As part of my annual U.S. vacation, I fly to Iowa, then down to Texas to play some serious golf with each of my two younger brothers. Growing up, our family had a lake house in Northern Iowa and during the summers dad would take the three of us out golfing at one of the small town courses in the area. (Considering whan an exacting and frustrating game golf turned out to be, I sometimes wish our father had instead introduced us to bowling or maybe shuffleboard.)
My youngest brother lives in a town called Ankeny on the north side of the Des Moines metropolitan area. It’s a classic example of how a once self-contained, no-frills community became engulfed in the tsunami of suburban growth. Driving to the Otter Creek Golf Course — which used to mark the edge of town — a person now goes through or past multiple subdivisions of box-like houses that have sprouted like mushrooms on what was once fertile Iowa farmland. Some of the more elaborate homes feature two car garages with an attached single car structure. It is nice to know that despite America’s homeless problem, the country’s vehicles (at least the ones owned by the well-off ) have a place to spend the night.
These treeless outposts hold little appeal for me. There are no restaurants, parks or bike trails within walking distance — things I’ve come to value from living in Bangkok. There’s just the lonely, sometimes biting wind coming off the prairie. Encircle these enclaves with a high barbed wire fence and guard towers and they would resemble a state prison.
A similar, though much larger, sprawl is unfolding near my middle brother’s town of Frisco, a remote suburb of Dallas. As part of our golfing outings, we always play a round at a course we especially enjoy only fifteen minutes from his home. Along the way, off in the middle distance, are row upon row of lot-busting behemoths stretching towards the horizon. And for those Texans with a little extra money and a desire for privacy, there are immaculately landscaped, gated communities (if that is the right word) offering homes priced from three hundred thousand up towards three quarters of a million dollars. The American dream: nicely packaged and padlocked.
Passing by these fortresses, I cannot help but recall my ex-Thai girlfriend Rassamee’s modest home. You enter into a cramped but comfy-looking living room beyond which is a narrow, dark kitchen (whose roof used to leak during the rainy season). Off to one side are a pair of tiny bedrooms. Not very impressive, in fact probably borderline claustrophobic for most Americans, but a place where Rassamee has managed to raise her two children and send them both off to college. It makes one wonder if a third garage is really necessary for a happy home.