Posts Tagged ‘Baby Boomers’

Working in the ‘Burbs, or, Hell

In Uncategorized on May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm

In the coming days and/or weeks I’ll be blogging a series of essays about suburban life versus city/town/progressive living. The number of blogs I’ll include in this series is yet to be determined.

“Look, I’m just going to be straightforward with you,” I told my boss. “I don’t feel a real connection with the people here. I don’t live here. …And I don’t want to live here. It’s hard to connect with them because we’re so different. I don’t have a lot in common with people here. You do, and that’s why it’s no problem for you to connect with them.”

“Yeah,” he said, “I guess I understand. I mean, I have kids, most of them have kids.”

Uh, no. That is not at all what I meant.

He totally missed my point. But it was obvious to me from that one response that he did not and would never understand where I was coming from.

And that’s because he doesn’t understand where I come from.

I work in the suburbs.

I live in Nashville.

Driving home every evening from a suburb situated northeast of the city of Nashville, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief when I see the buildings of the Nashville skyline peaking over the trees on Ellington Parkway. I even crane my neck a little sometimes, I think in an effort to just get my head into the city a little faster. It’s an enormous relief to me that just a quick turn left on Cleveland Street will get me to the streets of passionate, creative people who are working hard to make our little corner of the world special and desirable to travel to, dine and be entertained in, to learn in. They set up their cafes and coffee shops, their garden emporiums and saloons, urban green labs, pet hospitals and antique stores, their micro-breweries and beer gardens, bakeries and butchers, their salons and music stores in East Nashville because they know they’ll not only be patronized, but celebrated and encouraged.

When I turn my car onto Ellington Parkway every weekday morning to head north to work, I audibly groan. The skyline is behind me. What’s before me is a seemingly endless stream of chain restaurants, mega-churches, the same clothing retailers you’d find in any town of this size, and, just as I get off the bypass, I pass a Sam’s Club – the paragon of all things big, bad, and destructive.

When conservatives refer to job creation, know that they’re talking about creating jobs at places like Sam’s Club. It’s a magnet for the undereducated, uneducated, unskilled, and downtrodden job-seeker; the desperation of the afore-described worker makes it possible for employers to exploit their workers, treat them terribly, and expect a “thank you” for the privilege.

If you ever wonder why Republicans rail against making college more affordable, student loan interest rates lower, it’s because they are uninterested in helping to create a talented, knowledgeable work force of critical thinkers who will stick up for themselves and demand to be treated like humans. The highly-educated work force doesn’t want to work somewhere like Wal Mart or Sam’s Club; no, they want to create their own businesses. A larger work force of college-educated or highly skilled workers who are opening their own businesses, pursuing their true dreams while rejecting the corporate-ladder-ascent made popular in the Reagan, or Me Era means a smaller pool of desperate workers large corporations could choose from. And a smaller pool of unskilled workers would mean increased wages and more staffing competition between big-box retailer “job creators”. And that’s not lucrative for a big business’s bottom line profit or its CEO’s bonuses.

So, as I pass by Sam’s Club and see all the hulking SUV’s in its parking lot, I moan, “Gods, I hate this place.” The people of this community never seem to consider their own power as consumers. They do not ask who they are benefiting or hurting by shopping at Wal Mart, Sam’s Club, etc. They just go there because it’s cheap and because, well, it’s there. They sadly seem to be asking no questions at all. Indeed, Sam’s Club and Wal Mart patrons are seduced by all things “inexpensive”, as if the less money one has to spend on something, the more justifiable the purchase is.

A coworker (whom I love dearly) asked me one Monday if I’d had a good weekend. I explained to her that after watching a televised Predators playoff victory over the Red Wings, my partner and I had walked a couple of blocks to an ice cream shop. “It’s close enough to walk to? Oh! I’m so jealous,” she proclaimed.

People who live in the cultural deserts we call suburbs are always claiming to be jealous of people who live in interesting towns and cities. And I’ve no doubt they are. They have just as many reasons to be jealous of non-suburban community-dwellers as I do to feel sorry for the unknowingly oppressed suburbanite.

But they’ve made their beds. Now they have to live in them.

They chose to go the way of the first suburbanites – the parents of the Baby Boom generation – without question. The first suburbanites were immensely proud of themselves and their country. They were living in a time of victory and prosperity. They had just won the biggest war in the history of the world, their standard of living was on the rise, and some of them were being given the chance to become far more educated than their parents had ever dreamed of being. They were becoming privileged.

The earliest suburbanites fled the cities for the haven of newly constructed neighborhoods that bore nature-imbued names like “Sunny Meadows” or “Oak River” or whatever contrived, vapid misnomer a developer effortlessly vomited. The first suburbanites may have thought they were in search of meadows and rivers, a natural landscape, and they weren’t completely wrong about that. But the less palatable truth of the matter is that they were in search of a plantation without Blacks. The Blacks were meant to commute daily into White neighborhoods to accomplish the menial tasks of a White household, but then disappear to ‘across the tracks’ until the next morning’s chores beckoned them back again.

This was the era of white flight. Suburbs were white, cities were black. Suburbanites wish to build as wide a chasm as possible between themselves and anyone who is different. Suburbs love conformity; and if you don’t believe me, just Google “Levittown” and gaze upon that early suburb’s uniform, saltbox houses.

Suburbanites are deathly afraid of otherness. They resent it when people branch out, explore, and become, essentially, different. It struck me as odd (partly because I was such a lover of all things different, “alternative”, as a high schooler) when I was first getting to know this suburban community, that their worst fear was that their children would become “Goth”. Black fingernail polish and dark hair dye are always looked upon suspiciously in this suburb. I tried to tell many of these suburbanites I work with that I, myself, was “Goth” in high school, but they just wouldn’t accept it as a truth. I believe they think I’m joking. They couldn’t possibly comprehend how a young girl who explored her “dark side” could end up being a successful, widely admired leader – and that they themselves ended up working with her!

In the following days’ blogs I will explore several aspects of the suburb I work within. Those aspects include religion, money, economic interests, and education.