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Prisoners of our Cars

Posted in Family Stories, Freedom, Personal Stuff, and Uncategorized

Originally Published in May, 2010 – Still loving the townhouse and city living

I grew up in Maryville, TN, always living within easy walking or biking distance of West Side Elementary, Sam Houston elementary, Maryville Junior High, Maryville High, First Baptist Church, Williams Furniture Company, J C Penney, Parks Belk, Dixon’s Barber Shop, Pistol Creek, Gilberts Soda Fountain, The Maryville College Woods, the Capitol Theater, a dozen or so Scouting and fishing buddies, several potential girl friends, and Granddaddy and Grandmother Williams. I used to hop on my bike and go to Grandmother’s house for a slice of Velveeta Cheese and a glass of milk and a little chat with her. Mayberry for sure!

My dad and granddad and uncle were in the furniture business and took turns being off Wednesdays but always worked on Saturdays when folks from the country traditionally came to town to do their shopping. I was usually there on Saturdays beginning around age 12. The immediate upside to that was that I usually had more spending money than most of my friends. The long term upside was that I learned a lot about business and about how to fix things creatively. The immediate downside was that I usually wanted to be somewhere else.

With that growing up experience, it is probably not surprising that my fantasy was to live on a lake somewhere in the boondocks and have a job working for a big company that never had Saturday office hours. I had that kind of career with Eastman Chemical Company, though punctuated the first twenty years or so with regular bouts of “weekend duty.” I didn’t realize the lake fantasy until we moved to Longcreek Plantation in Blythewood, SC, after retirement and built a house on three acres with a couple hundred feet of shoreline on a private lake.

That was great for five years, but we were eighteen miles from downtown Columbia and found ourselves going there just about every day, often separately, for various reasons. And, the yard work and home maintenance were relentlessly demanding.  So, four years ago we bought a townhouse, pre-construction, in downtown Columbia, sold the Longcreek place, and moved to an apartment in town to wait for the new housing.

We’ve been in the townhouse now for 2 ½ years and it is great. We are within easy biking or walking distance of groceries, museums, churches, theaters, restaurants, doctors, the SC State House, the University of South Carolina, many volunteer opportunities, and a river full of fish. Our annual driving miles have dropped by about 10,000. It’s not Mayberry. Traffic is terrible and people will run over you if you aren’t careful. Suspicious looking folks are sometimes seen in the neighborhood. But the net result is fantastic. When we were discussing the possibility of this move, Karen said, “We’ll regret it if we don’t buy that place.” She was right. Now, if the grandkids just lived nearby so they could drop in for cookies and milk and chats from time to time.

What made me think of this on this particular morning was an article in the current Atlantic about a reversal of the suburban expansion and development that occurred over the past few decades as home-buyers now are demanding walkable neighborhoods with convenient access to work and shopping and recreation. Some are even arguing that abandoned suburbs with plummeting values will become the new slums as people move into the cities. Well, if I am ahead of the curve on this trend, it will be a first for me. If not, at least I will be able to walk to the grocery store after the geriatric police take away my driver’s license.

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