I was never meant to grow up where I grew up. Many people feel this way, I suppose, but in my case it was literally true. I was supposed to have grown up in Evanston. That was where I was born and where I spent a formative baby year. My parents wanted to buy a house there. They only needed $5000. But my grandmother wouldn’t give them a loan. All they could afford was a tiny half of a duplex in Des Plaines.

You might well ask, what’s the big difference? The two towns are both suburbs of Chicago, and they are only a few miles apart. But there is a world of difference. Evanston is a college town, a place where professors smoking pipes and wearing tweed jackets with elbow patches can be found lurking in bookstores. It is a town where there are bookstores, where the trees are huge and old, and the houses are huge and brick. It is a town with a downtown, with a lakefront, with a train line to the city.

I would walk my bare flat streets, staring at the bland beige ranch houses and the new strip malls going up, trying to understand the world where I was fated to grow up. There must be some reason for this. I checked out a book from the university library called Suburbia: Its People and Their Politics by Robert C. Wood. I read:

The most fashionable definition of suburbia today is that it is a looking glass in which the character, behavior, and culture of middle-class America is displayed…Suburbs depend upon the special technological advances of the age: the auto, rapid transit, asphalt pavement, delivery trucks, septic tanks, water mains, etc.

The thing about the septic tanks and water mains was certainly true. There seemed to be work going on all the time in my town. Just down the street, there was a hole being dug for a new sewer. One Sunday when the workers weren’t there I peered down, wondering if it would provide me with a gateway to the Rootweavers’ world. It went down deep enough that it seemed damp at the bottom. I went back to the house for my shovel.

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