After a week of house-sitting in the burbs, I took note of some of the major lifestyle
changes (or stressors) I experienced within the first 72 hours. To say the least, these changes served up an unhealthy dose of culture shock, which I wasn’t prepared for; and by the end of day three, my anxiety was through the roof. Since this was sort of a last-minute favor for friends, I decided to make the most of this experience — to find ways to relax and enjoy this time away from my usual surroundings. Despite that, I found myself restless and counting down the days till I was back in the comfort of my own neighborhood – where you can actually see and hear people; where getting around town is a breeze; where healthy food options are within arms reach; where there’s much to see and enjoy on foot; and where there’s more flexibility in meeting up with family and friends — particularly on short notice. All in all, it was an interesting learning experience for this city girl, and I think the humor of it all is worth sharing…
In a previous post, I shared some of the details of my car-free lifestyle, but I didn’t offer any comparisons to the alternative. That’s because I had few firsthand examples to point to — excluding years of experience as an overly-engaged passenger seat driver trying to get in and out of my parents’ South Austin neighborhood (which I didn’t grow up in by the way).
In the days leading up to my week-long stint, however, I knew I would have to plan my trips to and from work around unfavorable roadway conditions, including road closures and traffic congestion. Instinctively, I made it a goal to leave early and to avoid highways at all costs… to preserve my sanity and to avoid the possibility of being completely stuck at any given point. Even so, I had to exercise a great deal of patience and divert my attention away from the clock while navigating alternate routes. Sounds dramatic, but seriously y’all, I had no idea that being behind the wheel on a long stretch of road coupled with sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic could stir up so many negative emotions. Throw in the Texas heat and an ineffective sun visor and you have a recipe for utter exhaustion…
And don’t get me started on parking.
Diet and Exercise
Cruising along a major roadway day in and day out increased my exposure to fast food restaurants, and it wasn’t long before I caved and decided to give a few of them a try. Under normal circumstances, this sort of temptation isn’t an issue for me. There are no drive thrus on my regular routes (and the city buses don’t make pit stops), so if I really want fast food, I have to go out of my way to get to it. Nevertheless, at the end of each workday, I wanted to grab something quick and not think about what to eat once I arrived at what was my home for the week. With so many options to choose from, my new diet included your typical burgers, fries, and soft drinks… and burritos…and nachos. Sadly, the guilt wasn’t enough to keep me away.
I should mention that I ate these meals on a couch and in front of a TV. This is SO NOT ME. First of all, if I’m on my couch at home, I’m usually entertaining friends, reading a book, or working — not eating and watching TV. (Have I mentioned that I don’t watch TV at all?) Second, I pick up dinner (and most other meals) on foot; and if I allow myself to wander far enough, this serves as a good amount of exercise I wouldn’t get otherwise.
All this is to say that I was the ultimate couch potato that week.
For some people, it’s a dream to live in a large, single-family home, surrounded by other large single-family homes in a secluded area. For people like me, however, this is a bit of a nightmare as it creates an invisible barrier between me and the rest of the world and allows my imagination to run rampant.
During my stay, I never knew if any of the neighbors were home because I couldn’t see or hear them. I took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood a few times and I saw maybe two or three people all week. In an attempt to make some sort of connection to the surrounding community, I visited the nearest coffee shop. Usually, there were no more than three of four people there at a time — reading the paper and doing their own thing. Subconsciously, I scanned the tables for familiar faces (which aren’t hard to find in my own neck of the woods); and soon after, I had that feeling of being in an unfamiliar city. I couldn’t stand the quiet, so I sat for only a short period of time or got my coffee to-go.
I made plans to go to the local park, but I lost interest due to the summer heat. I thought about going to the nearest mall, but I didn’t want to spend money. So for the most part, it was just me and the dog all week… in a big house where no one knocked on the door or showed any signs of life.
I found comfort in double checking the locks and sleeping in the smallest room in the house each night.
The bright side of it all is that I was super-productive when I needed to be — planning a baby shower, responding to emails, doing a little research here and there, and so on. I even made time for long overdue phone calls and a video chat with a good friend on the east coast. (Thank God for electronic communication!)
This experience was uniquely my own, so I am in no way suggesting that this is reality for everyone living in a bedroom community. If nothing else, it highlights some of the ways in which one must adapt after making a big move from the hustle and bustle and conveniences of a core city neighborhood to a suburban one — particularly for the first time.
What do you love most about where you live?