I’ll begin with an anecdote. Please be patient.
When I was growing up in the suburbs of the Bay Area, it became a preferred pastime of my social circle to gather at the high school on weekends, walk downtown (i.e. the street with shops), get smoothies, and sit in the grass of the nearby park. If we got bored with sitting, we would play on the playground. Mind you, we were in high school.
After we dispersed for college, this activity became a tradition at winter and summer breaks when the degree-seekers like myself returned home. Our “downtown walks” (as we called them) were important to us: they were the method with which we sustained our old friendships and kept them new. Into our twenties, we would continue to do this, almost as a religious rite of asserting our past into our present.
On one such downtown walk, a close friend of mine brought his college girlfriend. She grew up in Los Angeles and had met my friend in San Francisco. Needless to say, she was city folk.
“This is what you guys did growing up? This is kind of boring.”
Clearly, she didn’t understand the point of our excursions.
While we were sitting on the grass expressing our contentment with nothing in particular, she went on to express her disapproval with the banalities of suburban life: the cookie-cutter homes, the lawns and fences, the lack of social recreation like bars, clubs, entertainment, the commuter lifestyle, the lack of culture… Eventually it spun into an argument between the two turtledoves about whether it would be better to raise kids in the sterile but comfortable suburbs or the dangerous yet exciting city.
Maybe the suburbs broke me. I’ve spent the past seven years living in one city or another, and I’ve done city things, but I always feel slightly at odds with city activities. First of all, I never know how to dress for the occasion…
“What are you wearing?”
“A polo shirt.”
“You look like a dweeb. Put on this button-down. Roll up the sleeves.”
“Roll up the sleeves? Why not just wear a short-sleeved shirt?”
“It’s the confident, but relaxed look. Trust me. Also, take off those damn cargo shorts and put on these jeans.”
“Exactly! It shows off your ass better.”
“Why am I showing people my ass?! I don’t want to show people my ass! Can’t we just get six packs at the grocery store and play board games with friends?”
And then there’s the night at the club, which usually involves me sitting at the bar ordering drinks for myself, wondering why the hell people choose to spend their evenings at the threshold of aural pain.
“How was your day today?”
“How was your day today?!”
“I love this song too!”
“Do you ever get the feeling no one actually enjoys being here, but we all feel socially obligated to pretend to enjoy doing what we’re doing here because we’re afraid of finding out that happiness isn’t actually attainable via superficial friday-night connections but rather through abstract introspection as a result of unpleasantly melancholy solitude?!”
“I don’t know what you just said, but I think I need to vomit!”
“Well, the bathroom is that way, between the stoically confident bouncer and the guy double-fisting overpriced imports.”
Well, to each their own.
The suburban home used to be the American Dream, but that dream is changing with my generation. Now, the suburbs have become synonymous with bored youths doing drugs in the basement, crappy marriages hiding behind a facade of perfection, and living the banal cycle of consumerism, buying happiness in the form of pretty things that make living a life of domestic servitude a little less agonizing.
Just look at American Beauty, Simon and Garfunkel’s My Little Town, The O.C., Edward Scissorhands, The Graduate… The suburbs are the things we love to hate – the environmental and cultural drain of society, the sheltered paradise that is somehow blocked off from experiencing the ills of “the Real World” (whatever that means). And everyone talks about how bored they are when they return home to their little childhood suburban paradise to live under the supervision of parents who think you’re seventeen again.
Are you sure you’re bored with suburbia? Are you sure you’re not just bored with living under your parents as a 25 year old? Go read a book. Or hell, write a book. Or maybe if you’re starved for the excitement of city life (i.e. hobos crapping on sidewalks, Ethiopian restaurants, upstart comedians getting blank stares at comedy clubs), you could always just do what you did when you were living in the city – that is to say: watching TV and browsing facebook, because let’s face it: the only real lifestyle difference between living in the suburbs and living in the city is whether or not you hear sirens outside your window while watching cat videos on Youtube.
I don’t mean to bash the city. That’s where people are, and that’s where jobs are. They’re important for crafting regional identity and bringing individuals together to create something akin to a civilization. But how often do we take advantage of our social and recreational resources, regardless of where we live? We spend most of our lives in a box anyway, usually looking at boxes. The bottom line is: the most pleasant, personable, and reasonable people I know grew up in suburbia and moved to the city, providing them with a breadth of social perspective, and even though they may enjoy the relative excitement and cultural value of city life, I always get the feeling that somewhere deep inside, they long for the quiet comfort of the ‘burbs.