Saturday, August 17, 2002

The 'Burbs: Genreally if you read about life in the suburbs, it's by some editorialist writing with an elitist sneer and going on about fakery and commercialism. That is, of course, fashionable pseudo-intellectualism. A few people write about the 'burbs with humor and satire of a more loving kind in an effort to appreciate that life for the desirable things it provides. David Brooks is one of them. His most recent article on the new suburban exodus is titled Patio Man and the Sprawl People. It is a gem.
Pretty soon a large salesman in an orange vest who looks like a human SUV comes up to him and says, "Howyadoin'," which is, "May I help you?" in Home Depot talk. Patio Man, who has so much lust in his heart it is all he can do to keep from climbing up on one of these machines and whooping rodeo-style with joy, manages to respond appropriately. He grunts inarticulately and nods toward the machines. Careful not to make eye contact at any point, the two manly suburban men have a brief exchange of pseudo-scientific grill argot that neither of them understands, and pretty soon Patio Man has come to the reasoned conclusion that it really does make sense to pay a little extra for a grill with V-shaped metal baffles, ceramic rods, and a side-mounted smoker box. Plus the grill he selects has four insulated drink holders. All major choices of consumer durables these days ultimately come down to which model has the most impressive cup holders.

Patio Man pays for the grill with his credit card, and is told that some minion will forklift his machine over to the loading dock around back. It is yet another triumph in a lifetime of conquest shopping, and as Patio Man heads toward the parking lot he is glad once again that he's driving that Yukon XL so that he can approach the loading dock guys as a co-equal in the manly fraternity of Those Who Haul Things.
Heh, heh. It's not just clever satire, there's sharp observation.
Of course, from the moment they move in, they begin soiling their own nest. They move in order to get away from crowding, but as they and the tens of thousands like them move in, they bring crowding with them. They move to get away from stratification, snobbery, and inequality, but as the new towns grow they get more stratified. In Henderson, the $200,000 ranch homes are now being supplemented by gated $500,000-a-home golf communities. People move for stability and old fashioned values, but they are unwilling to accept limits to opportunity. They are achievement oriented. They are inherently dynamic.
Great stuff. This is a topic that interests me because Misspent Youth is set in just such a neighborhood. (I live in just such a neighborhood, on a smaller scale.) It's good to read a thoughtful story of these places while everyone else writes about oppression, violence and preversion.