Honestly I find so much of what is supposed to be about race or gender or economic class, in America, is actually about urban vs rural lifestyles. Especially here in the United States, where the country, in both senses of the word, is so big.
And that would be a great topic for a blog, if I was able to write it, but I can’t, because my experience is so one-sided. I know I’m more oriented to the country because of the things that naturally intimidate me: figuring out subway, train and bus route combos to try to get to the airport on time, negotiating whatever vending machine or kiosk it takes to make the requisite transactions, feeling like everything I touch is dirty, seeing apparently homeless people splayed out everywhere en route, extremely fazed-out workers not interested in helping me when I’m confused about where to be or how to get there, feeling hungry, nothing but meat and shit food, no time to even buy something, no food allowed on the whatever thing I’m getting on to, emerging somewhere else and it’s also totally disorienting, masses of dejected or rude or beleaguered humanity. The city life can have some upsides too, but none that I’m willing to suffer over, let alone pay for. It takes an enormous, unreasonable amount of money, it seems to me, just to live and travel slightly better than a peasant, in the city.
The things that I consider natural about rural life would maybe intimidate other people, as much as I’m intimidated by what they consider natural: driving perhaps large-ish vehicles, even very long distances, essentially. Finding my own turns and roads and directions, responsible for my own timeline, risking wildlife crossings and weather, being alone and/or far from help if I break down or experience some other emergency. It’s interesting because I can *see* how all that would feel very intimidating, but it just depends on what you’re used to, I guess. It is hazardous in all those ways, but you also have control over a lot of things in your immediate physical environment that you just don’t, in urban situations — literally, like, the things I touch and the things that touch me.
First off, it’s interesting, maybe insightful, that a comparison between urban and rural living began, for me, with the differences in travel, which I feel are enormous, and which represent quite a large part of anyone’s life. The next thing, or maybe a tie, would be housing — how little you get for your money in the city, versus how much you get for your money in the country. Basically, I’ve never felt “poor” in my life except when I’ve been in very dense urban areas, and then I feel very poor. It’s not like “I need an extra thousand bucks”, it’s like “I need to have had a different daddy”. In the country, you don’t feel that way, probably because you’re not asses-and-elbows up against gross people and weird, poorly-lit underground terminals that smell like urine, all the time. I’m not like a germaphobe or a shut-in, but there is a limit to how much humanity I’m willing to tolerate in my personal space at any given time.
So I guess my basically constant, underlying question, when I regard the grinding poverty of urban ghettos, about which I know almost nothing first-hand, is: why don’t they just leave? And I know the answer, of course. We tolerate what is familiar to us, which calcifies into an identity. I do the same thing, we all do it.
It occurs to me, too, that I haven’t experienced any American city in its heyday, and that maybe some of my impressions here are colored by my conflation of urban living with its shittiest possible time/space manifestation. I’m also poorly traveled, so if it’s better in Europe or wherever, I’m not capturing that. I’m not sure how beautiful and well-run a place would have to be, though, for me to tolerate never being able to park where I want to park; circling around various blocks, getting fucked by one way roads and tram-crossings, further and further from my intended destination, not even knowing how much I’m going to have to pay to park if a spot even manifests or if I have the right change, and truly questioning whether the thing I’m trying to get to is worth any of this. That’s my baseline impression of city living, really, right there: you can go anywhere and do anything, but hardly any of it is worth the hassle.
A soft-focus, rose-tinted framing of “country life” is the last thing on my mind; I’m just kind of exploring my own impressions of logistics. And then tons of people live in the suburbs, of course, which can represent a pretty great return on investment if you don’t mind cookie cutter.
Urban populations might be characterized by a higher degree of ambition. A lot of people are just from x y z city and that’s why they live there, but many others came there for school, or for a program, or a company, a job, a particular endeavor or field of interest. You have to respect this evidence of aligning consciously with a goal and then putting up with all the bullshit to approach it. Rural people usually didn’t move to wherever they are in pursuit of a life goal per se. They’re from there, or family close by, or they took a job. That’s about it. The places we choose to live are a pretty big deal in our daily experience, so the reasons we use are interesting to consider. Western cities are a lot different from, you know, the whole Eastern seaboard, where scads of functional adults don’t even have a driver’s license, or a car, or even the ability to drive one if they did, because it’s so not a part of their lives.
I’m grateful that the internet has weighted the scales on the side of country living (in all its gradations), and I don’t think any real new counterbalance has incentivized things the other way. Worse, the fake pandemic perma-lockdown scenario has made city life far less attractive, to me at least, than it ever was before. As you probably know, my entire family is moving to Hawaii this fall, and we’re not even tackling the question of urban vs rural. Urban is just more masks, more experience of lockdown, and in most places in the US, a higher likelihood of organized groups tearing around wreaking havoc. It’s crazy that the most sacred cow of all, small business entrepreneurship, which has always necessarily pulled people towards denser areas, is itself wounded. Now, for instance, would be a crazy time to take on the risk and liability of property and overhead, which is normally the most fundamental building block of local and personal economy. On the small scale, I know what my family’s skills and incomes and resources are (my dad’s two kids turned out to be a computer programmer and a truck driver-slash-audiobook narrator, a reasonably winning combo in lockdown America); large-scale, I’m staggered at the degree to which basic capital-building activities have been disincentivized; I can’t even conceive of it, or what it means broad-scale.
For the most part, I haven’t chosen to live in cities but I’m glad they’re, you know, there. You can drive in and get stuff, or just visit. It’s great. I haven’t chosen to launch businesses but I’m glad those are there too. My brother quipped, recently, that the pandemic lockdown represents the part of a tsunami where the tide pulls all the way off the beach and everyone’s like, whoa, look at all the stranded jellyfish; phase two is what we’re in for next, where everything within three miles of the coast gets destroyed.
Realistically, my life hasn’t changed much. The major thing is that I have to put on my “mask”, which is a fucking hankerchief, when I go in to pay for my fuel at the truck stop. Seriously, that’s about it. At our last fire, I ran to the gas station but forgot my mask and had to wear a plastic bag over my face. I respect all the people on the internet pitching fits in stores across America, refusing to wear masks, but I choose my battles and that ain’t it. 2nd Amendment and mandatory vaccines are where I draw the line.
Last I checked, 500k people had been evacuated from their homes in Oregon, due to wildland fires, with a little help from Antifa? Imagine the traffic. Imagine the fucking traffic. Incidentally, it’s the job of law enforcement to notify evacuees and direct emergency traffic, so great job defunding police in Oregon, you cucks. Who could have ever predicted you’d need those guys. How the turntables.
Anyway, we’re here, on a fire so big it’s making national news and ranks pretty high on the state of California’s all time worsts. It’s smoky at the camp, of course, and they’ve evacuated in three surrounding counties. The problematic thing about fires in California is they tend to merge, and become complexes. Nick and I had a minor disagreement yesterday, about whether or not our immediate area would be safe in the event of a burn-over. He thought not, I thought so. There’s no fuel to burn, but he was like “what about when it sucks up all the oxygen”. I’m just certain we’d be fine; it’s a massive dirt lot, albeit bordered by large trees.
Anyway, back to urban/rural vs race, gender, or class, it’s just another part of the algorithm that’s interesting to consider, about why people are the way they are. This blog is super problematic because, like I said, I’m so oriented to rural environments, but it seems to me people have to be heartbroken, right now, who live in cities on purpose. So much of what made that worthwhile — not even in my estimation, but collectively, I suppose — has been diminished. Or maybe I’m just projecting? Maybe they’re perfectly happy taking their chances, nuts-to-butts with their fellow man, prevented from doing all the things that normally justify the inconvenience. It would be a vulnerable feeling, for sure.
Rural people aren’t feeling very vulnerable, psychologically, in my estimation. They’re more like “come at me, bro”. It’s interesting to encounter so much disagreement, this year (in manufactured crisis after manufactured crisis), among those with whom I normally share identity signifiers, and to basically see us all getting forcibly sorted into various bins. The bins could be labeled by what frightens each group most fundamentally, I suppose. I’m feeling a huge, blossoming willingness to simply let people go, more and more, because it’s happening anyway. It’s been happening. I don’t grieve the idea of common ground, I just think letting people go opens the door to more essential common ground later, or else the advent of new friends and influences, or both. And it’s not even a sense of “wow, we had so much in common — how could this happen”. It’s more like, “wow, I can see in hindsight we never had that much in common”, which is a totally okay thing to realize. I don’t actually want to come out of this, if there’s an out from which to come, with any friendships intact that didn’t survive on their own merit. It’s quite a trial by fire, socially.
My really good fire friend, the metaphysical pastor from my “God’s Armor” blog several months ago, is back on this fire and was clearly feeling dejected last night, when he visited us. He was very sleep deprived, for one thing, but he’d driven all the way to a fire almost on the Canadian border, been accused of sexual harassment, and kicked off the fire the next day to drive all the way home, while an investigation got underway. He’s super torn up about his dissolving marriage and not in a position or of a character to harass anyone, but he did offer to buy a girl a coffee, since he was on his way to the coffee shop anyway and picking up beverages for the team. That was it! That was literally it. Some conversation about professional development, no hug or handshake or any funny business, just basic friendliness and an offer to include her in the coffee order. I wasn’t there, of course, but I know the guy from earlier this season. Come the fuck on. I only mention it to say, even the clearest signals can be interpreted as mixed, these days. I hope treating each other the way we’d like to be treated comes back into fashion at some point. And also solving problems at their lowest logical level.
That was a tangent but feels somehow representative. Anyway, back to the point, it seems to me from casual observation that city life can feel poorer than country life, even at equivalent or scaled incomes, and indeed it’s close proximity with wealth that breeds impoverished-element crime, more so than poverty itself. I grew up in one of the poorest rural areas of the country, the reservation, but you don’t feel poor, living there. You don’t feel rich, but everyone just basically has the stuff they need and the ability to get more, and no one’s experiencing that much disparity with their neighbors.
This is not a recommendation for that lifestyle; I think it behooves us all to figure out our spiritual-financial limiting beliefs just as much as our spiritual-social ones, etcetera and all that. I just think feeling really poor and really vulnerable correlates more with city living than, for instance, a single-wide on a half acre. I’ve been thinking about Nick’s older brother Jarrod, somewhat in the course of this blog, who really meritocracied up in NYC by working his dick off in the restaurant industry, arriving finally with a killer 5 star restaurant of his own and a $4k/mo mortgage on a highly desirable place — a really all-American elite lifestyle — only to be put permanently out of business now, it seems. His entire industry kaput, his property value shot, the city given over to crime as the tax base flees. He’s doing okay in the Hamptons last I knew, private cheffing for 10k/month or something, but he’s devastated. The sweat equity of decades disintegrated, and through no sabotage of his own. The disincentive for city living seems enormous right now. There are life goals you simply can’t accomplish in any other environment, normally, and now it seems tough to accomplish those life goals even in that environment.
Which reminds me, in a silly way, of what Nick says about the little dogs: “Survive in the wild? They can barely survive in captivity.” Buffy won’t eat unless you hand feed her, except in rare, inspired bursts. I’ve got to scissor cut off all her nappy fur today, it’s gone too far.
Anyway, glad to still be okay in all this, and hoping for the best for everyone else as they find their way in a changed world. This blog has been a ramble, but that’s just what happens sometimes.