I’ve talked about the fact that I consider myself an urbanite at heart despite the fact that I’ve lived in the suburbs most of my life, minus 4.5 years abroad. I like to think of myself as a cultured, fit, Whole Foods organic-foods type person with a passion for urban living, but the truth is ever so slightly different. It’s probably been at least a decade since I’ve been to a D.C museum or theater, I’m not exactly svelte and have a penchant for 7-Eleven mini-tacos and sour gummy worms (not exactly the foundation of a svelte physique) and some of my happiest moments happen when hiking or riding my bike on suburban/rural trails, not when strolling down city blocks. But I’m still not ready to admit I may actually like the suburbs. Mostly because I feel like it would mean I’m “giving up” (whatever this may mean) and am far less interesting than I’d like to admit. Every time I come close to thinking the suburbs might be alright this old folk song starts playing in my head:
I guess that’s a little dramatic. Just because you aren’t repelled by suburban living doesn’t mean you’ve bottomed out at mediocrity does it? See, in Kindergarten I thought I was destined for greatness. During our Native American unit, my Native American art project was chosen to be displayed upstairs in the lobby because of my precocious artistic talents (my kindergarten’s teacher’s words not mine — I always aim for modesty). Anyway, this seemingly small happening made me think I was better than everyone else. But lately, I’ve realized I may actually just be destined for regular life. It all started when I found my Native American art project while going through boxes. My Native American isn’t nearly as impressive as I remember it being. No perspective, no shadowing and definitely no sense of proportion! It’s buried in some box now, but let me describe it: It’s a crayon creation of an expressionless Native American man. His eyes are about the size of peanuts and are one inch below his hairline. Instead of hair, he has yellow feathers sticking out of his head and his nose is abnormally long. His mouth is bright red and almost as wide as his face. He has no chin or neck to speak of. After this “piece of art” was displayed in my elementary school lobby I developed a superiority complex and naturally assumed a fantastic, prestigious career in the arts was in my future. Again, I’m not trying to brag…just stating the facts. But imagine my disappointment upon discovering my Native American wasn’t exactly the brilliant masterpiece I remembered. Not even close! In fact, it looks like a kindergartener drew it. Maybe a first grader, if we’re being generous.
So what does this little story have to do with anything? Honestly, I don’t really know. But it’s somehow correlated with the fact that I may like the suburbs and, it turns out, I’m not going to be the next Picasso. But anyway, back to the subject: I recently moved — 0.9 miles away. Same zip code, just one neighborhood over, still 20 miles outside D.C and not exactly in the heart of all the excitement. But it’s OK. I’m within walking distance of: An Asian grocery store, an ice cream shop, barbershop, vet, dentist, two banks, two gas stations, a Popeye’s, Chipotle and Subway, a Vietnamese restaurant, sushi place, hamburger joint, Peruvian restaurant, breakfast place, Chinese restaurant, steakhouse, nail place, hardware store, fabric store, two daycare places and a hotel. So it’s kind of like urban living but with lots of trees and no culture or tall buildings. A couple of months ago I wrote about some of the pros of living in the suburbs and I thought I’d re-post in honor of the move. But first, a picture of Alfie after a long day of lugging boxes and unpacking:
1.) Go grocery shopping! As much as I love cities, there usually aren’t as many nice grocery store options as there are in the suburbs. So if you’re feeling suburban, I suggest you head over to the suburbs and do a little shopping at Trader Joe’s or Wegman’s. And if you’re feeling ultra-suburban, head over to Walmart. Or better yet, do a little shopping in your parent’s pantry. That’s my favorite kind…it’s free and there’s usually plenty of variety.
2.) Go to the mall. Cities usually don’t have much in the way of malls, so what better way to burn off those suburban feelings than heading to the mall? And if being at a mall doesn’t feel suburban enough, head over to a strip mall. There’s nothing quite as suburban as a strip mall. You can pick up some milk, get your nails done, do some yoga and go to the dentist all in one go!
3.) Hang out at Starbucks. Tired of your usual independent coffee shops selling organic free trade crap? Go to Starbucks. The suburbs are full of them, and because there’s a total dearth of independent coffee shops in the suburbs, they’re usually your only option. So go ahead, don’t be shy — hang out with the local goth kids at your neighborhood Starbucks and indulge in that Grande Caramel Frappucino you’ve been craving for so long (but ashamed to admit).
4.) Eat at a chain restaurant. As a city dweller, you’re probably tired of independent, innovative, fu-fu fra-la-la restaurants serving up experimental, healthy or otherwise weird cuisine. So why not take advantage of these suburban feelings and get yourself a pre-tenderized, fully processed, defiantly non-organic steak and a pile of greasy fries at your nearest chain restaurant? There’s bound to be a chain restaurant at your neighborhood strip mall.
5.) Drive around. Even if you have a car in the city, you can’t really go faster than 25 mpg and the traffic is horrible. So when in the suburbs, take the car out for a spin. You have to drive everywhere you go anyway. Just watch out for kids playing if you plan to do a lot of neighborhood driving.
6.) Watch TV. In the city, you are probably so busy doing things (book talks, training for a marathon, new restaurants, cultural events, etc) that you probably don’t spend hours in front of the T.V. But if you are feeling particularly suburban, I strongly urge you to open up a bag of potato chips, plant yourself comfortably on the sofa and catch up on the last 10,000 seasons of Jersey Shore and Teen Mom.
7.) Go to a Town Center. If you are still feeling suburban but getting an itch for a slightly more urban environment, I recommend heading over to a town center. They’re quite popular nowadays. The town center is perfect for the suburbanite who wants the feel and look of an urban center, but doesn’t actually want to go to a city. It’s like urban light — these weird little places consist of several manicured, cheerful blocks of shops, restaurants, ice cream shops and, usually, a movie theater and some kind of plaza.
8.) Go on a walk around the neighborhood. See trees, grass and nature. Living in a city, you probably don’t encounter trees by the dozen. Sure, you may live on a tree-lined street or maybe you can jog to a large urban park, but for the most part, you’re probably surrounded by cement and grass that’s struggling to survive. Most likely, your suburban walk will consist of the following: You, walking on the sidewalk, a marvelous variety of three styles of colonial homes in three different colors, middle-aged people walking their dogs and lots of trees and grass. Really, it’s quite relaxing.
9.) Have a BBQ. Sure, you can have a BBQ in the city, but face it…you probably have a minuscule deck or patio and a mini-grill. In the suburbs, find a friend or parent with a giant deck and an industrial-sized grill and go all out!
10.) Wave to your neighbors. But leave it at that. Yes, you’ve lived next to them for 20 years, but do you really want to talk to them and get to know them? No. That’s what fences are for.
11.) Let yourself get a little chubby. I am so good at this one! We all know that urbanites are thinner. At least in D.C. With all that city biking, walking, jogging, marathon-training — plus the high cost of going out and subsequent small portions — the city is not a good place to let yourself get fat. You just won’t fit in. But if you’re feeling suburban, I suggest you stock up on Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s, and Panda Express. Bring on the carbs! Sure, you may get a little fat, but most other people are too, so no need to feel ashamed. If you can no longer fit into your normal clothes, there’s always Lane Bryant for ladies and Big and Tall options for men. Plus, you’re driving around everywhere, so it’s not like you have to worry about getting out of breath because of your newly acquired girth.
12.) Go into the city no more than twice a year, preferably for a theater performance, to show tourists around (though, to be quite honest, you don’t know much about the city yourself – proximity does not an expert make!) or an art museum for a “special exhibit.” You may only be 15 miles outside DC or New York or whatever, but going into the city is waaaaay too much work. First, you have to get there…which probably includes a lot of traffic and unfamiliar streets and roads. Then you have to find parking and deal with all those pesky parking rules. Two hour limit only before 6pm or all day? Cars are permitted, or you need a permit? Unlike the suburbs, which are full of charmingly named streets such as “Cherry Tree Lane” or “Oak Tree Ct,” city streets are numbered, which can be highly confusing for the average suburbanite. In the end, going into the city will only end in frustration and affirmation that suburban living is better.
Let me know if I missed anything! For read more about me and the suburbs, click here. And really it’s not so bad living in the suburbs.