It happens all the time in suburbia. You’re walking down the street—almost always devoid of any sign of life—assuming you’re totally alone when—bam!—the sight of some creeper sitting in their car catches you off guard. Then they have the audacity to look at you as though you’re the one who’s a freak, who has somehow interrupted their bliss when, in fact, it’s the other way around. Derek understood that certain “anomalies” like this were to be expected when it came to living in the suburbs. Especially a suburb in California, already a milieu extremely dependent upon what is oxymoronically referred to as “car culture.” Yet when he had moved here, he had no intent of his own to purchase a car, relying instead on his bike or the intermittent and unreliable sources of public transportation that forced quite a bit of walking in the end.
That was just what had befallen him at this very instant when, for the umpteenth time since his arrival to the suburban environment, he was given a jump scare by the unanticipated sight of another human being, zombie-like though it might have been, sitting right next to him, as it were. The expressions on these automobile sitters’ faces never exhibited anything like shame, either. As though they had every right to just remain parked in their parked car. And sure, technically they did. But where was the sense of being worried about other people’s reactions and opinions that once made society such a well-oiled machine? All this sudden lack of concern about what anyone else thought based on a cockamamie creed of self-love and self-acceptance was more than Derek could bear. Mainly because he could see how much it was ultimately inciting a total atrophy of anything resembling decorum. An absence of fear over being deemed “weird.” And wasn’t suburbia originally designed expressly to stamp out all traces of weirdness (even if it was actually the apex of a freakshow)? Not anymore, Derek decided as he dislodged from his frozen-in-place mode and let the driver that was sitting in the car win the staring contest that had organically gotten underway.
She was slightly overweight and, if Derek were to guess, somewhere in her mid-forties. Not that he understood why it was so important to determine people’s ages all the time—it was just a matter of reflex in “Robocopping” a situation. Appraising it from within the interior of what was left of his mind. He might have lost most of it in opting to move here. A place where people hid out in their cars rather than just going inside their fucking houses. What a testament it must have been to the misery that awaited them within. Yet, in this woman’s case, she seemed to be eating from a bag of fast food that she was perhaps abashed to showcase in front of whoever else resided in her domicile. Of course, Derek could just be speculating. Maybe she lived alone. Maybe she was too fucking enraptured by her processed slop to wait until she was inside to eat it. Maybe she was an Uber driver. Maybe she was having an Olivia Rodrigo in “drivers license” moment, and couldn’t “drive past the places [she] used to go to” with an ex who lived on this very block (but honestly, it seemed very impractical to let oneself be sentimental about not going to particular places when the town already had so few to offer without crossing some off the list). There were ample possibilities for why she could be parked on the side of the street just sitting there. Yet none of them would prove to be legitimate enough “reasons” in Derek’s eyes. As far as he was concerned, if you parked your car, you ought to just get out of it. Shit or get off the fucking pot, as it is said. But no, suburbia provided some alternate universe-type cloak that stripped all such logic or sense of urgency away from people.
Suddenly realizing that he was still standing next to the car (though he had at least removed his gaze from the woman), Derek was further scandalized that she opened her door at that moment of his internal fury’s zenith. A decent person would have waited for him to pass by so as to make the entire scenario less awkward. This woman, waddling toward him now that she had closed her door and locked the vehicle, clearly had no anxiety about cultivating awkwardness. What must it be like to be this kind of person? One who doesn’t overthink or overexamine anything? Somebody who just freely plants themselves in a place they shouldn’t be and then feels no shame about it when they’re caught.
Remaining stock-still in the woman’s presence, Derek was further surprised when she looked him up and down, chortled and said, “Cat got your tongue?” He collected himself long enough to sputter, “No I, uh…um, just wasn’t—” “I don’t need your life story, kid. I have my own shit going on. See ya around.” And with that, she continued a few steps down the block and went into her house. Derek had also been laboring under the misconception that “suburban folk” were supposed to be nicer than city bitches. From what he had experienced thus far, that didn’t really seem to be the case. And there wasn’t even half as much passive aggression as he had assumed there would be to mitigate outward unpleasantness. It was all full-stop aggression. Though, perhaps people sitting in their cars on the side of the street could be labeled as exemplifiers of passive aggressive “flexing.” Like they were carving out territories as an expansion of what they owned already—suburbia being all about “ownership” and the so-called pride that came with it.
Finally regaining his composure long enough to start moving again, Derek pondered the error of his ways in choosing to move to “the ‘burbs.” Foolishly believing that he could outrun the horrors of humanity more deftly here than in the city. But they were both two sides of the same coin with their own separate and unique hells to endure. Derek was no longer sure which hell was more manageable.
The universe gave him a response to his uncertainty when, as he rounded yet another corner to a new block on his endless journey back from the bus stop, he was jarred once more by a fresh zombie sitting glazed over in their car. What the fuck was it with these people? Were they rendered immobile by the palpable stagnation that surrounded them or something? It was impossible to say, but when this fresh freak proceeded to “activate” at the sight of Derek, he lumbered out of his car arbitrarily waving a gun and screaming. That’s when Derek knew: it was time to move away. All he had to do was get through this particular landmine first.