On Living in Suburbia

When I walk or bike outside, I don’t see anyone around me. No, it’s not a rainy day or anything. In fact, it’s the right amount of sunny meaning that it’s not too humid and it’s the upper 70s. The emptiness around me is a result of suburbia.

It’s kind of off putting to be the only one around, and if I’m lucky I’ll pass by a total of five people on a bike ride around the city block. It makes me feel a little self conscious to be the only one biking down these big streets. I feel as if with every pedal, I’m getting the stares of every person driving down the main road. I feel their stares on me questioning, “Why is this girl biking? Where is she going? Why isn’t she driving instead?” I hope it’s not that crazy that someone would choose to bike to places instead of driving, but I know I’ve had those same thoughts myself as I watched other people walk or bike outside on the main streets. It feels like the cars own this world and I’m a small specimen being examined.

Luckily, I don’t have to feel those stares for long as a I live pretty close to stores, so I can bike instead of driving. Even so, it’s not something I particularly enjoy because I walk in looking like a crazy, sweaty girl. It’s very different from the immaculate appearance that everybody else exudes from walking out of the driver’s seat of the car. It doesn’t help that no one else is walking or biking to places either making me feel rather lonely when I bike even ten minutes to the store. Yes, I know people have jobs and families, but even on the weekends the young people never seem to come out to enjoy the air. On nice days, if I’m lucky the elderly will sit on their porch or inside their garages. For some people the longest walk they take in their neighborhoods is one to the mailbox and the end of the driveway to pick up a garbage can after it’s been emptied. You’d think with this state being frozen about five months of the year, people would want to come out and experience the air for themselves. But, air conditioning along with a strong WiFi connection make for a stronger case than nice weather.

Even those these stores are close it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy to get to. I’m hyperaware of my surroundings. If I’m going with the flow of traffic (where I can’t see the cars coming towards me), I quickly glance back as I pass an entrance to a subdivision or a shopping center. I know if I’m not careful, then it leaves me vulnerable to be hit. In suburbia, the cars are king. Each time I’m passing an intersection I have to be careful about the left turn lane and the right turn lane because sometimes the drivers are speeding up trying to make the turn before the light turns red.

But there’s a good bunch of people in suburbia who don’t have the luxury to bike across the street to buy groceries. Suburbia is consciously built so your home is far away from everything else. It’s abut seclusion from noisy cars and noisy people. Suburbia is the place sandwiched between the country side and the city. There’s enough privacy that you don’t ever have to worry about what your neighbors are up to, but not so much so that you never see them.

Living in suburbia means my livelihood being tied to a car. That’s been particularly hard because I don’t have a car. Our third car broke down a few years back, and since I was in college there wasn’t ever the need to get one. But, that means on the breaks where I’m back, I’m stuck at home especially during the winter when I can’t go to places without a car. Sure, the sidewalks are cleared and I can bike to places all the same, but I just don’t. It’s almost seen as unsafe and crazy.

Living in suburbia means I have to find a way to entertain myself when I don’t have a car because I feel like a burden when I want to hang out with friends who don’t live in the same neighborhood as me. It’s expected that you have a car when you come of age. Not having one in suburbia is almost unthinkable.

It makes me wonder if I had a car if I would bike as much as I do. Would I still use it as the preferable mode of transportation to close by places or would jumping into a car be my first instinct like so many other people? Suburbia subconsciously trains you to do so.

Suburbia is private. Take that as a good or a bad thing. You’re gated off from your neighbors and even if there isn’t a physical barrier of a fence there’s an unspoken contract with your neighbor that you won’t cross onto their property and they won’t cross onto yours. If you didn’t want to, you wouldn’t have to say hello to your neighbors either (although that is frowned upon.) The privacy means we get in our cars and shield ourselves from human interaction if we don’t want it.

I feel like suburbia allows us to dance between privacy and people. There’s the illusion that we’re not alone because we have all these houses around us, and we see the cars pile up in the driveway after rush hour, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we know the people who drive those vehicles. It allows us to slink away when we want. It’s easy to close the curtain and drown out the outside.

I’ll put it this way — suburbia is lonely. It’s looking out your window and seeing a few cars drive by throughout the day. (I wonder what retired life is like in suburbia and what people do at home all day.) You see a person walking occasionally on a good day. I mean the figuratively and literally because on a rainy day don’t even think about seeing any movement outside from an actual person. We don’t want to see suburbia as lonely though because it feels like we’re living in this perfect reality separated just enough from everything and everybody else.