I live in a solidly suburban neighbourhood. A bedroom community, as it were, with few jobs but lots of people. There is lots of pavement here and ample free parking. The mall is our social centre. Roving gangs of pre-teens hang out at the local 7-Eleven. The houses are nice, but not too nice. It lives up to pretty much every suburban stereotype you could imagine.
The suburbs get a lot of bad press. Think of terms like ‘suburban sprawl’ or ‘suburban wasteland’. Or the way that narrator Mary Alice talks about the suburbs on Desperate Housewives. With a little lilt in her voice she might say that in the suburbs, every manicured lawn hides a dark secret. And don’t get me started on the Chevrolet Suburban, the poster child for large, gas-guzzling vehicles. In our cultural zeitgeist there isn’t much love lost for the suburbs. And in fairness, most of us suburbanites are here by default rather than choice, because we could afford a house here and it’s not too far away from the other places we need to go.
Sometimes I go downtown to walk around and soak up the energy. There is something about being around so many people that is kind of amazing. The way they dress and move even feels different from me. There is a purpose. These are not stay-at-home moms on a lazy walk with 2 little kids in tow. These are busy people. They have places to go and things to do. And, woah Nellie, are there things to do. That’s sort of the point of a city, all of the amenities and resources it offers to residents and visitors alike.
Sometimes I also head off into the country. I feel lucky to not be so far away from that. I appreciate the vistas, drive fast down back roads, stop in at a roadside stand. Or I drive up a mountain and enjoy the view. Eat wild huckleberries or salmonberries. Throw rocks into the water. I imagine myself living up there, away from the noise and the annoying neighbours. It sounds nice, for a little while, until I consider that it would take me 45 minutes to get to the nearest grocery store. In my Chevrolet Suburban, which I would need to navigate the dirt roads and haul all that stuff home when I made my big trip into town to stock up.
At the end of my journeys I always come back to the suburbs. Back to the sprawl and the shopping malls and the spotty public transit. I dig in my garden and feel glad to have it. I walk to the local 7-Eleven and remember my own misbegotten youth. I drop my recycling at the curb and feel thankful for municipal services. Or I drive to the mall and wish that the transit weren’t so spotty. The suburbs surely aren’t perfect, but I’m happy here. And I don’t have to parallel park. I really hate parallel parking. I also really hate corn on the cob, but that’s not related to where I live, so it’s a story for another day.
Do you live in the suburbs, too? Or have you fled them for greener pastures? Please share your suburban reality in the comments.