You can’t go home to a trailer park and farm in North Carolina again, not after living the simple bicycling lifestyle in Chicago for three years. It’s not that folks from my hometown read my blog and hate me for portraying them as bumpkins, a modern and predictably crappy remake of Thomas Wolfe, simply that my way of seeing the world has changed dramatically in the past few years.
A Vanity Fair article I read years ago aptly described my military hometown as a mix of strip bars and Baptist churches. Growing up, I itched to get out of my city; it was an ill-fitting sweater that took 16 years to wrestle off, catching my limbs, pulling my nose, tangling my hair and finally releasing me as I gulped for fresh air. My yearnings were basically the cliche teenage feeling that there is a big world going on without me – not a world of parties and glamor, but a world of pedestrians and cafes. I had fantasies of sidewalks, which I knew existed from TV and rare visits to family in Massachusetts, and a hazy idea of “culture” that my city lacked.
My hometown is a pod world, where the city functions only as a series of tubes to travel from pod to pod. Pod 1 – house. Pod 2 – friend’s house. Pod 3 – Walmart. Pod 4 – chain restaurant. Each pod may be lovely, filled with laughing family and home-cooked meals and loyal pets, but there is no in-between. No journey, all destination. Walking and bicycling are abnormal, left only to the most desperate populations. Nashville looks like Copenhagen in comparison. If this all sounds a bit too Kafkaesque, then I’ve described it accurately. Unless I’m a pretentious city girl who’s forgotten where she came from, which is possible.
I sometimes idealize my in-laws’ farm as a country sanctuary, and while I sit at my work desk, in my head I loll on a porch swing twisting grass with my toes and talking to earthy great-grandma Lula who lived to 100 years old, but I’m not prepared for what lies outside – a narrow 2-lane country highway with no shoulder leading to truck stops and gas stations. The stark reality is that I would have to create my own culture: cook my own Thai food, bake my own to-die-for Bavarian cream donuts, perform plays masterfully in my own head, be my own yoga teacher, grow my own bouquets and fill my own time. A thrilling fantasy, but a daunting and lonely reality. What makes for a wild, free-range childhood would make for a suffocating adulthood.
Everyone’s different – and I’d love to hear from the country mice out there – but I say: Give me a train outside my window, different languages whirling around my head, throngs of people, bright lights, buses, sidewalk cafes, neighborhood pubs, theaters with Shakespeare and ballet, art museums, and – most of all – bicycles. I belong in the city. I’m home again, simply to a new home.