Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Few Things I Hate About the Suburbs

We moved to the suburbs nearly two years ago because we wanted a better school for our 8-year-old. We found what we wanted, but I also found things to regret about leaving the city. Here, in no particular order, are some things I've come to hate about the suburbs:

1. SUVs

Seems like every time I get stuck in traffic, it's behind someone driving the kinds of vehicle you need a step-ladder to climb into. With four rows of seats, these gas-guzzling Gargantuas and Sasquatches are what you'd expect to see that reality-TV family with eight kids driving. Most of the time, though, the ones I pass are carrying no one but Mom.

Who are these people and why do they think they need such large vehicles?

I confess to a certain schadenfreude and smug superiority last year when gas prices edged up to $4 a gallon.

2. The fetishization of the American flag

Many of the SUVs and cars I see are bedecked with American flag stickers. Lots of folks in our neighborhood fly the flag year 'round, day or night, rain or shine.

We fly ours, too, but only on national holidays, and we bring it in when it starts to rain and at night, because it's not illuminated by a light. (I'm a Cub Scout den leader, and the boys had to pass a requirement on how to treat the flag.)

About 40 years ago, when my old college roommate was going to drive across the country--something of a rite of passage in those days when we all read On the Road--his father gave him a flag decal to put on his Nash Rambler. Sometimes I wonder if we're not returning to those Vietnam-era divisions so that, once again, it's become necessary to display the flag to prove you love your country

3. The idea that military service is the only way to honor America

The other thing I see on people's cars--I spend a lot of time ferrying my child between various summer camps and after-school activities--are stickers proclaiming allegiance to the Army, the Marines, or some other branch of the service or one of the service academies.

I'm still waiting to see a sticker for the Peace Corps or Teach for America, either of which is at least as honorable a way to serve the country.

4. Too much emphasis on sports

I thought, briefly, about signing our kid up for baseball when we moved, but my wife said it was too late, and she was probably right. He was 7 then, and most kids had been playing some kind of organized ball for a couple of years.

Most afternoons after school (and on the weekends) the fields in our little town are filled with kids playing sports. I suppose it's a good thing and, as one father told me, "It keeps them out of trouble." And if I had a child who was athletically gifted, perhaps I'd feel differently, but I've got a boy who'd just as soon read a book as kick a ball.

Sometimes, when we're out, and moms or dads see him reading, they'll come up and say, "Oh, that's great! I wish I could get my son to read." And I think--but never say--"Well, maybe he would, if you'd just take that ball out of his hand and give him a book!"

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