Off the beat: Stuck in the suburbs

Carli

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Hopefully, this will be my last winter in the suburbs for a while. I’ve lived in four or five different suburbs of the greater Sacramento area since I moved to Sacramento when I was 1 year old. When my brother started college in August, my family quickly moved out of the area. This month though, we’ve all come back to Sacramento for the holidays, and I’m pretty sure this will be the last time we’ll all be living in this particular suburb. When I head back to Berkeley to begin my last semester of college, my brother will be returning to the East Coast, my dad to his new life in Washington, and this suburban period of my life will be officially over.

I’d like to call these last weeks bittersweet, as I reminisce about my hometown in the Jeep Cherokee I borrowed from my dad for a few days. But now, sitting in a Starbucks that is one of eight within a five-minute drive (including one less than 500 feet away from where I sit, in a nearby Safeway), I can safely say that I’m ready to leave this lifestyle behind me.

When I think of the suburbs, I think of living in a place where walking isn’t encouraged as a form of transportation. I can’t remember many times that I walked somewhere as a child, mainly because my neighborhood didn’t have anything other than houses within walking distance. In middle school, a big trip with my friends was walking to the nearest gas station, which was a nearly thirty minute round-trip.

Growing up, I got used to spending a lot of mornings and afternoons in cars. Driving 30 minutes to get to school every morning, an hour to drop my brother off at soccer, 45 minutes to get downtown, I felt that a lot of my engagement with my city happened through a car window. However, despite the miles I put on my car, I always seemed to find myself at the same places. Lunches with friends happened at Panera or Chipotle, coffees at Starbucks or Peet’s. These places became fixtures of my life as a teenager, but with locations and staff that were only backdrops to the standardized food and drinks.

Living in the suburbs for so many of my formative years also definitely made me complacent in my surrounding community. Having the opportunity to live near so many businesses and parks now in Berkeley has definitely challenged me to actually engage with these places and to develop a routine and familiarity that I lacked growing up. I’ve started to pride myself in the fledgling relationships I’ve formed with the people I interact with in my neighborhood, even if the interactions are mostly superficial. The jokes from the guy at the corner store, the smiles from my neighbor with two adorable toddlers, even the slight nod of recognition from the homeless man on Euclid Avenue make me feel like I’m home. But with so many options in Sacramento, I was less inclined to make an effort to know the people around me, and it has definitely affected how at home I feel when I’m in town.

I acknowledge the privilege I’ve had that allowed me to afford a car during high school, and which now allows me to live in a place where most of my daily needs can be met within three miles of my house. Many people have to travel hours to and from work in order to provide for their families, while others have to rely on bodegas and liquor stores because they’re all that’s available to them. I am a product of my environment, and I know that coming back to the suburbs shows just how comfortable I can be driving everywhere and how quickly I can get used to the disposable lifestyle of fast food and drive-thrus.

I loved coming home and seeing old friends and family. I appreciate the time I’ve had here to enjoy my last long break of my academic career and mark the end of my life as a student who has two homes. When I leave the suburbs in a few days to come back to Berkeley, I’ll be bringing all of my things from home with me. 2014 marks the start of my life in the Bay Area, with all the joys and struggles that it will bring me. This winter break has taught me that I’m ready to begin this new phase of my life and revel in living on my own two feet and experiencing my home city in the fresh air.

“Off the Beat” guest columns will be written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers are selected.

Contact Carli Baker at [email protected].