Having just passed my one year anniversary of arrival in Ann Arbor, I’ve been reflecting on how life in this city is only the second time I have ever experienced living in a “self-sustaining” place – I’ll say more about what that means in a moment – and the longest time I have ever experienced such a setup in my life.
When I say “self-sustaining” town, I mean a place that fends for itself in that residents don’t have to go to a neighboring town for groceries, entertainment, school, cultural offerings, outdoor excursions, and so on and so forth. The only other time I experienced such an arrangement was with eight months living in Santa Maria, California in 2008, a place that’s even more of an outpost town in that Santa Barbara, the next major city to the south, is 75 miles southeast, while San Luis Obispo, its largest northern neighbor, is 30 miles north. And in that part of California, you can’t go any farther west, and east is an even greater distance to the next major city; for the record it is Bakersfield at 138 miles east. Admittedly there are towns in between, but those are the major landmarks.
Most of the towns I’ve lived in over the years, most notably in the North Shore region of Massachusetts along with Marin County in California, are nestled into a patchwork of towns that depend on one another in symbiotic ways. You might live in one town but work in another (or the nearest largest city) or depend on a nearby town for specific elements of your daily life, but it’s rare that you’ll stay within your own town or city limits on a daily basis.
I mention this because I notice that it is still hard for me to adjust to life in a town that fends for itself and could be fine without any interruptions to other locations (Detroit, Royal Oak, Flint, Toledo, Pontiac…) for various activities. I’ve gotten so used to depending on having offerings in other towns, and moving between said locations, that it feels weird to not be doing so. For example, yesterday – and it seems like this happens every week to 10 days – I was feeling the fishbowl bubble of life in Ann Arbor, and randomly decided to drive east to Canton and Novi for what amounted to little more than visual amusement, a good meal and some sightseeing on a fair spring day. And even though that excursion was just three hours, I came back to Ann Arbor feeling considerably more refreshed and with none of the exasperated feeling that had plagued me as I set out.
I don’t have to go to Windsor for fun, to Detroit for a show, to Royal Oak or Birmingham for a film, to the west side of the state for sightseeing, into Canadian locations for further sightseeing and cultural events… I do all this because I want to, and it is admittedly enriching.
But I might be interested to hear the opposite perspective of this setup, where someone who is accustomed to and quite content with living in a self-sustaining town goes out into the world and has to move around on a larger scale.