Saturday, October 6, 2012

Soulless in Suburbia

So, I live in Northern Virginia (also known as NoVA). These are the Virginia suburbs of the Washington, DC metro region. All in all, it's a fairly well to do area. Sadly, it's a fairly soulless area. If you come from a city like New York, Philadelphia, Boston or Baltimore, you're used to areas that have "neighborhoods" - distinct communities that have common cultural bonds.

I've lived in NoVA for just shy of 20 years, now. In that time, the only things I've noticed to dominate the area are homeowners associations. NoVA is the shining example of what's wrong with HOAs and the types of people that love them. HOAs are part of an overall pattern of enforced blandness and suburban ennui. Worse, in areas like NoVA, the HOA mindset seems to permeate all aspects of life here.

I guess it almost naturally follows that if your stuck living in neighborhoods of cookie-cutter neighborhoods of hundreds of HOA-approved beige single family homes, the unrelenting beigeness will come to fill the empty space left by your shriveled soul. So, I guess it only follows that, if you live in a house that looks almost identical to your neighbors', you'll want to dress like them, drive the same vehicles as them, eat like them, etc. In NoVA, you can be an interchangeable clone, just like all your HOA-dominated peers.

You start your day by slipping into your khakis and stumbling down the stairs to take in breakfast. You take your McKids to their school because, god forbid they walk the five blocks to get there (and the local school district won't bus them if they live closer than 1mi. to the school). I mean, it's too dangerous for little Brayden to walk a few blocks to school. And if there's bad weather? Heavens: no one has invented boots or umbrellas yet - they'd catch pneumonia if you didn't drive them to school!

So, out you go in your silver or grey (or other automotive beige-equivalent) minivan or SUV. Kids bundled in back, watching the mandatorily-installed mini-LCDs. It'd suck to have to actually talk to your kids or have your kids pry their eyes away from a TV set for more than the length of time it takes to transit from the house to the car. Thank god for iPads, though, because even that gap can be filled!

Kids safely deposited at school, you take your drab little soulless car and hop on the beltway.You make the two hour, thirty mile trip to work. You find a space to park your car - not too close to the other cars, lest someone ding your grey pride and joy, though! You lurch into your non-descript office building and trudge your way into cubicle-land. You talk about the latest thing you've TiVO'ed while taking half a bagel or donut from the tray in the break room. You spend your day staring at a computer monitor while what's left of your humanity dies a little more.

The day crawls by in a blur of pointless meetings and pointless smalltalk. You stumble out into the parking lot trying to remember, "where did I park my car" because, god knows you can't tell your little grey or silver suburbia-mobile from another. Thank god you got that "clever" personalized license plate, those "funny" bumper stickers and the family window stickers to help you tell your little grey or silver suburbia-mobile from the others. Ah! There it is - the one that chirps when you press on your keyless entry system; the one saying "it's me you're looking for!" You toss your laptop case in the car and ready yourself for the slog home.

Two hours later, you've navigated the thirty miles back to your drab, beige house. The spouse is home, but the kids are still off at the mall. You can't remember which one, because there's so many nearby and the all look the same and have all the same stores in them. Time to send out the "come home for dinner" text message.

Eventually, the kids come home (yes, somehow, deepest, darkest suburbia is safe enough for them to be out at the mall, just not enough to walk to school). No one feels like cooking, so you pack the kids into the family truckster and head off to the nearest place to get chain food. You ignore each other over dinner, staring into your respective cellphones or notepad computers - catching up on the latest that FaceBook has to offer. Dinner is acceptable but utterly forgettable - it's just like the thousands you've had before at this or some other chain-food outlet.

You trundle the kids back to the family truckster and drive home so the kids can do their homework and so you can lose yourself in all the things you've TiVO'ed this week.

It goes on like this for the rest of your life. It all goes blurring by, featureless. One day, you actually die, but you don't really notice.