By: Chris Warren
Before World War II, everyone either lived in the city or in the country. There was no in between. The post war industrial (and baby) boom, along with faster and more reliable transportation fostered conditions for people who wanted out of crowded cities, but were not willing to live in the sticks, to settle for a very attractive compromise. The suburbs were born. At face value it’s a total win-win: Most of the big city amenities and fresh air and wide open spaces and good schools and low crime. In the beginning, farmland near cities could be bought for cheap and replanted with very nice albeit repetitive mass produced “cookie cutter” housing. The ‘burbs did not have much character, but they were affordable, clean, and safe.
In the decades since, the suburbs have become small scale versions of the metropolises they were intended to be an escape from. They have upscale shopping, nightlife, entertainment venues attracting big talent, all the goodies, and in some cases crime and traffic jams. It’s no longer necessary to go to the big city to find cool things to do. Somewhere along the line, they took the sub out of suburban.
I grew up in a very clean, decent, safe, friendly community. The schools and local government are highly effective and there is nowhere in the town I would be afraid to walk through at night. It’s a perfectly respectable place. Now I’m seriously looking into eventually relocating to a rural area in a Southern gulf or Western state. I’ve blogged before (here and here) about the “thin veneer of civilization.” My quaint and comfortable existence is one terrorist attack or financial collapse from becoming a third world hellhole (see also, Detroit). As much as I like my neighbors, I do not want to support them when society implodes, and I certainly do not want to fight with them for whatever resources are left, especially if the resources are my private stock.
When I mention my plan to others, I typically get funny “why don’t you want to stay?” type stares followed by the usual arguments for hanging around: It’s clean and safe, there’s lots of shops and stores, there’s good medical facilities, yadda yadda yadda. Yes, I get it. Everything they say is true. I think their defensiveness comes from a false sense that my wanting to leave is an affront on their choice to stay. As I’ve said many times, It’s a lovely place, really! There’s no need to defend it. The other and probably main motivation for my wishful exodus is much more basic: I’ve spent my entire life as a suburban white boy. Now I want something else, somewhere else. Getting out of here is a long term goal that may take another decade or more to achieve, if it’s achieved at all. I’m not completely certain where this plan will take me but I’m sure that I do not want to die in suburbia.
It’s not lost on me that rural living comes with compromises, some of them substantial. A lot of the infrastructure of society that is assumed in urban areas is deliberately excluded for the country folk. Along with probably having a well instead city water and a county sheriff instead of local cop, I can forget about a pizza in thirty minutes, good cell coverage, fast (any?) broadband, and running to the store for every little thing. Maybe I’m nuts: I see living in a trailer set in the middle of a bunch of acres as a net-plus. In exchange for big city amenities I get tons and tons of space, and with space comes freedom!
I want to enjoy my ham radio hobby with no concerns for aesthetics…tons of antennas and wire and hardware all over my roof. I want to sit on my back deck and and shoot my guns. I want to find an old dirtbike and make my own little motocross track on the property. I want a big garage where I can mess with my machines and have an electronics/radio shop too. If any family or friends fall on hard times, all they have to do is show up dragging a trailer behind them. I’ll have the means to supply a patch of dirt for them to plop down on without feeling crowded in myself. There will be plenty of fresh air and sunshine to go around. And speaking of sunshine, I need enough space for the solar panels I’ll use to power the place. When (not if) the cities become unglued and society starts regressing to chaos, I’ll be far away from all of it and hopefully situated well enough to come out the other side in one piece.
Are the give-ups worth it? It depends on what one considers a give up. Not having decent pizza for an hour in any direction is something I can probably live with but having to drive an hour to see a dentist or get a fan belt for my truck is not a minor hassle. Any major life event comes with a level of uncertainty. Who has ever changed jobs, bought a house, got married, or had a baby without thinking, even fleetingly, that they were making a huge mistake? Never having a moment’s hesitation or always wanting to rush a decision solely to end the discomfort of having to decide is in itself a red flag. It indicates a lack of seriousness, which turns an educated decision where risk is at least understood if not mitigated into a gamble where risk is the only factor in play. Indeed, there are no “educated decisions” being made in a casino. The very long odds of striking it rich are the same for everyone in the place no matter how much they’ve all bullshit themselves into believing they have figured out how to game the system. Taking the same approach to real life issues yields the same chance results. As strongly as I feel pulled out of the suburbs, there is the counterbalance of good judgement telling me to be completely self aware that what I’m what I’m gaining is worth more than what I’m giving up.
As much as I belabor on about carefully thinking everything through, at some point it’s time to stop pondering and start doing. Or, conclude that it’s best to stay where I am and be happy with it. Either way, the cycle of beating my head against the wall cannot roll on forever. Life changes (relationship, baby, job, etc.) sometimes make these decisions for us. I am fully cognizant that I may someday make a big leap out to the country only to discover that even after doing all my homework and calculating the minutiae, the life is not for me. Sigh. It’s better to try and fail then to not try at all and spend the rest of my life wondering what if.