Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dispatch from Planet America

For the second day in a row, I'm sitting in a Starbucks in Plano, Texas, which place represents the pulse of America far more accurately than my usual surroundings. As you might expect, there are fewer people here than you can find in any cafe in my neighborhood on an average weekday. And the people who are here are quieter and less restless than the Yankees I'm used to. There's a group of well-heeled young teenagers arranged around a table on the patio outside, and they're intimidating me with their youth and vitality, their indifference to their youth and vitality, and their nearly-matching hoodies. And the staff is playing an insufferable Dave Matthews record (I keep forgetting to bring my headphones when I come here), but otherwise, things are jake.

Earlier this afternoon I went to a movie with my dad in an Angelika theater near the northern border of Plano. It's part of a fairly large complex called The Shops at Legacy, which attempts to replicate a few square blocks of a walking city. Apartments line the area, which includes many stores and restaurants in addition to the movie theater. They call the whole thing an "urban lifestyle center." Which, of course, guarantees there's nothing urban about it. It's more like what you would get if you glued one strip mall on top of another, added a residential building by Ikea, threw on a parking garage, and dropped the whole thing in the middle of a cornfield. Build it, and they will shop. Still, it does seem a noble effort when the other option is the incredible sprawl that dominates most of this area.

Plano is consistently ranked among the best "small cities" in which to live, and it's almost always the most populous of those listed. With more than a quarter million residents and growing, Plano is utterly self-sufficient. It feels connected to nearby Dallas in almost no meaningful way. It's the type of convenient, safe, amenities-rich exurb that represents paradise for some and hell for others. Having no children and feeling existentially divorced from the culture of material striving that does more to define this place than anything else, it's definitely not paradise for me. Not quite hell, either, though (not until the summer temps arrive, anyway). At night, it's blissfully quiet. Dead quiet. During the day, I don't have to worry about getting a seat at Starbucks. These are very low standards, I know, but they're standards almost never met at home.

I'm going to write about a few songs in a minute, and I'm still hoping to get a camera before I head down to Houston, so I can post some pictures. Thanks for hanging around during the light week...


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