Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Town I Live In: A Bike Odyssey With Reflections on the Cultural Differences Between Suburban and Urban Environments

I’ve got $14 in the bank and I don’t get my next unemployment check for four days. I’ve begun teaching again, but I don’t actually get paid for a month and a half. Balderdash. I need food.

So I strap on my backpack, hop on my blue beach cruiser, and head toward my parents’ house in Brea. They’re on vacation, but I know they have food. I will raid their cupboards.

It’s hot and I’m not in shape. That hill on Brea Blvd. is a real bear. I hop off my bike and walk it past the Golden Hill Little League field.

When I reach my parents’ house, I’m hot and thirsty and pretty hungry. I grab a tub of cottage cheese and gobble it up. I grab olives, potato chips, gouda cheese. Oh food. Glorious food.

I’m reluctant to leave my food unattended. At my apartment, unattended food gets gobbled by a dog or swarmed with flies. It’s a strange relief that there are no dogs or flies here.

I flip on the air conditioning. Oh my God. Air conditioning. I eat. I am cool. Afterward I fall into a deep and refreshing sleep. Thank you, mom and dad.

When I was growing up, my dad always kept a “change cup” on his dresser. We had an understanding that I could take change from it for small things—mostly to rent movies at Video Dollar. He still keeps a change cup.

I walk into my parents room and dump my dad’s entire change cup into my backpack. I am 31 years old. Sorry dad. I need it.

On the bike ride home, I pass the house of this guy I grew up with. He’s married with a couple kids and this house. I cruise past on my bike with my backpack of stolen food and change and reflect on the differences between my life and his. Would I trade places with him? No way.

I stop at the 7-11 across from the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton. I used to get Slurpees and super chili cheese big bites after church there when I was a kid. Today I get a Gatorade and cigarettes and sit on the curb drinking and smoking and staring across the street at the First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton. I reflect, expecting some epiphany. It’s not really thoughts that come. More like feelings that are difficult to name. I’m listening to The Walkmen on my ipod.

I get thinking about this guy I went to church with. He’s in a pretty successful rock band. They astonished all of us. First, they astonished us with their success. Then, they astonished us with how thoroughly they sold out. You gotta make a living, I guess. But I’d rather be poor than take money for compromising something as important as my art, which is probably why I am, in fact, poor.

I ride my bike through these suburban neighborhoods in Fullerton where I grew up. I don’t see many people. I see nicely manicured homes separated by walls and wide streets. When I traveled abroad and came back here, the thing that struck me the most was how wide the streets are here. Why are they so wide? Why are there cement and brick walls between the houses? No wonder we are so lonely.

I try to see this place through the eyes of a future anthropologist. In the early 21st century, humans lived in structures separated by brick walls and unnecessarily wide streets. They spent their “money” (this was when humans placed great value on something called “money”) on decorating these structures. They were very lonely.

I return to my old apartment downtown with the dog and the flies and the heat. There are people walking about. I remember a conversation I had with my mom recently:

“You should buy a condo, or a house. Get in the market,” she said.

“I like my apartment,” I said.

Some people like living in houses in suburbs. Others like apartments in cities. I’m an apartment dweller, but I must admit there is a certain comfort I take in returning to my parents’ house in the suburb. It is quiet, peaceful. But my home is downtown.

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