We parked outside of the Toys R Us in Owings Mills. We just got done dealing with a woman who thought it would be a smart idea to barrel down the parking lot and honk at us as we were trying to navigate. Her road rage, to her, was justified, she had her son in the backseat. I had not thought at the time to ask why it was safe to drive that fast with her son in the back, but my goal was that I just wanted to see if there was liquidation going on. No dice and the entire time our mood was soured.
But between both Rebby and I, we lamented how there simply wasn’t much to do out here. We were cash-strapped and had few friends in the area. The worst of the snowstorm was over and we had cabin fever from the past two days. But every suggestion seemed to fall short. Didn’t have the money, didn’t have time, didn’t have the gas. But I kept thinking about where we were, why we were there in the first place. What was it like, really?
The Ghosts of Baltimore County
My placement in the Pikesville/Owings Mills area was not one that I had any choice regarding. It was a move made for the sake of locating us closer to my stepmother’s extended family. In that regard, it accomplished what it was set out to do. But for much of my life, I was left as a stranger in a strange land. I never belonged, and to this day I don’t believe I ever could.
My favorite game of 2017 was Night in the Woods, and I produced my favorite article on Splice Today saying “We All Live In Possum Springs”. I use that phrase as a shorthand for describing the alienation and monotony of the dying small-town/suburban life of modern America, a product of late capitalism. While Scott Benson drew more from his hometown of Pittsburgh, that game could very easily describe where I currently live and the struggles that people like me face.
Both Rebby and I exist as walking examples of Katherine Newman’s “The Accordion Family”. Neither of us has a full-time job, and while I work freelance and study full-time, I still rely on cheap rent from my parents. Rebby still can’t drive on her own, hamstringing any potential leads until that task is complete.
The job market here is dry, and what jobs are available are the kind of high-stress jobs that wreak havoc on autistic minds. There’s a place that hires people on the spectrum, but she still can’t drive. It’s been a slow process for both of us. I still have almost two years left until my bachelor’s degree, and Rebby’s pathway is still unclear.
There’s no future here, for either of us. We both see it. Our lives will continue, but they must do so elsewhere, for there’s nothing left for us here. We don’t know what will happen, but we have the understanding that it won’t be stuck where we are now.
When The Last Store Closes
And I think that there really isn’t a future for Pikesville or Owings Mills. Pikesville is dying. Owings Mills is dying. We can see the writing on the wall. It’s slow but shows no signs of reversing.
The last remnants of Rosewood Hospital have finally been demolished. The shell of the Wendy’s is still unoccupied. Go up a little closer to the Bill Bateman’s and you’ll find several closed gas stations. The Owings Mills mall will be turned into strip malls pretty soon, left to the suburban wasteland that it has become.
There’s a sensation that I’ve come to recognize in my time exploring dying spaces both virtual and physical. Whether I’ve walked through MMO Age of Conan‘s dead game world or the aisles of Toys R Us, I’ve begun to feel the dissociation that comes with visiting a place that’s clearly fading away.
The Owings Mills mall has long since closed. There really isn’t much to do in Pikesville. No one really talks about it with any sort of reverence, and frankly, I don’t blame them. Who wants to be around when the last store closes?
I don’t think suburbia has a future.
Beyond the Cul-De-Sac
Maybe suburban communities will adapt to the future, but more than likely people will migrate away from them as we are planning to. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been to a ghost town that the prospect of this place becoming a ghost town doesn’t sound so far out of reach.
I don’t know where the future lies, but it isn’t in a world of sprawl.