There’s something creepy about the suburbs. We live in the center of Aachen, Germany, a smallish city, but the Germans are celebrated window-shoppers, so the streets are always choked with people. We flew to Kenosha, Wisconsin, a few weeks ago, and the city there is a mass of wood-frame cookie cutter houses stuck to Lake Michigan like a calcified barnacle. There we stayed for six days, waking at dawn with the baby, doing nothing but sitting, watching TV, listening to distant relatives coo and chide. The first night, the change in time zones had dilated the day like relativity, and our normal 24 became 33. We woke at 4 the next morning, streets quiet under cover of night, and tarried for the world to lighten so we could hurry up and wait. Later, once lunch and the cavalcade of clucking aunts had gone, I stood at the window, blind-covered and double-paned to keep sun and cold away in equal measure, and there it was. It hit me. The streets were empty. Not a car passed. Not a jogger. No one.
Where were the people? On my block in Aachen, where I live above a music store a century old, any time of day I see them. Grey-haired shoppers, arms heavy with crinkly bags; well-dressed prostitutes, slipping to crumbling brothels on Antoniusstraße, just around the corner; and fat-fingered musicians squeezing songs from accordions, wheezing like dying things. But Kenosha is a decaying bedroom community half-way between Milwaukee and Chicago. There is nothing there, and no one.
Give me my city, my home. Give me New Orleans, with its rotting houses and stinking streets. Its low standards and its sickly sweetness dripping from every pore, a fevered diabetic, twisting in its sheets, not brave enough to cut off its own feet to save itself. Say what you want, but the city is never boring. Like Aachen. Not like K-Town.