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Many people often say about certain situations, "You can't imagine what it's like until you've experienced it". Situation that invoke this claim include raising a child, marriage, work, and war. My first reaction to this claim is, "You people lack imagination". However I can't deny there is some truth to it.
I was raised in the suburbs. My mother has spent her whole life retreating further and further from the city, and when I came along she was already in full flight. Consequently, as a child and on into my teenage years, whenever we did something—anything—we piled into a car (later an SUV) and drove there. Even at college this trend continued. For some reason I chose universities out in the middle of nowhere (Penn State and Virginia Tech); the universities themselves were great but the towns left a little to be desired.
As I began my career I chose more urban areas but they were still neighborhoodish. I could walk to many more places than I could ever before, and it was nice. But even then walking distance often meant at least two miles one way, and many places to go still required a drive. (One interesting thing within walking distance one place I lived was a wholesale electronic parts store; many people don't even have one of those in their state.)
At last I moved to Santa Monica.
I realized, of course, that Santa Monica was a real city with lots of commerce, and was more than just a tourist destination. (In fact, it only feels touristy in the block closest to the ocean; the next few blocks in are more like trendy downtownish; the rest of it is a real city.) So I knew I would be able to walk a lot more often than I ever could. However, what I never could imagine the sheer breadth of the freedom it gave me.
This came to me when I bought a refrigerator soon after moving in. (I had to because my apartment didn't come with one.) Instinctively I got in the car and headed off to places like Best Buy, Sears, and so on. Even though I was aware that I was in Santa Monica precisely so I didn't have to drive so much, I couldn't even imagine buying something like a refrigerator on foot. But after looking at and not buying the fridges at those places, I was walking through town about five blocks from my house and popped into an appliances store, one that was right on the sidewalk, without a four-acre parking lot, and walked out not only with an order for my fridge, but also an appointment with an actual independent plumber to hook up the water line.
This was so different from my childhood experiences buying things like that. My parents would yell at us kids in the middle of a beautiful, sunny day to pile into the car, promising that it wouldn't take long. We'd drive half an hour on lonely roads to an appliance or hardware store, they'd spend four hours trying to decide what color they wanted, another hour waiting for the supply boys to figure out how to pull it out of inventory and load it into the back of the truck, and then we'd drive home in the dark, with my brothers already asleep.
Now I can pop into a store a few blocks away and buy a refrigerator, and I never could have imagined that.
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