Tuesday, July 1, 2008

When it hits the fan (Or, who are the people in your neighborhood?)

When I talk to my friends back in the rural northwest, where an anti-government, quasi-apocalyptic ethic has reigned for decades, there is a common beginning to sentences: "When the [stuff] hits the fan," meaning, in this case, when the economy falls apart, when there is no petroleum energy to rely on, when food and water sources dry up, when infrastructure crumbles. When, not if.

I have to say, although I'm no conspiracy theorist, a combination of childhood traumas and adult misadventures has always predisposed me to think this scenario could happen. Self-reliance, or what I think of as tribal reliance, is a virtue in my book, and everything I've written about in this blog, and most of the decisions I've made in my lifetime, can trace their heritage to that belief. Over time, I've modified my vision of the Good, so I can see grace in other kinds of living, but I remain fused to an ideal of doing for myself where possible.

Longtime readers of this sporadic blog will remember that last year I tried to cut my driving in half compared to the previous year's mileage. I shaved quite a few miles off but failed to reach my goal, and put most of the blame at the feet of Suburubia. If work and school and play are all 7-10 miles away, I reasoned, and public transportation remains largely out of reach, no wonder I can't stop driving. Houses in Suburubia are approximately 200K to 400K less expensive than comparable houses in the city, so moving is not an option (and when I say comparable I do not mean opulent). I have grown accustomed to grousing about being "stuck" in the suburbs, although I love my house and its burgeoning collection of fruit trees. Thus, Suburubia has seemed at best like an inconvenient vessel for a convenient place to live.

But I am a bit of a crank (see above), and when the national anxiety level starts to rise over gas prices and suburban living, I am motivated to think against the grain.

This is all a fancy and long-winded prelude to a simple tale: last night I decided to find out how many places to get food (not including my back yard) were within easy walking distance from my house. "Easy" is defined here as how far Progeny is willing to walk without whining or wishing out loud he were playing Yu-Gi-Oh instead. He and I have sometimes walked to the Blimpies that is a part of the gas station convenience store on the main road, but I was looking for something a little less generic and more nourishing. I found--

* Innumerable convenience stores in a half-mile stretch (eight? ten? is this about brand loyalty? a better selection of malt liquor?)
* Three wings places
* A better than average Jamaican restaurant
* A homestyle-cooking-to-go joint
* Two iffy American-Chinese places, one serving pizza as well
* An Ethiopian sports bar
* A KFC/Taco Bell combo
* A slightly horrifying grocery store, which nevertheless has organic milk, a little bit of produce, and a great selection of Bosnian and Vietnamese food items
* There were also two package stores and a "gentlemen's club," but I did not stop to inquire about the availability of food.

Now, I have been to a few of these venues before, and driven past and made note of each of them at some point or another. But I had grown used to thinking them as part of the suburban landscape, only worth escaping. Now that gas is $4 a gallon I can finally see what has been right in front of my face. This too is a place where people live, and eat, and recreate, and work. It's time for me to stop being a tourist in my own neighborhood.


Songbird said...

The trouble with the neighborhood stores is the milk is usually much more expensive! Not to mention other things. It's a quandary. Or puts me in one.

The Simpleton said...

It's true, although for me the extra may soon be offset by the cost of driving. Anyway, I love a good quandary.

Shehun said...

Hey, don't knock happy-hour food at the gentlemen's clubs. Deep-fried stuff to accompany the, uh, dinner theatre.

But progeny probably needs to wait a few years.