Suburbs are swamps that lay around cities, sometimes fetid, sometimes sweet; always different in their sameness. Highways and freeways just hump it across the suburban experience. The engineers are trying to get you to ignore those endless stretches of houses, convenience stores, strip malls and fast food joints. It’s where the designers live and they don’t want you to stop or look. It’s like you’re passing over it in a low flying airplane.
“Avert your eyes!” Say the suburbs, like some stick-built Elephant Man, “I’m hideous! Look away! Watch the car in front of you please.”
He’d get off the freeway and roll through Stockton or Galt just to look around and find somewhere to eat. Hard towns were more authentic. Old, hard towns were better. Mobile, Alabama. Oakland, California. Oklahoma City was worth a ride through town. Kansas City was a stop and eat, don’t be stupid kind of town; anywhere in Missouri was old with brick and worth a look. You might not think it but Cedar Rapids was a good, old hard town. Hard towns had fighters. If it’s got a rep for fighters then it’s the kind of town you want to eat in. Yuma. Ogden. Rock Springs. Train towns. Towns that may be down but won’t get knocked out. Those kinds of places that may be past their prime but could still punch. Ali just past his prime–Mike Tyson in 2000. A rose with the bloom just off and the pedals loose, those sleeping dogs you should let lie. No staring or prolonged eye contact, just mind your own business towns.
Once in a hard little town in Nebraska the checker at the lunch counter had grabbed his hand and turned it hard, looked at the tat on the inside of his wrist and asked like a curious aunt, with an iimpossiblee 1960’s beehive of grey and blonde. She was every stern teacher and best friends harsh but loving mother.”What’s this?”
“My Pop,” was all he said.
“Huh,” Releasing his hand, “Twelve ninety-five.”
He was a leave-me-alone kind of guy in a leave-me-alone kind of store in a leave-me-alone kind of town. She was too.
He ate lunch in the park next to the grocery.