This weekend, I am staying out at my parents’ house in the ‘burbs to help out with my sisters, who don’t drive and apparently can’t feed themselves.
For those of you just joining our program, I work in downtown Minneapolis and live in NordEast. I leave the city once a week….to go visit my parents in the third ring suburb that they moved to 11 years ago, when I was in college.
Since parking is very expensive in the building I work at, and the drive out to Surburban Hell takes longer than taking the bus to the park and ride out there, I took the express bus from Eden Prairie to downtown this morning to get to work.
First of all, suburbs need to learn something: form FOLLOWS function. Just because something looks pretty doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to design something. And, if you are going to make something so fucking confusing, at least put a sign up for those of us that are used to being able to find what we need, because it’s not hidden from “polite” view.
The bus ride itself was silent. No one talked. Ever. There was one woman that coughed – once – and I imagined that she was mortified at having broken the quiet. People were forced to sit together, and you could tell that made them uncomfortable – everyone wants their own little area, and doesn’t want to share with someone that they don’t know. There was a touch of “diversity” in the form of the Asian woman that I sat next to, but I am guessing that she was adopted and raised by a nice white family in the suburbs who never even visited her country to pick her up, and certainly has warned her from ever visiting because it’s so “dangerous”.
I’ve never seen so many polo shirts and pairs of khakis in my life. Seriously.
The thing I found most surprising was that no one was doing anything. Not listening to music, not chatting with their seatmate, and not reading. Nothing. Just staring ahead or out the window. Now, I can see not reading on the bus (it makes me queasy), but most of these people are spending at least 45 minutes each way on the bus – an hour and a half a day of wasted time. Per year, if you figure working 50 weeks a year, that’s 375 hours – more than 15½ days that they are doing NOTHING to…broaden their mind, help others, engage someone in conversation. Just…nothing. I have a terror that I am going to die before I get to accomplish/learn/see/do everything that I want…and yet these people are voluntarily letting that time slip away.
The whole situation made me mad. I wanted to stand up and scream, “I’m not like you! In three days I’ll be back in my urban abode! I’ll never raise my children to be like you!”
Before you call me an urban snob, let me clarify one thing: I was raised in the suburbs. My parents are terrified by the city (the last time my mother voluntarily set foot downtown was in 1984…and I’m not kidding) and can’t imagine why I chose to live there. They are pretty sure that someday one of “those people” on the bus, or on the street where I live, are going to rape, kill and dismember me before the age of 40. But this is a life that I CHOSE after being raised in a white bread, conform-or-else, what-does-your-daddy-do society.
I went to college in a medium-sized southern Minnesota town. There weren’t a lot of kids from “The Cities” there – a lot of kids that had grown up in that town, or had come from even smaller towns to go to school there. Most didn’t make it to graduation. And, while I was delighted that we had such a large community of international students (10% of our student body was from overseas, mostly the Middle East), many of the other students were terrified of them, and didn’t want to mix. It was a little scandalous when I claimed one of those (extremely hot) Middle Easterners for my sweetie later that year. (I always did love the accents!) I can only imagine what the current hostility for anyone not from around here, and especially from that part of the world, is like in a small town like that. It makes me sad that people aren’t being given chances as individuals, but categorized because of what a few weirdoes from their neck of the woods did. (This attitude, btw, is not absent from the cities…)
What makes me angry: these white bread suburbanites, as a whole, have an attitude that the city is dirty, and crowded, and that no one in their right mind would want to live there, and perpetuate that attitude to their children, making exo-burbia grow and grow. People like me, that choose to live in the city, despite the way I was raised (or maybe because of) are seen as oddities.
WTF? Why are people so afraid? Instead of complaining, why aren’t they doing something to help? Is anyone involved in community building? In helping the less fortunate? Have they thought about buying a home in a developing neighborhood and helping to build pride in the cities? Have they thought about exposing their children to other cultures, except through the cute little “awareness” exercises they do at grade school?
Maybe I wouldn’t have this discontent if it weren’t for an experience I had yesterday. My employer is big into community giving – last year we raised over $70,000 for charitable causes in one week. Not bad – for a company of less than 200. This year, our community giving campaign, of which I am a part, has decided to sponsor monthly volunteering activities. The company is paying for the time of anyone who wants to go down to Sharing and Caring Hands to serve breakfast during the times that we have committed to sending volunteers. I went with our pilot group yesterday.
It was a great experience. First of all, if you haven’t heard of Sharing and Caring Hands, it’s an amazing organization, privately owned by one woman, Mary Jo Copeland. It includes a soup kitchen, facilities to give those in need clothing, shoes, household items, and food, showers, a teen center, a daycare, a medical and dental clinic, and a housing unit (apartments) that are available free of charge for three to six months for families to get back on their feet financially.
She has also been trying to raise the money for the Gift of Mary Home, which would be for orphaned or at risk children. The center would be made up of houses, staffed by a married couple and a helper, and able to hold up to eight children per household. She has been met by resistance when trying to buy land for this residence – although the people in the towns that she approraced said it was a great idea, they didn’t want it in their backyard. The city of Eagan finally let her buy land, but she has not been able to raise the money she needs to build…and if she doesn’t do so by next year, her permit to build may not be renewed.
WTF is wrong with people? WHY do they not want such an organization in their backyard? Mary Jo runs the most beautiful and maintained facility of this nature that I have ever seen – *I* want to live there – and treats people with such dignity, and they give it right back. She wants to save children from bad situations, give them as close to a loving home environment as she can, get them educated, and send the out into the world as good human beings. We, as citizens, should be ENCOURAGING this mission – why would we want anything less for these children than we do for our own?
I realize that this has now become a disjointed rant that started about my hating of the suburbs and ending with my hating of everyone. J So here is my unifying thought: at what point did our society cease to be a community? At one time, if your neighbor had a problem, it was ok for that person to ask for help – and better yet, sometimes he didn’t need to, and the community did what it could for that person.
Somewhere along the line we have become disengaged from that. We don’t know our neighbors. We are disinclined to talk to anyone we don’t know, or interact with a stranger, because “you just never know about people.” Charitable giving of money is seen as a burden, and charitable giving of time seen as something for others – you know, with less important things to do – to take care of in our stead. We punish the poor, and the working poor, and we damn their children to the same lives, because for them, having “enough” is a dream…having more than that, a fairy tale.
Where have we, as a society, gone wrong?