My Life in a Suburb

I wrote the following piece almost two years ago exactly as a guest blogger for my friend Josh. I came across it again and thought I would post it. I haven't updated it (save a few grammatical changes), deciding that I liked it as is. It gives a small glimpse into my life in the suburbs. Maybe I'll change the theme of this blog...

Ah, suburbia. Growing up, I never quite understood what all the fuss was about. Actually, I don’t even think I paid much attention to the term suburbia. I grew up in a town of roughly 24,000 in southern Illinois just outside of St. Louis. That there was a difference between the city and the suburbs never occurred to me. The city was 20 miles away; I could see the Arch from a couple streets over from my house.

Afterwards graduating from a small college town even further south in Illinois, I moved to Chicago. Now that is a city. I lived for six months, at one point, without a car. It was surprisingly easy. I took public transportation to work and everywhere else. As a temp I even worked on the 28th floor in one of those huge skyrises downtown on Michigan Avenue. I volunteered with inner city kids. I saw just as many white people as Asian or African American or Indian. I worked in two restaurants across from the Art Institute (and volunteered in the Art Institute) and saw every kind of tourist there could be.

Two years later, I moved back to the where town I grew up, and another two years later I’m still here. Now there is a difference. And not only is there a difference, but I damn well know it and can see it. It even bothers me a little bit.

I’m not quite sure if it’s because I am back to where I started, an observation I noted as I walked through the Wal-Mart (yes, Wal-Mart) where I bought my first training bra and my friend shoplifted and my mom bought the material for my First Communion dress. Or maybe it’s because everyone here is fat and white. The “city” of St. Louis is so quiet downtown that, after living and working in bustling downtown Chicago, I can barely bring myself to call it a city. Either way, it’s unsettling. Am I glad I live in suburbia?

In suburbia’s defense, I hated Chicago. Well, I was unhappy at least. I missed my family and I missed having grass around me. I felt trapped, knowing that if I wanted to drive out of the city I had about a five hour window where I could leave and not get caught in amazing traffic. If I wanted to go somewhere, I had to wait 20 minutes for a bus. The city was different, and I guess I didn’t totally like it.

But I do miss having different people around me. I remember once, at an outdoor festival here, I saw an Asian couple. I couldn’t stop looking at them and wondered at my fascination with them for a good 30 minutes before I realized, “Oh! They’re not white!” I miss having restaurants around me that aren’t chains. I miss being able to walk outside and be by myself but still be surrounded by people. The only time I get to listen to my iPod is when I run.

There are no sidewalks here, and small towns are very pedestrian unfriendly. People look at me like, “Do you need a ride? Why are you walking?” My best friend, who still lives in Chicago visited me recently and laughed at how close the grocery store is. We drove there.

I now live in a house. That I bought. With my husband. I have a commute in a car. I work in a cubicle. I’ve gained five pounds. I have a yard that needs to be mowed. I have walls that need to be painted. In about three years, the pressure to have kids will no doubt start knocking on my mind. But I have grass (that is too tall), and I have my family (that screams dysfunction), and I have my car (that I spend so much time in it feels like a second home). There are days when I am inside cleaning and doing laundry and my husband is working in the yard or on the house. We have two dogs.

So, who knows. This is suburbia. This is the Midwest. This is where I live now. This is the part of the country that has a close-minded, redneck, fat and white stereotype. Besides its pros and cons, I just have to admit to myself: I’m a country girl. I’d just rather live here. But despite my access to my own vehicle (one that is not a minivan, although I wonder if one day I’ll cave), suburbia has its own way of making me feel slightly trapped.

Author's note: I recently purchased a cross-over vehicle (read station wagon) with my husband. For our baby. Welcome to the rest of my life.

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