s.r.o. On the r.f.d

WEARE HOLBROOK, who lives in Hartsdale, New York, has written frequently for our Accent on Living pages.


IF Horatio Alger were alive today he could write an inspiring success-story about the heroic struggles of the city lad who makes good in the country. It might be called Sid the Suburbanite; or, From Subway to Station Wagon.

As the real-estate section of any Sunday paper will tell you, the trend of population is away from the metropolis; everybody seems to want to get as far as possible from everybody else. I can remember not only the time when I had a job, but the time it took me to get to it — a scant twenty minutes from apartment to office. My route then was U-shaped: down an elevator shaft, across a few city blocks, and up another elevator shaft.

But if I tried to reach the same destination now, it would take me a couple of hours, and the route — involving a road under construction, a traffic circle, two tollgates, and a devious search for parking space — would be too complicated to put on paper. That’s why I gave up the job; by the time I got there, someone else had it.

However, the important thing is that I am decentralized. We are living in a split-level ranch house, on a split-level income (wife 60 per cent, husband 40 per cent). All around us are similar ranch houses, with nothing above the horizon but a thicket of television aerials as far as the eye can see. In this atomic age it is comforting to think that nobody will bother to drop a bomb on little old us; besides, it couldn’t make us much flatter than we are already. Even our car is so streamlined that you have to step down to get into it, and our lawn is seeded with something called “creeping bent.”

Within the last few years, an eruption of shopping centers has broken out on the countryside. Big city department stores are decentralizing like mad, and supermarkets spring up overnight in the wilderness, their cash registers tinkling an obbligato to the bullfrog chorus from the surrounding swamps.

Instead of going to town and trotting from the butcher to the grocer to the vegetable man, we simply descend into our unconvertible, drive several miles down the turnpike, around a cloverleaf, under an overpass, over an underpass, across a throughway, through a crossway, and presto! there we are, with everything we want right under one roof. And the half-mile walk across the “ mammoth free parking lot” gives us just as much exercise as if we had gone to town in the first place.

Of course, if the centrifugal shift of urban population continues at its present rate, it won’t be long before the decentralized areas overlap, producing the same congestion they were intended to obviate. Several of the mammoth free parking lots have already shrunk to merely colossal proportions, and at least one drive-in movie has installed sparking meters.

The movies themselves are spreading out thin on their panoramic screens, along with everything else. All the old-fashioned lumps have been removed from buttermilk and orange juice and peanut butter. Phonograph records play on and on without a pause. Our beefsteaks are homogenized into hamburger, and Roquefort cheese is now a “spread.” A dollop of oil may replace the olive in the homogenized Martini of the future.

Yes, decentralization is in the air. It has even affected my typewriter. The little machine used to turn out a compact, neatly spaced manuscript, but lately I have noticed that, as we approach the bottom of a page, it always starts skipping erratically across the wide open spaces, like a commuters’ express.

Maybe we better go back to the city.