“I’d rather live in a cardboard box than live in the suburbs when I grow up” I said to my mom once, in a fit of misguided late-teen angst. I was learning a lot about walkable cities, environmental stewardship, and community (my “Developing a Christian Mind” class was on New Urbanism, if that offers any insight).
Moving to New York seemed perfect. It would be so incredibly convenient to do away with cars and live somewhere with a highly functional and heavily trafficked public transit system. However, I slowly began to realize that getting out of the city takes careful planning, and destinations are limited to places that are serviced by public transit. I also realized that if I go out to shop, I need to carry my purchases home with me*.
After living in the city for about half a year, my husband turned on NASCAR. It was on a whim. We were out for cheesesteaks, and the time trials were on, and suddenly he wanted to go home, sit on the couch with a can of Miller Lite, and watch cars drive around and around a track—and, well, so did I! Now, Josh comes from a family of NASCAR-watchers, so he can claim nostalgia, but I have no excuse. I just found it somehow soothing to do this incredibly low-brow thing in my Chelsea walkup with my dense theology tomes.
I tried a couple of times to tell people we’d started watching NASCAR. I thought we could share a laugh, but I found this typically results in a concerned and almost frightened look, like today we’re watching cars drive in a circle and drinking beer that twenty-one-year-old Alissa would have scorned, and tomorrow we’ll be watching Fox News and voting for Donald Trump.
Now don’t get me wrong—there are a lot of amazing things about living in New York. I’ve seen Hamilton (the musical) twice, which could stand alone as reason enough for why it’s great to live in the city. My list could go much longer, however: my husband finds some exciting new show for us to go to on a weekly basis, it seems. We have New York City ID cards that got us free memberships to a bunch of museums and cultural institutions. There’s an overwhelming number of fantastic places to eat—and, our Chinese takeout place has soup dumplings (which, now that I’ve brought them up, I want).
Somehow, though, moving to a place like NYC made me realize, perhaps for the first time, just how much there is to love about Middle America, the suburbs and the pint-sized cities and the long stretches of farmland, the people who are both weirdly friendly and reserved, the roomy grocery aisles and shelves stocked with reasonably priced cold cereal. I’ve realized that for me, living in the suburbs might not be the worst thing ever.
These days, I daydream about having a house that has a yard and a washer and dryer. I daydream about having a car again—a crossover or small SUV would be the dream, actually, even though eighteen-year-old me is dying inside when I admit that. I don’t even love driving that much, but I daydream about having a car and driving that car to the store, and buying things, and putting things in the car, and driving them home.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of these feelings. I don’t know what it means to enjoy life in NYC and then go to the bookstore and page through Cabin Living magazine, or pull up real estate listings on my laptop. I don’t know what it means to be a bleeding-heart liberal who enjoys NASCAR and would prefer driving herself to the store to walking or using public transit. I guess homesickness and longing can take a lot of forms and follow a body anywhere—even to the sort of place many people just dream of inhabiting.
*Fellow New Yorkers will rebut this with talk of collapsible carts and delivery services—valid points, but this part of my life is still a big fat pain in the neck.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.