of the beer-breath-filled train. I stumble home, in these visions, grateful for the peace of that small space I rent, of that small corner of Japan I inhabit.

A dinner party in Shanghai, years later, someone’s mother commenting on taste, on patience, as the Christmas lights sparkled white, which allows them to survive year round, out of all seasonality save for this evening. Gentle splashes of light into shaded swatches of night.

I’ve been blind, too blind to tell false from true
I’ve been so busy running
never stopped to think where I was running to

Now Tina’s voice is live, in a coffee shop in Copenhagen, and the memories are of a vacation, one May morning, sitting on the steps of a church in a Danish square, bleary-eyed and missing Korea.

The memories pile up, and only an onward push can rid them.

But what’s a man without a past
We love him for his lies
and then we try to break him down to make it last
’til they come true

Standing on a train platform in Ueno, past midnight two weeks later, the strings of people homeward bound linger only until the doors close. Machine-purchased coffee tastes the way it did at eighteen, the way it did at twenty two. The stations change as I head east, across and then out of Tokyo’s heart. The train, a crowded mass of smells so distinct and so familiar, gives way to lonely commuters hanging from the hand-rests, gives way to solitary exits from deserted stations, to the chirp of crickets and the crunch of gravel. To a suburb of small towers, balconies creating the odd shapes of houses past. My head a swirling fog of izakaya alcohol and my heart awash in solitary gladness, I remember what I loved here, long after I’ve remembered why I left.

It’s the order that’s elusive, not the memories.

Thank god for this beautiful view

Quoted lyrics from Tina Dickow/Dico’s Room With a View’ off of In The Red (2004) and Tina Dico Live at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse (2007)