Living in Suburbia: The Good, the Bad, and the Babies

For about five years, I made Gaithersburg, Maryland my home. I lived there on a little-known street called Silkcotton Way, number 17723. As you may already guess by the name of the street, I was living in suburbia. Specifically, on a cul-de-sac. And right next to three additional cul-de-sacs. Where the nearest attraction was a day care (or is that a day scare?). Actually, three day scares.

I moved out to Gaithersburg from Washington, DC to be closer to my job, which was located in the booming biotechnology corridor of the state. Since this job was in conjunction with my obtaining a doctoral degree, I did not find much time for anything else outside of work and sleep. Thus, being stuck out in suburbia didn’t scare me, at least not at first. Towards the end of my degree, though, when the workload actually started lightening up (or maybe I just didn’t care anymore?), I started noticing several oddities about suburban life:

Too many kids

Call me paranoid, but when kids start outnumbering adults, there’s a smell of mutiny in the air. I didn’t see one house in that suburban landscape that was not populated with at least two, if not more, kids. The landlords of the house I occupied had one child when I moved in (I occupied the basement), and one on the way. By the time I left, there were at least four kids that I could find and count. Maybe more were present; I don’t know. What I do know is that, by the time I was finishing up my dissertation, it was so noisy in that house that I could barely concentrate on my studies. One night, around 2AM, when most children should be asleep, the landlords’ brood started raising havoc upstairs. I got so fed up that I took a big stock pot and started banging it on the ceiling to hopefully shut them up. It actually worked!

Since I worked with mice at lab, part of mouse husbandry (interesting choice of word) involves mating and genotyping mice. My mice were maintained in huge 10-box high racks that I would daily look into for new pregnancies, deaths, or litters. I came to call those mouse racks “the suburbs”, and the suburban houses that I would pass by on my way home, “mouse-houses”. The pattern of behavior was the same. I also came to understand the following saying: “The best-laid plans of mice and men are generally about equal.”

No kids- outside anyway

You would think that a three bedroom, two bathroom, one kitchen, and one living room quasi-colonial house would not be able to accommodate two adults, a sitter of some sort, plus 2.3+ kids all day. You’re wrong. Despite every house on the cul-de-sac and outlying blocks having all these progeny, hardly ever did I see the aforementioned progeny outside. No kids playing ball. No kids running around in their backyards. I’d hear plenty of screaming and hollering inside the houses, of course, but nothing outside. It was almost freaky, the dead silence of a picture-perfect, sunny and warm summer day. Why were all those kids indoors? Were they vampires?

Furthermore, not only were kids always indoors, but so were their parents and other relatives. Unless someone was walking to their car, or taking out the trash, the neighborhood appeared to be a complete ghost town. You never saw an old couple swinging away on their porch swing. You never saw barbeques, or people washing their cars. Just dead silence, everywhere you turned.

Your entertainment for the evening: fast food

Back in DC, you’d have to look long and hard to find a McDonald’s, or a Wendy’s, or even a Pizza Hut. Washingtonians are definitely more health-conscious, as well as particular, about what they eat. Walking around Gaithersburg, however, not only would you be able to find these three places, but these three places would all be situated on one block! I guess Gaithersburg was the place to go for fast food-hopping instead of bar-hopping.

It wasn’t as if real restaurants didn’t exist. The town did have a good amount of Peruvians, Mexicans, and Thai, all of whom set up excellent restaurants. But aside from the oddball whitie floating in (that’d be me in most cases), only other Peruvians, Mexicans, and Thai would ever be seen eating at these spots. The rest of the townspeople would be chowing down at the other authentic Mexican joint: Taco Bell.

Where’s the keg?

One of the interesting tidbits about Maryland is that it’s a haven for microbrewers. There are hop shops all around towns like Frederick, Germantown, and Rockville. There are beer-making competitions, beer fests, and several really good microbreweries. Yet, when I really stop to think about it, the town of Gaithersburg had few, if any, true bars. Bars existed, of course, if they were paired up with restaurants. But a real bar, where little to no food was served, and you had only bar stools for seating- um, no.

Beer and other drinks weren’t cheap either. The town certainly made you pay for your sin of inebriation. Eventually I started brewing my own beer, to defray the cost of my occasional indulgences. I got so good at making beer that eventually I had what I called “beer mountain”, a six-foot high pile of six-pack bottles upon six-pack bottles. I had porters, stouts, IPA’s, hefeweizens, and wheats. Then I went crazy with fruit and made all kinds of wheats from blueberries, raspberries, nectarines, peaches, cherries, strawberries, blackberries, and maybe even cranberries. My final goal was to make a kolsch, but my graduation got in the way. Darn.

Since when are paper and glue worth $400,000?

The biggest oddity that I noticed about Gaithersburg was its cheap (as in quality) housing. The walls of the houses and the condos in Gaithersburg are so thin that you can walk by them and hear exactly what is being said by the people inside. It’s a good thing the town is in a temperate climate, with a winter lasting three months at best. Otherwise, everyone would’ve gone broke from the outrageous heating bills.

Not only are the house walls made of paper, but it seems that the houses must’ve been glued together. I lived in a house that was five years old when I moved in. Within the next five years, the stairway railing became unhinged, the shower stall paneling fell/rotted away, and the ceiling “settled” about an inch (I know this because I could not open my closet door after 3 years had gone by- something above the door was blocking it from opening!). Pictures could also not be hung, due to ceilings and walls being either 80, or 70, or 100 degrees with respect to each other- never the expected 90. Therefore, anything nailed up would always appear lopsided, making you wonder if you were living in a funhouse. And, if anything that was hung up was over 10 pounds in weight, watch out: in the middle of the night that heavy object would come crashing down, and taking half a wall with it.

Despite all this, the housing market in Gaithersburg commanded no less than $400,000 per Elmer’s glue project. By the time my landlords sold their house, that house had appreciated 100%. I’m still kicking myself, to this day, that I didn’t buy a mouse-house of my own while living there for those 5 years.

Four months following graduation, I left for my new job in Madison. I said goodbye to the little town of Gaithersburg, where I spent a good portion of my 20’s. I do miss certain aspects of it from time to time (like the Summit Station Brewery- sob!), but I also came to realize that suburban living is not for me. Nevertheless, it was fun while it lasted…

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