I Love Livin' In The Suburbs
by Solomon Philbrick
My house smells like ham and cheese
Oh, never mind. I’m not in a creative mood.
A few days ago, I went to Chicago for my brother’s graduation. It was the first time I had been there, and I must say that the overall impression of the place was positive as far as large cities go. I was pegged as a tourist about five times in forty-eight hours, but it only cost me a few cigarettes and the people scamming for money were very polite when I turned them down. Hell, I even managed to make it there when the weather was nice, which from what I hear is no small bit of luck. My brother and his fiancée live in a very happening place, with all the buzz of life going on around them and an awesome view from the apartment. Standing on the roof of the building, we could see Lake Michigan, the Tribune building and the Water Tower while all the little ant-like people milled about on the street far below. If you’re into that kind of thing, it must be a very cool way to live, and my bro and soon-to-be sis absolutely love it. In fact, standing on the roof and looking about the town, I thought that I would love to live like that as well. It was when I hit street level that I knew that I was not a city boy.
I’ve lived near two major cities, namely Los Angeles and San Francisco, and I commuted to Oakland for a while before the phone company figured out that I could not sell sandwiches in Darfur. I always had this idea that I wanted to live in a big city, but whenever I was in one I grew quite anxious. The only reason I ever went into L.A. was because the things I thought I liked were not available in the ‘burbs, and in two years in the Bay Area I made it down to San Francisco about three times, only once staying over two hours. I hate driving, so L.A. is a pain in the ass, and people make me claustrophobic, so San Francisco is definitely out. Still, if absence makes the heart grow fonder, the longer I’m away from a big city the more romantic they seem. So when I heard my mom (a dyed in the wool suburbanite) give Chicago glowing reviews, I became a bit jealous of my brother. Huff. He lives in a cool city with lots of stuff to do and I live in an overgrown shopping mall full of tourists from L.A. and the Central Valley. Not to mention college students. Lots of them.
The trip to Chicago simply reinforced a conclusion I always come to after visiting a big city. They are great places to visit, but not to live, at least for me. I know a lot of people love city life, and I’m not putting anyone down for that. Some people love living out in the sticks, which is just as well for them. As for me, I like something in between. The suburbs really are perfect for some of us. For example, my neighbors all recognize me, but we never speak to each other. It’s like the best of both extremes: they know who I am and where I live, so it isn’t like being part of a faceless mass, but they don’t show up on my doorstep with baskets of strawberries and bother me while I’m doing homework. We know each other in a sense, but we also have our privacy. All the big chain stores are nearby, so if I want to rent a movie, buy a book, pick up groceries, or order a pizza, no problem. What am I missing out on? Well, things that I thought I liked eight years ago, like clubs and bars and live music, though we have all those things within a ten minute drive. We don’t have hipsters, because no one around here could possibly call himself hip. He’d just look ridiculous. Ummm, what else? Nothing that I can think of, really.
I’m certainly not the first to point this out, but popular culture (especially Hollywood) has some weird ideas about the suburbs. We’re all potential psychopaths living lives of quiet desperation and yearning for the kind of catharsis that some dickweed screenwriter thinks will save our miserable souls, as if no one in his or her right mind would actually (gasp) choose to live in a suburb. Well, I’ve been all over this fine nation, and I can tell you that some of us simply prefer minor boredom to anxiety and are quietly living out the American Dream of living in a quiet place and being left alone. Those who don’t share that dream are free to live as they like, be it in a high-rise or on a farm, but I’m content hanging around in Squaresville, USA.