I spent my weekend driving I-80 all the way West across Pennsylvania and back again. And while the state is completely unique and bizarre in many ways (it is SO hard to buy alcohol in stores, but you can smoke inside bars), it’s also deeply representative of the country as a whole. It is even shaped and laid out like the US — major cities mostly in the East and West, and smaller towns (or boroughs, as they apparently call them) in between. The cities are blue-ish, while there is no shortage of Trump signs in the smaller communities. And, like the electoral map, you can tie voting for Trump to a frustration with current circumstances, where the blame is placed on “outsiders” rather than the fact that a small, wealthy minority are obsessed with controlling the entire population in order to make themselves more money. And they focus their energy on making us fight one another to stay distracted.
This road trip reminded me how fortunate I am that I’m somewhat less susceptible to this tribalism. My outlook is the product of growing up in rural VA and Cleveland, going to boarding school in New England, and then returning to a much more Southern part of VA for college. And now, of course, living in NYC. Because it is hard to go into these small towns of 5,000 people and with a $25,000 average income (shoutout to Clearfield) and wrap your head around what’s going on, rather than reduce it to a simple snap judgement. Or, on the flip side, walk through Times Square without wondering who in their right mind would want to live somewhere like New York.
NYC is a bubble, and can be as much of an echo chamber as white nationalist forums online (but obviously with different talking points). I know plenty of people who, upon seeing some of the communities we drove through, would be just as rude and small-minded as they believe the residents to be. “Woke-ness” seems not to apply to understanding those who choose a rural or small town existence, and the reasons they are drawn to any political cause or candidate that claims to have an answer to their financial and societal woes (just like us!). These people are not necessarily against everyone who isn’t just like them, but they often do not have friendly, face-to-face exposure to anyone outside their communities. Because why would they? I made an active point to stop in these places, but it was completely tied to making a road trip out of this wedding, and I will likely never go back. We only see one another as how we are portrayed on TV. NYC as excessively opulent (Million Dollar Listing, Real Housewives), a hotbed of sin and crime (Law & Order, all the other shows that are basically the same), or a liberal “cool place” where everyone is tattooed and polyamorous (Girls, Broad City, Master of None). And then there’s a near fetishization of rural communities as hotbeds of less civilized crime, racism, and drug trafficking, as seen in shows like Ozark, Fargo, and True Detective. There’s nothing wrong with TV, but when you only see the “other side” represented in these specific ways, it’s damaging. And this isn’t news; it’s why representation of EVERYONE in different types of roles in Hollywood is important (not that this is what this post is really about).
This problem reminds me of the bar I went to in West Virginia that led to the first Confederate flag post. A guy about my age came up to me and told me he was surprised to see us there, that he’d never seen a “liberal” in that bar because liberals thought they were too good for that community. While I think that some people (ie. anyone not-white) would probably feel unsafe there and that would be the reason for their not going, he does kind of have a point. I didn’t think I was too good for them, but there was definitely a time in my life where I would have, and where I would have patted myself on the back for being better than them for doing BIG THINGS with my life and moving to the BIG CITY to follow my DREAMS! Thankfully I’ve grown out of that.
But I’m not claiming that these towns are 100% victims of us big-city folk; that would be patronizing. The biggest problem I see actually comes from within, when the local government, rather than adjusting to the fact that the internet exists and manufacturing is not going to come back in the same way, clings to a past life. And they perpetuate this “make our town great again” idea. But the past IS the past, and they are doing their citizens a major disservice by lying about how this will all shake out, and stoking hatred towards the new rather than embracing it. The problem is the same one facing this whole country: that people in power who should not be in power are making really bad decisions for everyone. They have a mayor saying racist things at town hall meetings, and we have Cuomo being…Cuomo.
Not everyone needs to want to live in a city. Not everyone should see eye to eye on everything. And I will be the first to admit that I was not a fan of a lot of Pennsylvania, but that’s why I choose not to live there, while other people do! I could have written this about how much PA sucks and called the center part a flyover state within a flyover state. But what would be the point of that? To further the alienation residents of these communities already feel, claiming that I know better than them and can tell them how to think? Because no, I am not going to tell them not to own and shoot guns or lecture them on second hand smoke or be a brat about the fact that they don’t have the type of restaurants I want. The same way I hope they don’t come to NYC and shit talk my home (I mean, let’s be real, people do this on both sides for sure). I don’t have to love rural PA, and they don’t have to love NYC, but we need to coexist and try to empathize with one another.
We are dealing with more home-grown terrorism than ever before, and isolation is a huge part of the cause. A culture where you cannot say anything “problematic” without being publicly shamed and thrown under the bus doesn’t do anyone any good. It leads to an environment where people feel unable to discuss anything outside of their own echo chambers, for fear it will be used against them. And this is true of both sides of the aisle. Even I am often scared that my writing will be taken (likely out of context) by someone to discredit me for daring to have opinions that don’t fall directly in line with one ideology. So rather than saying things like “OH MY GOD HOW COULD THEY EVER LIVE THERE WHAT IDIOTS THEY SUCK,” maybe we can listen more and talk less (says the girl writing 5000000 words of her own opinion right now).
To tie this in at least SOMEHOW to real estate, I’ll add two things:
A cool thing about these places is that there is less of a barrier to ownership than in NYC, because you can put less money down and you don’t have to go through building boards to purchase. There are all kinds of special loans for first time buyers once you get outside this concrete jungle. It’s a nice reminder to those of us who may not see NYC home ownership in the cards that somewhere we may be able to settle down, if we so desire. I also saw multiple female-owned businesses that were thriving, which goes against the narrative we’ve created about these towns.
It’s a good reminder that people want different things. This is shown within NYC when people begin to reject new development that assumed everyone wanted the exact same 600sqft box, when people choose different areas of the city or relocate to the suburbs, when “home” means something unique to everyone. I saw some gorgeous architecture and stunning landscapes, and completely understand why you’d prefer that to living in a big city with no yard.
So I’ll try to always remember that my way of life isn’t the only way of life, that open lines of communication are the best way to stop hate, and that the world is more complex than we give it credit for. VERY NORMAL REAL ESTATE POST, I KNOW! But I haven’t been inspired to write for a while, and now here we are. *insert shrug emoji*