Two details from the morning news stream disconcerted me gloomily as I rode to work with my car pool. David Brooks’ latest reification of the U.S. Everyman brand reduced it to one nervous, order-seeking archetype: Patio Man. “He’s happy with the new street-scape shopping area where he and his family can stroll before a movie,” Brooks says. “His ideal neighborhood is Mayberry with BlackBerries.” Then NPR’s Scott Horsley described John McCain’s latest campaign swing through suburban Missouri, where he avoided cities and sought out new developments in cornfields with a “retro small town” feel.
Strolling on a faux street-scape with that retro small-town feel? This might be as close as most of America gets to flânerie. It’s the kind of fake walkable neighborhood you have to drive to, then park and stroll. It could be a scene from The Stepford Wives. From this blind flaneur’s perspective, it’s a 21st-century incarnation of Henry Miller’s air-conditioned nightmare.