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In the Northern Suburbs, Visiting a Deracinated World of Tomorrow

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So dear to my heart, so very dear is my anti-suburban bias, born of the political battles of yesteryear, back when we actually believed white people could fly. Ah, those were the days, were they not? Good was good, evil was evil, and the city limits lay between.

Now it's so perplexing. Last night we had a great late dinner at an Indian restaurant up in the north suburban realm. I venture up there fairly often. I almost always come back to the inner city perplexed.

While we ate, an Indian engagement party was taking place in the back of the place. The proprietor, who was Indian, stopped by our table to chat and mentioned he was having trouble keeping up with some of the strange customs of foreigners like the ones in the engagement party.

Turns out they were from a part of India far from his own. They did things like order desert as the first course of dinner instead of the last. You know: the suburbs north of us have become so diverse, they give whole new meaning to the word.

Everybody in the place last night was from somewhere far away, not necessarily India. I saw families and groups who may have been Korean, maybe Chinese, possibly Southeast Asian. Whenever I go north, I catch glimpses of the same thing -- a gang of middle school kids buying Slurpies at a convenience store, looking like their parents are probably from everywhere in the world. But they are all, for better or for worse, all-American teenagers.

Here's the thing. Back in my world, I just spent the last couple weeks watching a drama unfold in City Hall that was a word-for-word re-play of the 1980s council fights between white council members and the two black firebrands on the council, Al Lipscomb and Diane Ragsdale. I'm talking about the fight over municipal court reform.

In her speeches asserting that the reform was racist, I swear council member Vonciel Hill was actually channeling Ragsdale. And for maybe 30 seconds, I would like to deviate from the question of whether those assertions had any merit. Let's put that to the side for only a moment.

What strikes me whenever I travel outside the city is that, no matter where we may stand on our own ancient divisions in the city, a whole universe out there is simply moving past it and beyond. Tons of people in that realm are not from Goa, Lagos or Abdijan but from South Dallas and West Dallas, among the thousands of families moving up and moving out.

The whole vibe is different. People know each other less well, and that seems to be a good thing: I just don't feel the centuries-old shoulder-heavy burden of grievance and bigotry. The sheer newness of the place seems to be an animating oxygen. Everyone is deracinated from tradition and apparently better off for it.

Sometimes I get the feeling the whole region operates like a huge distillery and we in the old city are what is left in the bottom of the tank, a residue. We're Rip Van Winkle before he woke up, wandering an antique dreamscape unaware of what's real and what's not. I can't go up there into the 'burbs for long. I get the bends. I need the city. I guess that means I need the past. Well, maybe not THE past but A past -- something, anything to tell me I'm not just tumbling in space. Too bad the past has to be so unpleasant.

My own theory is that the suburbs of Dallas are probably globally important, because they are so much more perfectly featureless and generic than anyone else's suburbs. The region between here and Fort Worth is where man will learn to escape not just his place of origin but all place - place itself. It is where mankind will learn to be at home without a home, tumbling in space and liking it, at ease in the post-geographic era.

I like it up there for brief visits, long enough for a great Indian dinner. Any more than that, I need a space suit.

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