At first I thought little had changed and, in a sense, very little had. But then, in certain areas, I began to notice … here and there, a vacant house shedding windows, porches, siding and shingles, the area around the dying structure littered with the detritus of abandonment. These were houses, I soon realized, where some of my long-forgotten classmates probably had grown up.
Unlike California, where the population was growing faster than weeds in a median strip, the population of my Indiana home was down. Even worse, the local newspaper was a shell of its former self. I had spent four of the most satisfying years of my young life working for that paper. Fires? Auto accidents? Features on the newest additions to the local college faculty or the traveling science library or the pastor with 55 clocks? Obituaries? Headlines for the national news that clattered in on the teletypes? (Yes, it was that long ago.) I did it all. … And took photos in the bargain—using a 4 x 5 Speed Graphic camera that weighed just under a ton. That newspaper got its money’s worth.
Recently, I came across an interview of a reporter who had come to work at the paper, the Richmond Palladium-Item shortly after I had left. His description of life then and there took me back to those days and, on a whim, I subscribed to the on-line version of the paper. I don’t often have time to read it (and, frankly, there’s not a lot to read; more on that in a later post), but this recent headline caught my eye: “Commissioners commit dollars to attract remote workers, map broadband service”
“Wayne County’s commissioners committed $20,000 Wednesday for a partnership designed to incentivize remote workers moving to Wayne County,” the article stated. “… The city of Richmond would be the local applicant in [the] partnership …” And best of all, the $20,000 commitment was just the beginning of the project’s funding.
The reason this caught my attention was that for some time now, I’ve been the lone ranger among my circle of California friends in suggesting that we could escape the overcrowding, traffic gridlock, crushing cost of living, and sky-high taxes by leaving this alleged nirvana and moving inland. When they ask me where I’d go, I always suggest the Midwest and am met by “… but the weather.” So, I’ve given up on them.
Meanwhile, though I plan to stay exactly where I am it’s gratifying to see interior states taking advantage of the moment to further revitalize their economies. And there’s one more plus. With an infusion of coastal types in some of those inland communities, political races might swing a little bluer. In time for 2024? Maybe not, but we can hope. Therein the fate of democracy lies..
The 2014 map to the right shows how concentrated our population is along the coasts--east, west Gulf, and Great Lakes--as well as in those distant states of Hawaii and Alaska.
For an interactive map that will help you ponder the events of 2020 and think about possibilities in 2024, click here.