Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Leaving the Bubble: A Brief Observation from the Road

I packed up the car over the Christmas holiday and did my annual migration back to northeast Ohio. The route was familiar. I-90 west, for endless miles, through Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and finally Ohio. I've driven the road so many times I hardly have to look. I know just where to stop for the cleanest gas stations and the best road food. I know just where to look from the highway for the holiday lights that are displayed in a public park right outside Syracuse New York. I know just when to slow down close to the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge outside of Seneca Falls New York. I always hope to spot an animal and never have. Even the detours are not new--I took "new" way to get home that I've taken many times when I couldn't stand the New York Thruway anymore. This trip was a little difference because now I'm armed with a smart phone. I spent the majority of the trip learning interesting facts from Wikipedia. Take for example this helpful trivia filled entry about the Southern Tier Expressway.

Along the road this year--and deep within the city of Cleveland--things seems a lot different this year. It was a good trip for me because it helped me burst the increasingly sheltered bubble I've been living in in New England. There is a recession out there. Did you know that? I read newspaper articles about there being hard economic times but looking around the places I frequent in New England it would be hard to tell. Houses are being sold, store parking lots are filled, and store fronts are filled with enticing displays.

On the road to Cleveland, I saw a whole lot of grey. Stores were empty. Places that I once saw filled with people on the 19 years I've spent driving back and forth across New York State are empty an abandoned. In my own home town, a city that was vibrant and filled with life, has constricted down to a small alley of chain restaurants and bars. Business Corridors that were once filled with the promise of continued vibrancy are mostly abandoned and desolate.

I found myself a bit short on hope. I'm usually not the person with a short supply of hope. This was different after being confronted with so many scenes of empty desperation, signs of aging and collapse, and the general contrast from the vibrant memories I have from 20 years ago and the rude bursting of my bubble (both in memory, and my New England bubble). This may explain why the only images I captured from my trip was at the Lakeview Cemetery.

So what's my point here? I'm back in my New England and I'm again filled with my usual hope and optimism. Am I delusional? I don't think so. I found a few important things. First off, it's so important to get out of that which we find familiar and seek out a new vantage point to view the world. It makes us more whole to look at the world from many different viewpoints. To this end I've left my familiar echo chamber of NPR and am spending more time reading other sources of news and commentary (news papers from other cities and countries and *gasp* conservative papers).

It's interesting what I see from these other perches. When I separate the rhetoric and look closely, I'm seeing examples of people building new and creative things out of the ashes of what has been destroyed. My old neighborhood of Ohio City offers one small example. It's a neighborhood that has been decimated by foreclosures. Abandoned houses have been knocked down an in their place urban farms have sprouted--farms that sell to the local West Side Market, restaurants, and grocery stores.

What do you see when you look at things in a new way?

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