Wednesday, July 1, 2009

R.D., All American Guy, Part II-Big American Houses, Big American Yards

It has been truly an odd beginning to the month of July. It has been a day more suited to long sleeves than short. The buffalo do not roam, and the skies have been cloudy all day. It has rained off and on all day. From the 14th floor I can see people wearing jackets, sweaters, hooded sweatshirts, and all manner of apparel not normally associated with the month of July. Streeterville Bay aka "The Playpen" is empty of boats save one lone sailboat, who is no doubt freezing his or her posterior portion off. A couple of hours ago it was 59 degrees in Streeterville. It has currently soared all the way to 64 degrees. "We're having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave...." Not!

Yesterday, I mentioned that one of the things that people associate with "normal" Americans is the "Big American Car." Today I would like to mention one other aspect of "normalcy" in America. What I'm talking about is the "Big American Home" with its requisite "Big American Yard." After World War II a great many people moved to places known as suburbs. The newly built freeways allowed people to work in the cities, but to live out of the city in a place where land and houses were cheap and where one could easily commute in their "Big American Cars."

People began to idealize this existence. It got to the point that people began to think that it was a god-given right, probably in the Constitution itself, that everyone gets a good job, a big car, and a "Big American House" with a "Big American Yard" in the suburbs. Before World War II, most Americans lived in rural areas and small towns. Now after World War II there was a huge population shift because there were more jobs in the cities. People moved to metro areas for those jobs, but not to the city itself. The city populations began to shrink. People wanted to escape the congestion, the crime, the pollution. They settled in the suburbs and soon the largest number of Americans were located there.

The suburbs were hailed as "better places to raise children." A family could have a bigger house. A family could have a bigger yard where the kids could play. A family could be assured that the kids would have a more wholesome environment, and emerge more successful as a result of living in that big house with that big yard, and with that big dog in that big yard. Space boys and girls. Not the space of the plains with the miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles, but space enough so the neighbors couldn't see in your windows, and where everyone in the neighborhood looked just like you and the kids were sheltered from all of that weird stuff in the cities. Who would want anything else? Big house. Big yard. Big cars. Big expectations for all concerned.

Most of those kids who grew up in those big houses with big yards in those homogenous communities accepted this as the good life and went away to college and graduated and may have flirted with cities in their youth, but when they married and children came along they returned to their roots. Big houses. Big yards. To aspire to other things was not "normal." Yet a smaller group, a group of successful, college-educated Americans rejected this. They moved to the cities and they (Gasp!) stayed there.

Some of these people moved to neighborhoods in cities that emulated the suburban existence, with big houses, but often with much smaller yards. Nevertheless, these sorts owned the big barbecue grills, sent their kids to schools where other college-educated sorts sent their kids, and usually drove "Big American Cars" just like their counterparts in the suburbs. Perhaps, their neighborhoods were a little more diverse than the suburban neighborhoods, but for the most part there was not much difference in their existences and that of the suburbanites.

And then there are those like myself and my wife. We hold perfectly normal jobs. We pay our bills. We are not drug addicts, or perverts. Yet we choose to live in the middle of a large city on the 14th floor of a high rise building next to the lake. We have no yard, period. We own a mere 1600 square feet of living space. We pay $250/month to park our car in an underground garage. We have spurned the most basic of those things that most Americans hold near and dear, a "Big American Car," a "Big American House," and its accompanying "Big American Yard."

Where did we go wrong? I submit to you that we have not gone wrong at all. It is merely a different way to be a "normal" American citizen. While it is true that sometimes I miss my barbecue grill and sitting in the backyard at night and being able to see the stars, it is not often, and there are enough offsetting positives that I often find myself wondering why I didn't do this sooner. Frankly, my carbon footprint is smaller than the majority of "normal" Americans. I can walk to most things I want to do. I do not heat or air condition scads of unused space. I have a view "to die for." Tomorrow-"Dogs and kids." Same channel. Ta ta boys and girls.


  1. I can't even read all of this... some of us would have loved to have stayed in the city, but couldn't.

    I guess we wimped out. Sorry.

  2. It's not really about you, Jennifer. It's about a great many people in America's judgement of me. I do not judge you. What you do is your decision, but I reserve the right to live differently, and still be acknowledged as pretty normal. Unfortunately a great many people in America insist on establishing guidelines as to what they consider "normal" and judging those who do not conform. We still love you dear.

  3. And I don't judge you and while you say you're not judging, most everything here reads as if you're judging others.

    I have never begrudged you living the way you choose. As for being normal... yes, on some levels you're very normal, but also very abnormal, which is why we like you. I'd hate to slight the more wonderful aspects of yourself by merely summing you up as "normal".

    Happy 4th of July... here's to independence, whether an illusion or not. :)