My cousin Joe recently got married in Summit, Illinois — a southwestern suburb of Chicago that I didn’t even know existed. I grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago and spent over half my life there, yet it’s not a place of comfort for me. While my date and I waited four hours betwixt church ceremony and reception, we sat in the parking lot of Jewel, eating sushi and drinking expensive beer out of sippy cups. This was the Burbs as I remembered them.
The majority of my family resides in the Burbs. During the 14 years I’ve lived in Chicago, they’ve come out to see me a handful of times and it’s not from lack of invitations. They live approximately 37 miles from me, which by car is roughly 45 minutes depending on traffic. Growing up, any time my family ventured into the city, it was a source of stress for my parents and therefore, we didn’t go often.
If I want to see my family, I have to go to the Burbs. At first, I was pretty angry about this unspoken arrangement. However, I’ve learned to accept peoples’ limitations and understand that this is just the way it is. Oddly, I’ve kept many of my go-to people in the Burbs. I stick with my dentist and hairstylist there because it’s nice to have someone with whom you have history working on your teeth or hair. This is convenient because anytime I have an appointment with either, I make it a point to see my family. I also see everyone at Christmas. Weddings and funerals are mandatory. Holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving are contingent on plans with my urban family or travel arrangements. Although my family may not enjoy this, it is begrudgingly accepted.
I get my family’s irrational fear of the city — afraid of the unknown, the stress of parking — yet, I’m uncertain if these are great reasons to stay out of the city. They miss out on being part of the urban conversation through seeing important cultural exhibits and performances, experiencing the variety of wonderful cuisine and going to the lake. Granted, these things may not be important to my family. My reality is an ongoing adventure of new and different experiences. Perhaps the status quo may be enough for them and that scares the shit out of me.
When I go to the Burbs to visit with family or attend events like weddings, I think to myself, “Could I come back here to live?” The resounding answer is no. I would miss my urban family and the many choices in the city that are hard to come by in the Burbs. Being confined to the city is different. Public transportation takes you from one interesting neighborhood to the next with little effort. There is a freedom that you inherently accept by living in it. Without your car in the Burbs, you feel stuck and your reality is being stuck. The suburbs are designed to keep you locked in wherever you live and your car is the only means of escape. Without it, you’re homebound. I say this because I remember how bored I was growing up. I remember wanting more and feeling bad about those desires.
Some of my suburban friends may have looked at my adventures in Chicago as temporary or an itch to scratch on the way to becoming a grown-up. Now, I’ve become part of this urban conversation. I’ve grown attached to certain conveniences and being inundated with different cultures, ethnicities and people. If all the Burbs can offer me are a bigger yard and a place to park my car whenever and wherever — no thanks. That just reminds me of a cemetery plot.
On the flipside, I’ve watched my urban friends move to the Burbs. Sadly, I rarely see them. Many made promises of coming back once a week or month which have since evaporated. They’ve settled in and enjoy their “quiet” life, though many say the drama of city life has just been replaced by the drama of keeping with the Joneses. Perhaps the city has a way of grinding people down and I’ve yet to reach that point. I hope I never do.
To my cousin, Joe, I say congratulations. I watched our family gather, commune and rejoice together — urban and suburban alike. After the night died down, I climbed into my car, excited by the prospect of getting home. I was ready to escape back to the hustle and bustle of Chicago. Our realities are different and I offer the reconciliation of different is just different — one isn’t better than the other — though also feel like a liar for saying it. The reality is that there aspects of suburban life I do understand but others I just don’t accept. I’ll always love the chaos of city life, as well as the lake.