Down on the Farm: Adventures in Suburbia
For this year's winter getaway, I am for the first time ever living in a suburban tract home.
Located in a massive development on the outskirts of Phoenix, the home is an improvement over living in an apartment.
The house has a yard. It is a small yard, but it is a yard. It is a yard without a blade of grass, but a gravel yard is still a yard, and a private enough yard so you can walk outside without having to gussy up in full garb.
The house has loads of windows. The first thing I did was open all the shades. Light everywhere!
The fear is that people will look in. However, none of the surrounding houses has a single shade open. So, if they don't open theirs, why should I shut mine?
Only about 60 percent of the homes show signs of life. Perhaps the owners haven't arrived from the Midwest yet. Perhaps they have arrived, but have expired since. How would one know?
The streets are cleverly designed so that none of them can be used for through traffic. That means if you get lost, it is like being in a corn maze. With cactus.
Compounding the directional difficulty, the streets all curve. This is called planned variety. Since all the houses are identical, something had to be nonlinear.
Curved row after curved row of houses. And you can't cross one curved row to the other curved row with your car unless you drive 2.4 miles.
Say you choose the wrong curved row looking for Marilyn and Bob's place. You stop and call them on the cell.
Marilyn walks out onto their patio and sees your car on the next curved street. You see Marilyn. You have connected! All is well! Supper is ready!
Not so fast. It might be half-an-hour before you can find your way to Marilyn and Bob's curved street.
Then you must make sure Marilyn or Bob stands in front of their house to distinguish it from the hundreds of other houses that look precisely the same.
"Our house has the big rock out front," doesn't cut it. The house numbers have so many digits that it is like finding the right number in the phone book without seeing the names.
In a nice touch, the developers kept large tracts of desert intact and webbed those tracts with well-groomed trails, some of which lead into the wilderness.
Wildlife is plentiful. On a sunset walk the other evening, a huge hawk lit upon a saguaro right in between the back yards of two homes on two separate curved streets.
Both back yards featured loudly barking dogs. Why would the hawk land there, of all places, with safe wilderness only two hundred yards away?
Dumb question. They were little dogs. Where there are dogs, there too might be kittens. Thus, the hungry hawk.
Walking trails run right along back yard after back yard. All the back yards are enclosed by steel fencing. About one fourth of the houses feature a barking dog within the steel fence.
No dog is ever going to escape that steel fencing. I feel no danger, although I admit to a rush of anxiety when I hear the collar jingle towards me before the barking starts.
I wonder, what is the purpose of these dogs? Then the owners emerge from the house, and my question is answered.
Having raised their children and dispatched them off to suburban jobs somewhere other than Arizona, retired couples need something to scold and yell at.
"Buffy!" screams either Bud or Sharon Olson from just northeast of Omaha. "Get back here! Now! Bad dog! Get back here! How many times have I told you!"
The vicious schnauzer continues to protect the back yard from walkers, oblivious to the angry demands that it suspend its instincts and let the walkers pass by unbarked upon.
Out of it all, both parties within the fence win: The schnauzer gets to protect something and Bud and Sharon get to yell at something.
And the walker walks on unscathed, knowing that at some point he will emerge onto a curved street which looks like all the other curved streets.
Having escaped the clutches of the schnauzer, he must now find his own house.