Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Confessions Of A (Former) Chicago Boy (matt stratton!!!)

um, how excited am i to have a guest post from matt at good old rock? VERY! so read and enjoy while i unpack and miss being in san francisco...

Confessions Of A (Former) Chicago Boy

After ten years of living in the city, I moved back to the suburbs last fall. This was a major change for me. In fact, the most common comment I get from my friends is "You are the LAST person I ever would guess would leave the city". Thanks for the salt in the wound, friends. Living in the city has always been a major factor in my identity. I love the city of Chicago. I love neighborhoods. I love street fairs, good restaurants, and urbanity.

So why the frack did I move?

That was easy - I wanted a big house, with a yard, and since my wife and I are moving forward on the Adventure of Family Creation, we wanted to be close to our families (both of which live in the burbs). This all made a lot of sense when we were going through the House Hunting Experience (who I think I saw open for Matthew Sweet in 1998).

Now that we've been suburbanites for about six months (math is hard!), I have a few reflections and observations on the differences in our lives (well, mostly mine) due to this change. I made a promise to myself when we moved that I wouldn't be a whiny cityboy who constantly bitched about how much the suburbs suck. And, for the most part, I've kept my promise.

This blog post is the exception.

First of all, now that I live in the suburbs, I have to drive. A lot. EVERYWHERE. This is not a good thing, by a long shot. For one thing, I hate driving. When I lived in the city, my mode of transportation was a cocktail of the CTA, my bike, and hoofing it. And speaking of cocktails, that's the worst thing about the suburbs - since I have to drive everywhere I go, it really limits my ability to get tore up when going out. In the city, if I wanted to have a cocktail or seven, I could count on the good folks at Blue Ribbon Taxi to get me home safe, without endangering other drivers, pedestrians, or fire hydrants. Now I have to practice "moderation" and remember that after my social engagements I'm getting behind the wheel of a car. And since I (along with the State of Illinois) have a zero-tolerance policy towards drunk driving, this means I either a) have to allow several hours at the end of the night to sober up, or b) stick to Diet Coke all night. This, in a word, sucks.

Speaking of travel, the commuting isn't nearly as bad as it might be. Taking the Metra from Lisle takes me just about as much time as the Brown Line from Lincoln Square used to be (thank FSM for express trains!), although I don't get to take the train from Lisle, as there is a SEVEN YEAR WAITING LIST for a parking space there, so I have to drive to Downers Grove. Of course, you can drink beer on the Metra, which is still a strange and wonderous concept to me. Although since I'm getting into my car when I get off the train, this doesn't provide a lot of value. And don't get me started about having to plan my life around the Metra schedule; the wonderful CTA trains run very regularly, and if you miss one, the longest you have to wait is another ten minutes. If I miss my train home after a baseball game or an after-work happy hour, I might have to sit on my hands for at least an hour. Again, sucks.

I do love our new house though. The yard is huge, and my dog loves it. I even find it kind of fun to cut the grass, now that it is MY grass and not my parents. And it's great to have a garage (although we had one in the city) and my bedroom now is bigger than a few apartments I've had. But on the downside, I have to shovel the driveway. A lot. And when stuff breaks, I have to fix it myself. I kind of miss being able to just call the landlord and say "Yo, the fridge is busted. Please make it not be busted." I realize this is less of a city vs. suburbs thing, and more of a own vs. rent item, but I'm on a roll of bitching, so please don't split those hairs with me. Fixing your own sump pump sucks.

As I mentioned above, I used to ride my bike everywhere. I know that quite a few people will be surprised when I say that I am more frightened of riding my bike in the suburbs than I was in the city - but it's true. In the city, despite the fact that many drivers seem to think it is their prime directive to eff with cyclists, at least they were used to seeing them. And in the city, it's never really possible to drive very fast on the streets that I would ride. In the burbs, the average landspeed of a Naperville soccer mom is between 50-75 mph down Ogden Ave. And I swear they won't be looking for cyclists anywhere but on the Prarie Path. This is why my bike hasn't left the garage since it was unloaded from the moving van. I'm planning to try to brave the suburban traffic in the very near future, but it still rankles. And sucks.

I miss being able to live in my own little bubble in the city. Despite living practically on top of each other, there's a social barrier to city folks where they know how to give each other their space. I had many apartments where I never said more than five words to my neighbors. Granted, in our last apartment, we feuded with our downstairs neighbors, and I love not having shared walls anymore, but now I have to talk to the people who live next door to me. And a couple of them are racist and tell me things about how they're glad that "people like us" bought the house. After ten years of ethnic diversity, this really rubs me the wrong way. Hearing things about the "colored family" who used to live in our house sucks.

One final complaint - food. Seriously. What the hell is wrong with the suburbs? How hard is it to have good restaurants? Don't get me wrong - I love the fact that Portillo's is now five minutes (driving, of course) from home. And there ARE a few places that we can get good chow from. But I can't walk to anything (except Popeye's, and why the hell would I eat there?), and worst of all...GrubHub.com is USELESS in the suburbs. This, more than anything else I've listed, sucks.

So that's my story - I realize I've glossed over a lot of positive things, such as being a mile away from my sister, and I left off the issues with finding a good, affordable dogwalker (in the city you can't swing a leash without hitting five of them), but I didn't want to overload you with Vitamin Rant. I'm sure that with time I'll become assimilated.

That scares the ever-loving crap out of me.


Rachel said...

I feel for you, Matt. It' a tough adjustment. There are some things you will always miss, so don't worry too much about assimilating.

You are right to be afraid of driving your bike in the suburbs. Even in Wheaton, where we have more bikers than most suburbs, I won't ride on busy roads. However, with so few pedestrians in the suburbs, riding on the sidewalks is common and accepted (although not exactly legal) and I will do it (or would, when I used to ride) when I can't get around the busy by using side streets. (Also, we live 1 mile from the Prairie Path, which takes you right by a couple of the nearest suburban "downtown" areas. So that helps, and was a big selling point for me when we bought the house.)

One of the things I insisted on when we bought was walking distance from a metra station. We paid for the convenience of easy transportation and nearby bike paths (and high-rated public schools) with a small house, though.

You are so right about restaurants, though. There have to be some good ones, but how do you find them? (There were 2 that successively opened & then sadly went out of business by our train station.) I know of one nearby, and it's only open for lunch and dinner. (There was a really good Italian place on Roosevelt Road we used to go to, but I don't even remember where it is after we were gone for a couple years. And no one else seems to know about it.)

ChicagoGirl1 said...

I am torn too on the city vs suburban way of life but there are ways to combat that conflict.

If you really want to drink you can always go with someone who can drive you home or do this at a party where you plan to stay put for a while, like a friend's house or your house. I don't really drink though, so this hasn't really affected me.

The driving thing isn't that bad if you have a fuel efficient car. You were probably programmed to think that driving sucked in the city because it was impossible to go anywhere in any kind of traffic and parking might cost $35. Its free to park in the burbs and traffic is only really an issue at rush hour rather than 24/7/365. Plus I can listen to NPR on the radio again, I missed that with the CTA.

I think the bigger loss is missing contact with all the things downtown. Naperville tries to be all metropolitan and stuff, but it can't have the arts/entertainment power of the city without a larger citizen base buy tickets to attend big name events. So, I am glad I come downtown to work to see what is upcoming and then plan to go downtown to events when I find something I like.

I think the biggest loss of living in the burbs is the 1.5-2 hour commute each way and the loss of your own time/schedule/flexibility. It means you have to be a time nut and watch everything all day so you don't have to stay a minute late at work and leaves no time for creativity or going beyond with projects unless you take them home. (yuck) If you have kids there is daycare pickup and that is even earlier and no chance of working from home when you have plans with kids in the evenings. I feel like the rest of my life is going to be scheduled down to the minute and feel guilty using time to even post this comment!

@mattstratton said...

@ChicagoGirl - it was pointed out to me by my wife (when she read this) that I rarely would drink a lot even when we DID live in the city, but I reminded her that sometimes I like to use hyperbole for comedic purposes. :)

And I agree - it would be a lot tougher on me if I didn't work downtown. I'm in the city every day, so I am still very connected. I'm probably in the city for "social" reasons at least twice a month anyway, too.

I cannot agree more with your comment about the loss of flexibility in schedule. That's really the kicker, as you said, at the end of the day.

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