Stranger in a Strange Land: Go West?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Go West?

Sometime back in the lyrical nineties, the Pet Shop Boys sang:

“Go West, Life is peaceful there;
Go West, In the open air;
Go West, Where the skies are blue;
Go West, This is what we’re gonna do.”

Heeding their advice, I went west. Sort of. Literally, I moved east from Iowa City. But in the end I landed in Embassy West, a neighborhood located in Dubuque’s West End District. So figuratively, and for the sake of argument, I moved west.

I came looking for peacefulness and open spaces. I have a yard with wildflowers. I live in a neighborhood with kids riding big wheels. I can see cornfields from my front porch and hear crickets chirping outside my bedroom window. Out West the grass is always green and the sky always blue. Yes, life out here is most definitely better. Or at least it was. One morning that all changed. Instead of its typical cobalt blue, the sky was painted a phosphorescent yellow. Curious, I went to the window to investigate the cause of this change. As I opened the blinds, I dropped my mug of lukewarm coffee and I threw my hands to my eyes, trying in vain to shield them from the radiating glow of the newly erected golden arches. At this moment I realized I was no longer living out West. I was now an official resident of Suburbia.

Later, I sit outside my new Suburbia Starbucks, enjoying a pumpkin spiced latte topped with whipped cream. I relax and gaze out across the vast and restless concrete sea, polluted with the constant congestion of not-so-compact cars. Across the parking lot I see the illuminated light of the Hy-Vee Starbucks. I jokingly tell my wife with a nod of my head, “Seems about right…a Starbucks every block.” Unfortunately, she cannot hear me over the mechanical roar echoing from the now desolate country fields of Sam’s Land.

Granted, Suburbia isn’t all sprawl and S.U.V.’s. I must admit, having a grocery store on the way home from work is a pleasant convenience. The huge influx of name-brand stores has made family shopping trips to Davenport all but obsolete. With its great variety of restaurants, from seafood to a retro diner, no one goes hungry in Suburbia. And I will be the last to complain about living next to a state-of-the-art movie theater.

But fast forward to the weekend. I am wandering the disappointingly quiet streets of downtown Dubuque and cannot help but think how nice it would be if we took all the action occurring out west and moved it here. I imagine the scene: People shopping and eating dinner up and down Main Street, an indie-movie theater screening a show in the now fully developed Warehouse District and people actually living in the surrounding neighborhoods. I see myself sitting outside Starbucks, watching people doing the exact same across the street. Instead of cars and concrete, I envision the scenery of renovated buildings, natural bluffs, and people simply enjoying the soul of their city.

Bored, drunk, and too cheap to hire a cab, I make the brilliant decision to walk home. Over an hour into my walkabout and not even half way, I stop, catch my breath, and utter, “Man…those Pet Shop Boys are full of shit”.

I’m moving East.


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