Friday, December 3, 2010

I’ve become a Suburban Snob.

When we were first married, we were charmed by brick dollhouses and a K-2 neighborhood school. We bought an adorable little two-bedroom house with gleaming woodwork, a small, galley kitchen, and no shower in its one bathroom. We gloated about our short commutes and social consciences. Unlike many, we were going to stay in the city, rather than flee to the suburbs and let someone else foot the tax bill for the urban amenities we enjoyed. Honestly, we loved that house and the basically yuppie neighborhood, full of Hondas and dog-walkers, that surrounded it. There was even a town center with a coffee shop and a hardware store, a half mile walk away.

Five years later, they’d torn down the historic, brick schoolhouse, the crib for our second daughter would not fit in the room next to our first daughter’s twin bed, and my grandma couldn’t visit us, because using the restroom involved a lengthy stair-climb and sometimes a wait at the top. After a winding urban journey through a roomier, but less charming, houseful of ungrounded electrical outlets, outdated mechanicals, malfunctioning casement windows, and an unconscionable hassle to get our older girl into a neighborhood Kindergarten, we threw in the towel and headed for the suburbs.

Going on five years later, I wonder if the suburbs haven’t dulled my sense of adventure. Our home maintenance has been reduced to mowing and window washing. We’ve got a park with a bike path and a fishing pond half a block away; I don’t have to go camping to catch bluegill or battle traffic to take a ride. The school gives the girls a fantastic education, and we are close enough that they walk home together each afternoon without needing an armed escort. They’ve learned to ride their bikes on smooth, extensive sidewalks; no jagged cracks or overgrown trees. When we forget to close the garage at night, nothing disappears by morning.

Then along comes the foreclosure market, and my husband starts getting the itch. There is a beautiful brick house for sale back in the city. It is near a city golf course. It has gleaming wood floors, a ground floor half bath, and five oversized bedrooms. They’ve been asking half the price of our current home, close to the price we paid for that brick dollhouse over ten years ago; we could make a serious impact on our overall financial picture. I agreed to go look.

As soon as we exited the freeway, anxiety started welling up in me. Driving through a neighborhood of small, dingy houses, I couldn’t help but notice how the shrubs were overgrown and nearly every house needed a good power wash. Cars were parked on the streets, because the houses frequently had one or two car garages, but each family seemed to own four vehicles. The strip malls didn’t have Star Bucks and Cost Cutters, instead it was “La Fiesta” grocery store and offerings of payday advances. People looked miserable, huddled at bus stops.

When we pulled up to the house in question, there’s no doubt, it is a beautiful masterpiece. Ornamental brick and stone work, a slate roof. The two-car, brick garage is surrounded by a brick knee wall with an ornamental iron gate. It looks like a storybook castle. But the first thing I noticed was the padlock on the basement access, followed by the stickers, indicating at least two different security services have been employed by former owners. As we toured the home, I looked right past the incredible crown molding and spacious closets, noticing the water stained basement and attic walls and the ancient boiler system for the radiator heat. Every single window gave off a draft of cold air and the two bedrooms on the third floor were not heated at all. Knob and tube wiring, hopefully defunct, stretched across the basement, and we saw at least three different fuse boxes, squirreled away in closets, behind doors, and hanging from a basement rafter at a strange angle.

While my husband, inexplicably to me, toured the house with a sense of awe and adventure, I nearly had a panic attack, I felt so overwhelmed. Even if all the mechanicals were in working order, I saw home maintenance nightmares around every corner, and already pictured the 6 foot fence and German shepherd I was going to need if we chose to live here.

So I’m going to admit it, even though I feel ashamed. The suburbs have made me soft. There was a time when I would have fearlessly plunked down the asking price to live in such a finely crafted home, regardless of the work it would take to keep it up. I would once have comfortably stood at the bus stop with those neighbors, and hardly noticed the variety of smells and dangers that surrounded me. I might even have embraced the idea that “the cream always rises to the top” when I read the ratings and stats about the nearby public schools. There was a time when I myself parked on the street for years on end. But I couldn’t bring myself to accept the possibility of doing those things again.

Now that I have lived in a world of minivans and vinyl siding, where curvilinear streets keep traffic on the main roads and inconvenience would-be criminals, where even my non-English-speaking neighbors wave and smile and spray their lawns for dandelions, I’ve become out of touch with urban living.

I’m a snob. I know it’s wrong.

If anyone secretly says things against his neighbor, I will stop him. I will not allow people to be proud and look down on others. Psalm 101:5


  1. I can relate...My suburbia is Sheridan ;) klb~

  2. You can't go back to the city, when four-way stops make your husband pound his steering wheel, after all.