16 August, 2007
Today is the penultimate day of our vacation with Anna’s family. Tomorrow evening, we will pile our two boys and our belongings into the trusty Corolla and head back home to West Hartford, Connecticut. Except of course, that we are not really heading back, or home. We are heading out, going forward, doing something new and quite unlike what we’ve done before. We are leaving our crowded little apartment in the crowded little city of Somerville, Mass. (preceded by like abodes in Cambridge and Brooklyn), for a proper house, three bedrooms and a living room and a dining room (fully separate from the kitchen, mind you) AND a finished basement, all sitting upon a quarter acre of gracious, green, unapologetically boring, suburban land.
The funny thing is that the move to me seems worthy of excitement. We have purchased a perfectly sensible, utterly unexceptional Dutch colonial (that is a kind of house, I have learned) in a bland, agreeable suburb in central Connecticut (very fine schools, of course). Anna has a tenure-track position at a highly respected university and I have what promises to be an engaging non-profit lawyering job. In short order, we will buy a second car – a minivan perhaps, or a station wagon – to park in the second spot in our two-car garage and tote around our two children, presumably to soccer practice, PTA meetings, Klan rallies, and the like. We are standing on the precipice of no precipice at all, just the long slide toward middle-class, average, American comfort.
And yet, I feel I’m entering uncharted territory. I’ve never lived outside a city, never lived in anything but an apartment. As a teenager and even in my early twenties, I assumed without much thought that I’d never own a car, let alone a house. I described West Hartford to my best friend, who grew up with me in Brooklyn: the endless, quiet, tree-lined streets, the sidewalks empty of people after dark, the well-kept houses uniformly filled with the flickering blue glow of television. He said, “You’re kind of like a spaceman there.” He’s right, but instead of feeling like I’m taking an appalling cultural step backward, selling out, failing it to keep it street, etc., I’m excited. It’s like I’m embarking on a sociological adventure, an exchange program far more exotic than the year I spent in Argentina when I was fifteen. Also, it will be nice to have enough space, which we have not had since Max was born, and less still since Reuben came on the scene. Did I mention that we might buy a new car?
Maybe I am selling out and loving it. Anyway, the great unknown begins now . . .
17 March, 2010
The first half mile of an early morning bicycle ride in the cold is never good. The air is always sharper than I expected, finding its way between layers to chill my back and toes and make me think I should have bundled up more. No matter how hard I pedal, I can’t seem to move as fast as I’d like to, a point made manifest by the little speed meters the town police have installed here and there, one of of them a block from home, informing me that I am topping out at 17 miles an hour. Actually, that’s not bad for an old three-speed loaded with lunch, computer, and a 200-pound man in khakis and loafers, but the first half mile is about perception, and it feels slow. And cold.
It’s mostly dark at a quarter of six, and my end of town is shielded from the east by a pair of hills, so the dawn looks like someone shining a dim flashlight up from behind Hartford. As always in my godforsaken suburb, the only people on the street are dog-walkers and joggers, who are marginally more scarce at this hour. Cars, though, are mostly absent, so it is quiet. Just behind me, I hear the soft, regular clicking of the antique bicycle hub, parts forged and assembled forty-odd years ago in a northern English factory town, where hundreds of people likely plodded to work on three-speeds in pre-dawn hours; just ahead of me, I hear the zizzing whisper of an equally aged tire negotiating the asphalt. This is the part of the ride where I think about life.
And so? I suppose if I could have chosen an existence for myself in a central Connecticut suburb, had I even been able to name a central Connecticut suburb three years ago, I might have liked this: the misfit doing a 60-mile commute by bicycle and train in a place where people won’t even walk three blocks to the grocery store. That is an encouraging thought for a chilly March morning: I have not sold out. I still ride my bike whenever I can. I still work in the ghetto, still meet my clients at night in project hallways, still fight the good fight for a lot less money than most of my law school classmates are earning these days.
Oh, the “but” is a serious thing in this internal conversation: I spend a lot of hours in the car every week. I have gained fifteen pounds. I live in West Hartford, an uppity, mostly white suburb that seems to pride itself, above all, on being different than the desperately poor city it adjoins – the kind of suburb I hate, not just because it is boring, but because it represents the abandonment by those with means of those without, the unapologetic self-interest underneath our vaunted American individualism. Oh, and in order to engage in this pleasurable bicycle commute, I have left my house before dawn and foregone the pleasure of breakfast with my wife and children, and Jesus H. Christ, commuting 60 miles by any method short of a helicopter is fucking absurd, and on top of that my job is too crazy, and I can never get enough done, and we can never make a dent in our credit card debt, and I really need to go to the dentist, and . . .
Luckily there’s not too much time for quiet reflection. I am past the hills now and moving through Hartford at a good clip. It’s warmer, and the air feels less like raw late winter and more like the muddy, optimistic ferment of early spring. Every now and then, the lovely, gold-domed Capitol peaks up ahead of me with glorious dawn behind it, and I get to thinking that phrase that has become my mantra since moving here: Maybe life isn’t so bad.
Where Farmington and Asylum Avenues converge, an empty lot slants downhill to a tangle of highway ramps. Above sits a huge patch of sky-blue openness, fringed with Hartford’s chrome skyline and punctuated on the southwestern edge by the Capitol, tall and unapologetically overwrought. I hesitate, caught between wanting to take a picture and worrying I will miss my train, but then I am buoyed by the pleasing thought that I will get to see this breathtaking panorama many many times again. I keep moving down Farmington, under the highway overpass and to the train station. Of course, I should have checked the time: I arrive at with fifteen minutes to spare.