I’ve lived in the city, for the most part, for the past thirteen years. Prior to that, I spent 18 years in the suburbs. That is to say: when I turned 18, I gleefully grabbed my high school diploma and got the hell out. I fled to the second-largest city in my state, a Rust Belt playground of crumbling grandeur in 2004, still years away from any sort of economic revitalization, its post-grunge crust not yet worn off. I went to coffee shop open-mics and small record stores, I took the subway downtown to ice-skate on a frozen fountain, I wandered the streets and people-watched, relishing the feeling of being a part of what was going on. I had a blast.
But I missed the trees. I spent the summers home from college wandering through the lush greenery of my hometown in thrifted maxi skirts, lighting candles in tree forts, chasing fireflies and dreaming to the rhythm of the crickets. I longed for my college loves to come see this vibrant other world of mine, but few did.
Ever since college, aside from a few rounds of WWOOFing on organic farms, I’ve been choosing to live in the city. On some level, I pride myself on being an urban dweller, on embracing the diversity of my neighborhoods and participating in the city’s thriving cultural life—but here and there, my suburban roots start showing.
Every Fourth of July—hell, from Memorial Day into August—the entire West Side explodes with illegal amateur fireworks. I don’t set off fireworks. I rarely sit out and enjoy the fireworks. I sit at home grumbling about the noise and making sure my smoke detectors are in working order.
My next-door neighbors throw a birthday party for a two-year-old with a rented bounce house. Once the kids are in bed, the party devolves into raucous shouting that lasts far into the morning. We close the windows and turn up the fan to drown it out and fantasize about living somewhere we can have peace and quiet.
I live next to a vacant house that the owner is presumably sitting on until the neighborhood gentrifies to the point where he can sell it for a profit. The back door is unboarded, hanging open, and the neighborhood teenagers are sneaking in to do teenage hooligan things, smoking weed and fooling around away from adults’ eyes. I don’t like living next to it. I call the City repeatedly asking them to come board it up properly. Failing that, I attempt to contact the management company myself. I don’t want to take it upon myself to board it up because I don’t want the neighbors to know it was me who ruined their fun.
The thing to do for fun in my neighborhood in the summer is to cruise around in the loudest vehicle you can find. It might be an old sports car or a truck without a muffler, or it might be a bicycle with a tiny motor attached—either way, the louder and faster, the better. Every time one of these speeds past my house, which is quite often, I resentfully pause the conversation or the movie and roll my eyes toward the ceiling, fantasizing about caltrops.
What a curmudgeon. Apparently my old suburban sensibilities are alive and well: keep up your property, pick up your trash, drive carefully, be respectful of your neighbors and of noise ordinances. But if you live surrounded by decaying properties, if your own landlord demands rent while refusing to fix things, if your street is full of pot holes and people on your street are selling drugs and it seems like the city couldn’t care less about you or your neighbors, then what do you do? Toss your own trash out to join the debris at the curb and peel out in your noisy sports car, forcing the world around you to acknowledge your existence for a few seconds, anyway. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.
The fact remains that this isn’t how I really want to live. I don’t think the solution is to change my neighborhood to my liking—my neighborhood was what it was before I moved there, and what right have I to demand it be anything else? I can try to be less of a grump and learn to appreciate city life more fully, including its noisy intrusions—but making peace with what irritates the crap out of you is no mean feat. The only remaining option is to move somewhere that is more to my liking, like the country. But would I really just be capitalizing on my privilege (the privilege of having the option and the means to move and of reasonably expecting to be accepted by new rural neighbors) to go live in a bubble of people who are more like myself (liberal vs. conservative aside)?
That is the crux of what I am asking myself here.