Periscope Depth

oh, but ain’t that america

One of the other things I learned when visiting Skaneateles*, NY for Will and Gina’s wedding was that I would not enjoy living in Skaneateles, NY. It’s just not for me. If I wanted to do anything on a Saturday night other than drink or watch one of the 10 most popular movies in America, I’d be shit out of luck. I could drive half an hour to Syracuse if I wanted to hit up the Barnes & Noble. Or I could take in a show at Syracuse University’s Storch Theatre (oh, look, they’re putting on Cabaret next season! And RENT! Isn’t that just, fuck it, I can’t even feign enthusiasm).

Don’t take the above to mean that I’m making fun of small town America. I’m not. The majority of this country is small towns: thirty to ninety minutes from the nearest metropolis. They’re served by a few high schools, one community college, a string of questionable Chinese restaurants and a Target. If you inherit your dad’s used car dealership you’re something of a big deal. The people who live there aren’t any happier, in the aggregate, than folks who live in big cities. But they aren’t any unhappier either. They deal with the same career frustrations and pregnancy scares that we do. And if I had to live there I would go mad.

Those small towns are just as much a part of America as Boston is. Those people follow the same laws, watch the same TV shows and drive the same cars. But the “America” you’re exposed to at 12:30 in the afternoon in the Walmart in Auburn, NY looks nothing like the “America” you’re exposed to in the Prudential Center Mall in Boston, MA. You might as well be visiting Estonia. And I suspect a lot of the political incoherency that describes the American experiment comes from this disconnect. Blue-staters can’t imagine what it’s like to fear that national health care might be a gateway to fascism. Red-staters can’t imagine what it’s like to champion the civil liberties of suspected terrorists. But both of those are American values.

Of course, the same stores service both these communities: Hess, AT&T Wireless, Old Navy, Starbucks. No matter where you go in this country, you will never be more than a half hour’s drive from a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. Here is wisdom for him that hath understanding.

* Pronounced “Skinny Atlas.”