The Manhattan Fantasy

It must have something to do with watching too many New York-based sitcoms or Woody Allen movies when I was younger, but I’ve always fantasized about living in the middle of the city, close to shops restaurants, cinemas, theatres and so on. With young children, a mortgage and a job in the suburbs such a proposition remained a fantasy until only recently, when my eldest daughter moved out, and my other daughter left school. Other factors fell into place, and suddenly living close to the city became a possibility.

I now live within walking distance of the parklands, the East End and Rundle Mall. In less than five minutes I can drive to the Central Market or the cafes of Norwood or North Adelaide. This should be a ‘dream come true’, and I’m sure that once I settle in I will begin to enjoy some of these conveniences. But at the moment, to my disbelief, I find myself missing some things about life in the dreaded suburbs.

Firstly, there are the simple things like service stations, supermarkets, snack bars and takeaway food stores. In our previous life we had a cluster of such amenities at the bottom of our street. Service stations are so rare in our new suburb that I can only assume that the owners of all the BMWs and enormous SUVs I see around the place buy their petrol at some secret, private refueling station. And where do the locals buy their junk food? Or is it only the working class districts that are infested with KFCs, McDonalds and Red Roosters? I did actually find a ‘corner snack bar’ a few streets away, but it’s impossible to get anywhere near it. You cannot park outside the store and the adjoining streets are always filled with parked cars. It’s almost like a mirage. You can see it, but only from afar, you can’t actually touch it.

Car parking, and traffic in general, is the second thing noticeable about living near the city. It’s just as well we have off-street parking, because we would never find a park in our own street. Cars are parked outside of our house twenty-four hours a day, but I have no idea who they belong to. My parents visited the other day. It was in the middle of an ordinary Tuesday, but there were no free parking spaces near our house. They almost had to park in an adjoining street.

And I expected the traffic to be much heavier on local roads than the suburban equivalents, but I didn’t anticipate the impact it would have on our day-to-day life. As we live near several main roads and a couple of horrendous intersections, even the simplest trips need careful planning at certain times of the day. My daughter is so terrified of said intersections that she will drive well out of her way to avoid them, or leave the car at home and walk.

I’m really embarrassed by the third thing I miss about the suburbs, mainly because I ranted against them so convincingly for thirty-odd years. I miss the big, ugly, impersonal, suburban shopping mall. We lived within five minutes of three shopping malls in our previous house, and one of them was one of the biggest in the state. Yes, they are sterile and soulless, and they look exactly the same throughout the Western World. But they are also warm and dry, and everything is there under the one roof. In the old-fashioned shopping arrangement you have to trudge through wind and rain, criss-cross busy streets to find what you are looking for. And, once again, parking anywhere near such precincts can be a nightmare.

So there, I’ve said it. I miss the shopping mall. For me, that is a substantial confession.

Meanwhile, I’m ‘living the dream’ here in my inner city cottage. The city is on my doorstep. The funny thing is that since I’ve been living here I’ve only eaten out or gone to the cinema once. And I’ve not once been to the Central Market or the cafe strips of Norwood or North Adelaide.

If only I had the courage to go out the front door.

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