Thank you, suburbia.

Thank you modern world. I especially want to thank you for that eighth Wonder of the World known as North American suburbia.

20 January 2024 / Published on Medium
Photo credits / Breno Assis on Unsplash

Thank you modern world. In your ongoing efforts to make life more convenient for me, I especially want to thank you for that eighth Wonder of the World known as North American suburbia.

That shiny, new world which, thank God, is slowly but surely gobbling up that chaotic and unorganized realm of forests and fields bearing down on us poor humans. I much prefer the comforting canopy of zig-zagging, never-ending rooftops and carpets of golf-green grass, all held in by an orderly maze of traffic-calmed laneways and cul-de-sacs.

This is the new Wild West of Wonder!

As you continue to spread your tendrils of asphalt across the countryside, bonus points for steamrolling over all of those pesky small businesses that were peppered throughout the landscape. No more having to deal with all of those scary, unknown shops filled with strange, dark aisles of God-knows-what. In its place, you’ve plopped down the same handful of five or six familiar chain stores, comfortably corralled into strip plazas, like islands of solitude surrounded by an ocean of convenient parking.

And hey, a big shout-out for doing away with having to walk to this oasis of commercial splendour. Forgotten is the world of leisurely strolls and wilderness walks, now firmly in the grasp of our four-wheeled stallions, galloping forth towards new retail horizons. Forever consigned to the treadmills and gyms of this newly-built utopia, weaned from the unpredictable elements of Mother Nature. Who has time to walk anyway? Putting one foot in front of the other is so last century. Now I put the pedal to the metal, baby! I can simply saddle up in my massive SUV — fully-equipped for any sudden impulse to go hunting deer or just in case the apocalypse suddenly arrives — and head out for my buying bonanza.

Riding out across the ribbons of road, I want to give you a big ‘much obliged partner’ for the drive-thru feeding canteens and watering holes that I find along the way. A true suburban cowboy never goes hungry in these parts! And by the way, kudos for doing away with the entire experience of any uncomfortable human contact while I’m filling up with my jumbo flask of coffee and breakfast in a bag. I much prefer rolling down my window (hell, I don’t even have to do that pesky winding any more!) just to speak to that numb, disconnected voice on the other side of that crackling speaker.

Now freshly fuelled, my bronco is bucking with anticipation. And we’re off on our retail rodeo! Giddy up!

And today this is no ordinary outing folks. Today I race past the usual stops to the DIY shops, electronic emporiums and clothing canteens. Today I’m off to the juggernaut of them all. The big-box store. That shangri-la where all worlds collide. Where glistening chicken breasts and meat pies rub up against juicers, microwaves and garden hoses. Where trail mix and back ribs mingle with cell phones and speakers. This amazing one-stop sanctuary. A climate-controlled paradise with its canyons of sky-high shelves.

Thanks for the jugs of mayonnaise, sacks of cereal, jumbo cakes, cookies and pies, oh my! Not to mention the crate-sized packs of toilet paper stacked as far as the eye can see. We’re on a roll now! Remember: always be apocalypse-ready.

While I’m sauntering through the aisles in this name-brand wonderland, I so appreciate the soothing, drifting melodies of old familiar pop songs from my earlier days being piped in, with any hint of youthful fun or rebellious undertones conveniently castrated from their underbelly.

And when I mosey up to the check-out aisles with my wagon brimming, a heartfelt thank you for replacing the chaotic clap-trap of human chatter with the comforting blip-blip-blip of scanning machines. As I cart my shiny new goods back to my trusty steed I bear the harsh elements of that untrusting and unpredictable outside world. Even though it’s always unbearably [insert the word ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ here], I have faith that soon enough I will be once again in the safety of my steel cocoon with the oppressive outside conveniently sealed away.

Yes, as I head out once again onto the wondrous ribbons of asphalt, I can’t thank you enough for this bright and shiny new world. Long-gone are the days of confusing country roads, impending forests and inconvenient conversations — now it’s all mapped, mowed and muzzled. A world of easy rides, no sharp edges to bump up against or uncomfortable run-ins. A world as smooth and silky as vanilla soft-serve. In a flash, I’ll soon be back at the homestead, flanked by its steel-cut flowerbeds, ready to settle in for the evening ahead.

That’s right, the story doesn’t stop there folks. The fun has just begun! We’re living big now. And by big, I mean big-everything. Big rooms, big furniture, big appliances. I load up my big walk-in closet fridge. I put my big-sized meal — thankfully devoid of any chopping dicing or shredding and perfectly gift-wrapped just for me — into my big-box microwave. And then, as quick as the ding of the bell of this cook-by-numbers dynamo, I settle in on my big sofa and turn my gaze to the biggest thing of all. The big black monolith of pleasure that adorns the walls of rooms, man caves and basements in this newfound land for when that slightly nagging feeling of quiet and emptiness sets in. The flat-screen TV.

Much obliged for replacing those long summer nights of riding bikes and throwing balls (who needs all of that pesky, cumbersome sports equipment anyway!). Now, it’s all at my fingertips thanks to that magic wand of a device, the Remote Control. I now live vicariously through the warriors of football, hockey and basketball, all neatly packaged and in perfect position. Like a thousand picture windows all at the ready, whether I want to laugh, love or liberate the world, anything is possible with this mood ring of make-believe.

Yes, thank you suburbia for replacing the unexpected, the chance encounters and the what-ifs with this tamed, comfortable world. This horse has been broken. Yee-haw! We’ve switched off our languid lives and turned on a picture-perfect, surrogate self. We’re bottom-trawled and back to zero. Hog-tied, stripped down and plugged in for this glorious on-demand fantasy land. Who needs the real world when you’ve got it in HD!

And when evening slides into night…when the shops go quiet…when the streets are empty and the devices go black, I slide into the ocean of sheets in my jumbo king-sized bed, with the tranquilizing glow of screens still flashing like blue-squared phantoms across my closed eyes. I sit there in the dark and that slightly nagging, uneasy feeling starts to creep in once again. That feeling that maybe this world is too easy, too planned out. That maybe there’s something hiding in the wilderness beyond this man-made maze. Maybe there’s something in the long walks and the long talks instead of GPS and SMS. Maybe it’s not about detergent and power washers and binge-watching. Maybe the real world isn’t flat on your wall, but instead round and rough and waiting to be discovered. We glide across this paved-over surface unscathed and untouched and then we wonder why we feel nothing. Maybe we lose something when it’s all figured out. Maybe there’s more.

But then I remembered: I forgot to buy toilet paper.

Thank you suburbia. Off to sleep and ready to saddle up tomorrow. This rodeo never ends!

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