David Rosenthal was poised on the sprawling asphalt behind a gourmet coffee shack on a stretch of Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn that sprouts just about every franchise to quench every worldly thirst or hunger. There he deposited his grande high-octane into the cup holder of his brand new Toyota Earth Destroyer, gave a glance to the chirping Palm Treo smartphone tucked in the console and steered out of the lot straight into the thick of it. Suburbia, that is. And it ain't pretty, not to Rosenthal's eyes at least. He launched right in, weaving from the fast lane, talking about McMansions and the never-ending pursuit of what he calls the "immortality symbols" common to this affluent slice of Chicago's suburbs. But it is those symbols and that pursuit, he says, that lead to the toxins that'll suck the light right outta your soul.
Rosenthal, 44, onetime Jewish Rabbi in the exurbs of Denver, played spiritual cruise director one recent sunny day, motoring through an itinerary that made stops at the diabolic as well as the divine that dot the suburban terrain. He idled in front of what he calls the Temple of Potential, the Wheaton Park District supercomplex where the supersuccess of any over-scheduled child confers godlike status on the otherwise mortal mom and pop. And he bowed his head as he slowed past an off-the-franchise-path coffeehouse, La Spiaza, in downtown Wheaton, where he sits in silence for two uninterrupted hours most mornings, seeking the solitude that he claims is essential for beating back the unreflective life.
Steering toward a yellow light, he cautioned that he was not flat-out indicting the suburbs and everything about them. Rather, he was making the point that you can get lost out here--and not because of all the cul-de-sacs and meandering lanes with 10 variations on the same name.
The problem, Rosenthal believes, is not the fact that there are thousands of near castles in this town, but the meaning you attach to them is what makes them...