Thursday, December 01, 2016

Utopia, VA

Despite my prolonged blog silence, I am still alive and everything is fine. We finally left nihilistic Southern California and moved back east in August, I started a new job, we put Goomba in daycare, where she caught every illness in circulation and passed it on to us, so we've been constantly sick, and it has generally been a very hectic semester.

But other than that, it's been great! We are now living in Utopia, a city built for Goldilocks. It's not too big, but not too small. It has all the amenities of a larger city: Trader Joe's, public transit, gourmet cheese, walkable downtown, a full array of coffee shop options, advanced medical care, absurdly specialized classes for toddlers too young to actually benefit from classes. But it has few of the drawbacks of a large city, strangers say hello to you when they pass you on the street, and it's situated in a very beautiful part of the country, disproportionately prosperous due to its connection to the university. In truth, it is basically a bubble, but I am well-accustomed to bubble-life and am not complaining.

The first bubbly thing that struck me about Utopia, is that there are very few luxury cars driving around (in San Diego, even our babysitter drove a Mercedes convertible), but every other car is a Subaru. We also have a Subaru, but we bought it in SD, where it signaled nothing. Indifferent practicality on a moderate budget, maybe. But here, the Subaru seems to be a real signal that one is of the university, or at least of the city's educated middle class, as against the people who drive either pick-up trucks or, worse, Detroit-made sedans. To be of this class is not to waste money on flashy luxury, but to invest in something cosmopolitan but not ostentatiously foreign, solid but eco-conscious, practical but also rugged, affordable but not actually cheap. What the Volvo is to private college faculty, the (less expensive) Subaru is to (public) Utopia University. Mr. Self-Important insists that I'm imagining it the whole Subaru phenomenon, but I am sure it's real.

The university is pretty great so far, a bit over-bureaucratized, but without the constant stream of low-grade scandals and crises that washed over a certain university in Boston. It seems weird now to read the school newspaper only to find no news in it on most days. 
Also, I have a new (academic) article out which I'm sure will shoot immediately to the top of your reading lists once you discover its compelling and even salacious subject: Locke's ideas about habituation.

So that is the life update to fill the gap since August. I do intend to blog again, now that the semester is over and next term's courses will require significantly less prep than this term's did.


Alex said...

The Subaru is definitely a thing- don't they actively market it to people in these demographics? I don't know, I ignore most information about cars, but I think I read an article about that and Subarus in particular once. Isn't it also an accepted Thing that a certain segment of the upper middle class finds flashy cars distasteful and spends their money instead on food, education, and travel? Isn't that what David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise is about?

The (new) residents of my neighborhood all have Subarus or Priuses.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, the Subaru was not the car I wanted to get, so I assume it was not marketed to me. But maybe my problem is that I meet all the requirements for target demographic except the love of outdoorsy rugged activity. Once I acquire that, I will change my mind and hug my Subaru every night.

Yes, the second thing is definitely a Thing. And Utopia is basically the Northampton of the South, and Northampton was Brooks's model Bobo town. But the thing about that Thing is that a lot of things that these people buy expressly in order to look practical and not flashy are themselves pretty expensive - Sorel boots and North Face fleeces, etc. Volvos too. I wasn't aware that the Subaru was like the Sorel of the car world.

I have become a lot more interested in acquiring Sorel boots since we got here though. Not like in the past I was exclusively into cheap shoes, but I did prefer boots that actually looked nice, and did not consider buying ungainly but waterproof foot-bricks.

WPB said...

I really hope you blog more! (Also, slightly amused to own both a Subaru and Sorel boots.)

Alex said...

Well, J Crew sells Sorels now, so I think they are also marketing to you, specifically.

Miss Self-Important said...

WPB: I have some half-composed things lined up. Even during blog silence, the drafts folder grows.

Alex: In that case, I am obviously very susceptible to marketing messaging.

Alex said...

Also, I think this is a relatively good model for buying things if you have the money, no? It's how I would like to buy things, except I have panic attacks about spending money, so I either go without, or buy something in the clearance section at TJ Maxx that is less useful. A north face fleece would probably serve me better than the Old Navy one I've had for 11 years. I have also been considering and declining to buy snow boots since 2003- think of all the years of use and enjoyment I have given up by not just buying Sorels then!

Miss Self-Important said...

This is a rabbit hole. Didn't we used to have an entire blog addressing these sorts of questions?

I also have an ancient Old Navy fleece, purchased to serve the purpose of a North Face fleece which I could not at that time (high school) afford. I still wear it. But doesn't that just show that the ON version serves the purpose just as well as a North Face would have? What do the "invest lots of $$ in an item that will last forever" brands promise if not a fleece that you can use from high school through your 30s?

But it is also true that the NF version is nicer, and if I had just splurged then, I would've enjoyed the fleece-wearing experience more all these years. But maybe I'd just have worn it more and thereby destroyed it earlier. Or maybe fleeces would've gone out of style in my 20s, to be replaced by something completely different, like, I don't know, wearable, fitted marshmallows that keep you warm and are edible at the same time. You cannot know these things when you fork over your entire month's minimum-wage paycheck at 17 for one fleece sweatshirt.

I've also been using my rain boots for snow boots for the past five years (at least under conditions where waterproof and not just warm footwear is necessary). They cost $40 and have kept my toes completely dry through Boston's 12-ft snowmageddon accumulations. Would Sorels have been better? I mean, they'd be not bright yellow rubber/plastic that makes my feet sweat, so they'd be a marginal improvement in that respect. But the main purpose is waterproofing your feets or keeping you warm, and even though Sorel, like North Face, claims to use all kinds of advanced technology to make it worth the premium (moisture-wicking sweat-absorption arch-supporting shape-fitting fibers made in a laboratory on the moon, etc.), ultimately it's just rubber and polyester doing the work.

I guess if you think of all these things as multi-year investments, then almost everyone has the money and should always spend it. But sometimes the substitute cheap item is really just as effective and durable, and it;s hard to know in advance which will be better. Maybe the solution is just to buy the nice stuff for the same price as the TJMaxx stuff on eBay.

Alex said...

Yes, we have gone down this rabbit hole before a few times! I did think the fleece inserts I bought for my rain boots were an especially clever money saver- instant snow boots!

Flavia said...

My best friend from H.S. lives in Utopia and everything you say about it is true. Not only do she & her spouse own a Subaru (which he doesn't drive, because he never learned how to drive, because he's metropolitan like that), but when another person I know moved to Utopia & bought a house it turns out to be on the very same street and they're now buds without any intervention from me.

Said Subaru-owning friend also now has a six-mo-old, so no doubt your kids will swap germs at some point.

(And, congrats!)

Withywindle said...

Near the Shenandoah Mountains
The students stretch their legs;
The Bobos all have Subarus
And the U's awash with regs ...

Miss Self-Important said...

Alex: Right. So we can always buy the Sorels next year, or whenever the rainboots finally crack.

Flavia: We're also house-hunting, so the concentration of bobos on your friends' street may soon grow.

Withywindle: What's a reg? A regulation?

Withywindle said...


FLG said...

Subaru thing is totally real.

Also, can you send me the Locke habituation article? I lost easy access to academic journals and such roughly 4 jobs ago.

Miss Self-Important said...

Sure, give me an email to send it to.