Eleven months ago me and the fam relocated to a residence outside of Houston, Texas. (Do I need to say ‘Texas’ or do people generally know that Houston is in Texas?) It takes 45 minutes to reach downtown Houston on the interstate without traffic, of which there always is, so really I should say it takes an hour to reach downtown Houston. This means I live in the suburbs. This may not be a terribly shocking fact to you as millions of people across America do as well, but this is my first experience of living in a suburb as an adult. I did, as a child, live in a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma called Broken Arrow, which now has some 100,000 people residing in it, but it seemed like a much different suburb than the one in which I now find myself. It should also be noted that in my adult life, I have never lived in a town large enough to require a suburb, so it’s not as if I haven’t had the opportunity as much as it is the opportunity simply wasn’t there.
The following are some general observations about suburban life.
Neighborhoods: I rather like our house. It’s very comfortable, spacious, and modern (all of which, I realize, are subjective descriptors) and our neighborhood is quite nice as well. It was built ten years ago and in all ways still feels very new. It’s a sprawling development with (I’m guessing) thousands of houses, a golf course, a small lake, and two club houses with swimming pools for residents to enjoy. Having never lived in a place such as this, I feel sometimes like I’m in a wonderland of wealth, and as a result often carry some degree of guilt. I will say we probably live in one of the smallest houses in the neighborhood, so that pacifies my guilt somewhat. All the houses generally look the same, lacking any sort of originality, and they are all quite close together. Looking out of my window, my neighbor’s house is about 15 feet away. And children…there are children everywhere, like a horde of locust. Last Halloween was an eye-opener. Let’s just say our participation in Halloween next year will require more than three bags of candy. I think we ran out in about 45 minutes.
Surrounding Area: The area in which we live is still being developed. Because of this there are new neighborhoods being built all around us and signs letting you know as such. I’ve never seen so many signs in my life, all proclaiming the virtues of their development and the price range of houses being built, accompanied by a large arrow pointing the way. “Swimming pool! Neighborhood lake! Tennis courts! So and So school district! $200,000 – $400,000 homes!” it’s all a bit overwhelming. And so, as you drive along any main road, there are massive swaths of land, completely cleared of any vegetation, where monstrous houses rise like monoliths, and the amazing thing is these houses are already purchased. In fact, if you drive through these soon to be neighborhoods, you’ll see in the empty, barren lots, signs indicating they are already sold and just waiting for available builders to begin construction. I always wonder where these people are coming from and why do they have so much money?
Strip Malls: The strip mall phenomenon is fascinating. They are everywhere and it seems a new one springs up every week or so. And they are largely full of worthless stores. I can’t remember the last time I went to a store in one of these strip malls, unless it was a restaurant, and that’s rare in and of itself. One fad that is prevalent is that of vapor stores or “vape shops” all with clever titles involving the word “smoke”, naturally. I may go into one sometime, just for the experience. I wonder what sort of specific “vape” lingo I’ll be ignorant of, which will instantly expose my non-vapeness. In addition to strip malls are the fairly disposable restaurant chains. Panera Breads, Chili’s, Which Wiches, the list can go on. I like these places, it’s just that they are everywhere out here in suburb land.
The People: I’ve already alluded to children, as in they are everywhere, which means they’re are lots of young families. And to make matters worse, it’s currently summer time so the stay at home mommy club is in full swing. Don’t even think about going to a Chic-fil-a from 11:00 -3:00. It will be crawling with moms and screaming children. Of course don’t forget all the special summer “whatever” clubs that these children are enrolled in to save their mother’s sanity. Dance, art, swimming, extemporaneous speaking; if you can think of it, there’s a sign on the side of the road advertising a summer program for it. And then there’s the dads. If you ever wonder to whom the vast majority of cargo shorts and polo shirts are sold, it’s to suburban dads. And they all kind of look the same; pudgy, squishy, early 30s, starting to need a girdle, ready to hit the golf course.
Okay, okay…this whole thing probably sounds like a condemnation of suburban living. Talking with a friend a few weeks ago, she said it sounded like I don’t like where I live. I do…I really do. We have wonderful neighbors. Those kids I gripe about are actually really cute and fun to talk to. I have a fantastic yard that I carefully manicure and I grill almost every weekend. I am 45 minutes from the cultural hub that is Houston (that distinction is not used sarcastically) which has anything a person would want. I love the museums, the entire arts district, professional sports, beautiful parks, and mouth watering restaurants. So what’s my beef?
The suburbs just feel so incredibly temporary, as if they have no value other than to simply be consumed, fall into disrepair within 30 years, then be revitalized by 50. This may or may not be true, but does my perspective mean the suburbs have no value? Absolutely not. The suburbs are one of the many varieties of existence in which one can live, and experiencing new situations is one of the spices of life my friends. I am exponentially happy with my life, but just because we are “happy” does that mean we don’t look at our existential situation critically from time to time? I would like to believe I would have similar observations if I lived somewhere else. In fact, I have in all places I’ve lived thus far.