**Admittedly, this post is not going to be particularly architectural in content. That being said, it does concern a particularly urban experience.**
If you live in New York, you know the guy I'm talking about. He's on the subway. He entered into your car from another car. He's walking by you on his way to the next car. He probably didn't shower this morning; his clothes don't really fit him, and they are not very clean. He doesn't make a lot of eye contact as he passes through the full car. He's ranting something or another, and he's loud about it. He's usually louder than you can make your iPod. Do you ever listen to him? Do you know what he's saying?
I saw him today on the 1 train, except he was decidedly not that guy. This guy had something to say, and he said it using the words of the men that came before him. He, without crediting the original speakers of his words, walked through my subway car loudly mumbling. Enunciation was not his strong suit, and - it seems - neither was clearly making his point because no one listened. He was walking through the train, one car at a time, quoting various civil rights leaders. No one noticed.
Don't get me wrong: Trust me, they noticed him. They noticed the crazy, dirty guy ranting on the subway. They probably noticed that most of what he said sounded angry and slightly incendiary. They noticed him long enough to step aside as he came through. Their faces betrayed all of what they noticed about this man. No one noticed he was reciting a long list of quotes that deserve being remembered. In short, this is because no one remembered.
In the short amount of time he was within my earshot, I heard the words of Al Sharpton, Bill Cosby, Huey Newton, and Malcom X. I did not hear "I have a dream..."
My travel companion and I looked around the subway and watched him move through. We listened to what he had to say and discussed whom he chose to quote. I looked around to see if anyone else was having our conversation, to see if anyone else listened or noticed. I took a quick demographic profile of the packed subway: the average age was old enough to remember and yet it seems they have forgotten. (For the record, I was not alive when most of his quotes were originally spoken.)
Has it been so long? Has our cultural ADD really gotten so bad that we can't remember society-changing words? Or is it our cultural perception of that man that has obscured the reality of his purpose? That he wasn't standing at a podium, dressed in a thousand-dollar suit, does that mean we don't hear allusion and direct reference? Does that mean his words aren't for us to hear? Clearly, he chose the wrong audience and the wrong platform.
I don't know, but I'm inclined to say it's both. I think no one listened because he was that guy we all know on the subway. But if I could hear, then so could they, and no one remembered. The take-away? I, for one, will be paying more attention to that guy.