Every major metropolis has at least one border area where big boxes are replacing everything else, and all the residences are still packed with undereducated Italians and Irish who are being quickly, unstoppably, and fearfully replaced by Hispanics. All you have to do is very briefly exist between the Ciy and the Suburbs to know this is the truth: in the great nether-region where cultures meet and hate each other, racism, ignorance, "the high cost of low price," and lowbrow cultural homogeneity rule every day.
I grew up in one of these areas in New York City--where the White People flee the Tan People and the big chains take advantage of mythical declining property values to purchase the nearby municipal swamp and plunk the standard combination TargetOldNavyBabiesRUsStaplesCostcoRegionalSportingGoodsStoreStarbucksChainSteakhouse down next to the only highway around, or whatever passes for one.
Since I grew up in such an area--an urban-suburban ecotone--it's utterly stultifying to see how, for one thing, the exact same same combination of ingredients are available anywhere else beyond the northeast Bronx, southern Brooklyn, or eastern Queens, and for another thing, how these same ingredients create the exact same neighborhood in and around multiple American cities. Honestly, beyond New York, I've only really experienced it on the fringes of Urban Boston (not the same thing as the "Greater Boston" everyone refers to; that's the term suburbanites use to attach themselves to the mythically "vibrant" urban core here).
A few weeks ago, in need of still more clothing, Abbey and I ventured through the Boston North Shore Urban Ecotone, the no-man's-land between the glitz of the Leonard A. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge and vast suburbia.
Once you've crossed the Mystic River Marshes in Somerville, Medford, and Everett, all hell breaks loose. Half of Medford is comprised of parking lots built around giant supermarkets. There's the infamous, indoor Ghetto Glen Mall. Everett offers the aforementioned CostcoTargetOldNavyChainSteakhouseEtcEtc combo, not even a mile away. Traffic permanently clogs the woefully inadequate, two-lane Route 16, one of many major highways around Boston where every interchange involves 5 signals and at least as many acres of connecting roads. They were apparently designed in an era that placed a much lower value on plant life.
But the worst atrocity of all is the Square One Mall in Saugus. Located in a dumpy suburb along historic Route 1, this complex seems to attract the most doomed forms of humanity as well as or better than the average subway car (in the ecotone, there are no subways, only asphalt).
There's the ever-chirping Nextel Crowd, shouting at their phones and staring off into space.
There are the too-tan housemoms who use the word IGNERANT as an insult, just like my own housemom. I heard one doing it repeatedly in Sears, telling her husband very audibly, "YA KNOW WHAT HER PRABLEM IS? SHE'S FUCKIN IGNERANT! IGNERANT, ALLADEM!"
There still are goth kids! Always fattening at the food court.
While at the food court (ice cream!), I got in line behind a 400-pound electonics store employee. A Suburban Italian Princess in what looked like a fancy pajama set walked up to the girl behind the counter and said hello.
Girl behind the counter: Omygod, you're so tan! Where did you go, prom?
Suburban Italian Princess in What Looks Like Expensive Pajams: Yeah, it was so lame.
And they walk back and forth, as they did in "Dawn of the Dead" thirty years ago, carrying bags back and forth back and forth back and forth. No one makes eye contact with one another. Everyone bops and shops to the canned beat. The blacks and whites hate each other, but you can't see or hear it.
They have to behave in the big boxes because the big boxes are where all the stuff is. And it's just a little sad that the big boxes are the only places where the people are remotely happy--where they have to go to give their money away.
Back outside, it's wall-to-wall traffic jams, white flight, lack of any cultural options for humans over age 5, declining tax bases, slumification. A stone's throw from the resources of the city, but light years away in terms of intellectual and financial capital. Unless, of course, you own the mall.
This borderland is a shitty place to grow up, and a wonderful place to break out of. I'm only sorry I have to go back in to buy pants.