No Outlet in Suburbia


My wife and I rolled out to the Midwest for a high school graduation party for my accomplished and college bound nephew at my sister’s in a suburb of a big city that I’ll call C. to pay tribute to Franz Kafka.  Kurt Vonnegut would have called it a middle western suburb.  Incidentally, we rolled passed the signs to his home town of Schenectady, NY in route.  Now I grew up in a quiet suburb in Arkansas, so I know a thing or two about suburban living, (there should be a magazine by the same name), but nothing prepared me for certain aspects of middle western suburban culture.  In fairness, I haven’t lived in what one could call “the suburbs” in 30 years; we live in an urban suburb where the neighbors are friendly, but guarded.  The streets are loud and busy with tricked out cars dressed in sports mufflers, mean looking bikers straddling snarling Harley Davidsons and aggressive drivers flooring their gas chugging SUV’s and illegally passing all smaller vehicles in their path.  Sirens drown out the jaybirds, crows and black-capped chickadees – sirens which produce a white noise that is somehow urban comfortable.

In middle western suburbia, the most common summer sounds are that produced by the gas powered mowers and weed eaters courtesy of landscaping services.  All the lawns are Monsanto green; all hedges meticulously groomed.  Because all the lawns looked the same, I got lost walking around the neighborhood of treeless yards the size of football fields dotted with linear rows of flower beds full of marigolds and daffodils from Home Depot.

The most disorienting thing of all (like losing the horizon when flying) are all the No Outlet signs.  I think this is a suburban euphemism for Dead End, but I can’t be sure.  It might mean that there are no outside electrical outlets to discourage rogue teens from usurping power for their arsenal of gadgets.  Or it may just be to keep outsiders away.  As my wife and I walked down the streets with no outlets, I could feel the neighborhood watch staring at us.  Admittedly, as strangers armed with a flip case iPhone and a long lensed Nikkon DSLR, we looked suspicious.  I felt afraid and near panic stricken as our devices ran low on power.  We barely had juice enough to GPS our way back to the safety of my sister’s house.

Another curious suburban phenomenon are the speed limits there.  Most streets, even the “major” thoroughfares, have a maximum speed limit of 20 mph.  My car won’t even go that slow.  I literally had to coast to go 20 mph.  The police have zero tolerance for speeders.  And because of the alarming crime wave in the area, a suburb over, where several men were convicted of lawn neglect, teens have a 9:00 pm curfew; just as well, as there are no outdoor outlets for suburban youth.