I loved being able to walk one block in any direction and find a corner grocery store. I loved having the best tasting pizza, cheesesteaks, hoagies and Italian food within a two-square-mile radius. I loved being able to walk to Veterans Stadium to catch a Phillies game or see the July 4th fireworks from my neighbor’s front porch.
It took me 26 years to move out from under my parents’ roof. But even then it just meant that I moved five blocks away with a roommate. And then we moved yet another five blocks away a second time when my roommate bought a new home. But it took something unpredictable to get me to pack up from the familiar safety of city life and move outside of my comfort zone.
It took love to get the boy out of the city.
Nicole lived in the burbs in Wynnewood, just north of City Line Avenue. I got my first real taste of suburban life when we started dating and I gave Nicole her the first real taste of city life. We spent time in both places so often that we never really thought much about where we would end up living when the inevitable occurred.
Then she took a job in Jenkintown. And that, as they say, is all she wrote.
We started our search for places to live and almost right away found the perfect place in the suburbs. It was in September of 2003 that we moved into an apartment in Abington just five minutes away from Nicole’s office. That’s no small accomplishment considering I was 29 and still didn’t have a driver’s license. City living meant I never needed a car and suburban life meant I’d either need to learn to drive or get used to longer trips with SEPTA. I opted for the Trailpass and a 30-minute commute to work.
Our apartment was just about 800 square feet of happiness surrounded by trees and bushes and grass and all of the things I didn’t see in abundance during my South Philly rowhome days. But even with that small glimpse of greenery and paradise, I didn’t get a real taste for suburban living until we bought our first home a few years later.
Nicole and I were married in 2005 and exactly one year later we bought a home in Roslyn. The house we selected was what many would have considered a starter house, but Nicole and I bought what we called our forever home. At that’s as much of a commitment as I’ve ever made to saying I was completely happy with never living in the city again.
I found replacements for my favorite spots, and in some instances they were even improvements over what I was used to back in my city days. It’s crazy to think that the best pizza I’ve ever tasted comes from Horsham. Or that I needed to move out of the city to find the best sushi.
I still didn’t have a license to drive and, more importantly, I still hadn’t needed to really grasp what suburban living was all about. But up until the spring of 2007 I had never stepped behind a power lawn mower.
I remember telling Nicole to make sure she had her cell phone charged and nearby. Just in case.
“Just in case of what?” she asked.
“Just in case you need to call 9-1-1,” I replied.
She laughed, but I was dead serious. I primed the mower, pulled the cord, and as soon as the engine roared to life I became a full-fledged suburbanite. It took me forty minutes to mow my backyard and, while it didn’t look like the outfield at Citizens Bank Park when I was finished, I was proud of what I was able to accomplish. I even managed to do the job without needing Nicole to call for a rescue from emergency personnel.
Seven and a half years after leaving South Philly and moving to Abington I am still adjusting to the subtle differences. I don’t see old ladies sweeping their pavements after it rains. When something happens on my street, the neighbors don’t look outside their windows or front doors to see what’s going on. Double-Parking is just an urban legend that fathers tell their sons to scare them at night. Hell, having your very own parking spot is just a matter of how many cars you can fit onto your driveway. Which of course isn’t a problem for me since I still don’t drive.
But there are things I miss, as well. I miss being able to walk to Phillies games. I miss that convenience of a corner store and knowing the name of the guy selling me my milk. And, believe it or not, I miss the fact that my neighbors don’t seem to know every single aspect of my private life as if they were mind-readers. There’s an almost umcomfortable level of personal space you gain when you move to the ‘burbs, like being in the Witness Protection Program.
And when it comes to having to mow the lawn every week once the seasons change, I almost miss my eight-by-ten concrete backyard from the city. In those days, “weeding” meant pulling the occasional dandelion from a crack in the sidewalk. Now I need to devote an entire morning to yard work every seven days and have to deal with the resulting farmer’s tan.
The main difference now is that I don’t worry about having to call 9-1-1.