Dec 17 2014

All right, all right ... every­one loves tourists, I get it.

Appar­ently The Assem­blag­ist has been too harsh on the antic­i­pated eco­nomic upturn caused by increased tourism real­ity. I stand cor­rected. We will all drink French cham­pagne from gob­lets made of gold, rather than this lovely hob­bit­ware we bought on etsy, made by Pam Zim­mer­man, the provider of all things earthen.


Dec 4 2014

My Lit­tle Town and Eco­nomic Reality

Grow­ing Up Know­ing the Future

Peo­ple who grew up here in my lit­tle town knew how their lives would unfold. Like those who lived in a mill town out­side of Aiken, South Car­olina or a coal mine com­mu­nity in Har­lan, Ken­tucky -- the options were clear. Some would work on the mill floor and a scant few would rise to man­age­ment and work in the office. Some would go down into the earth and oth­ers would work in build­ings above it -- but every­one would serve the local god-​machine in some capacity.

NC Symphony

You could prob­a­bly walk to work because it was just down the road. Or you rode with your dad or your best friend from high school. And you car­ried your lunch.

Some kids looked at their future and thought it con­tained only bro­ken down men with bro­ken down lives. Judge­ment and con­dem­na­tion. They wanted more. Those kids tried out col­lege and big cities and some­times they made it. Those kids knew what waited for them in their lit­tle town should they need to return and found secu­rity in that knowledge.

Some­times their sto­ries were just like the movies, The Good Will Hunt­ing and All the Right Moves tales of inspi­ra­tion and courage in the face of local deri­sion. The break­ing with tra­di­tion and the home­town sta­tus quo for the elu­sive "more" . Mostly the kids turned into adults with kids that turned into adults with kids and they all shopped at the com­pany store and wor­shipped at the com­pany church.

The thing of it is -- this way of life worked.

The Lit­tle Town Social Contract

It was sane and pre­dictable and as a cul­tural model, a social con­cept -- it worked. Now we can argue ad nau­seum about the haz­ards of coal mines, of factory-​related ill­ness and safety issues and envi­ron­men­tal issues and edu­ca­tion issues, about hor­rid bosses and Koch brothers-​type tak­ing profit over per­son -- but this is about the cultural/​social util­i­tar­ian con­cept of grow­ing up know­ing what you were going to do with your life. How it would unfold in the back­ground while you got mar­ried, had kids, grew old.

You knew that you could get a job. (That's the whole point here -- not a dis­cus­sion of what was bad or wrong or non-​union or OSHA-​lacking com­men­tary because this is the eso­teric above-​it-​all type of post.)

You knew you could walk to the shirt fac­tory, or the fur­ni­ture fac­tory or the com­pany store and secure employ­ment. Some­where in your town, you could find a job. The level of your employ­ment sat­is­fac­tion and pay scale was up to you but the jobs were there. You would par­tic­i­pate in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process. There would be a pay­check and a place to live and a store where you could buy what you needed.

Know­ing what the future holds -- This type of secu­rity is highly under­rated. This type of secu­rity is eco­nomic. It is social. It is cultural.

An agrarian-​based econ­omy served the same role. You grew up work­ing on the farm and you would con­tinue to do so for the rest of your life.

Now -- Take your opin­ion of what is ful­fill­ing and fun and of this cen­tury and knock it back a bit. Take your per­sonal opin­ion out of this cul­tural socio-​security analy­sis. A dif­fi­cult task since we are given opin­ions in every bit of infor­ma­tion we seek to analyze.

The fac­to­ries are gone from my lit­tle town. The shirt fac­tory, less than 2 blocks away, remains an ooz­ing sore on the body politic of this place. This lovely town of less than 11,000 now man­u­fac­tures very few goods. It seems we are to exist, eco­nom­i­cally, on ser­vices. Not as pro­duc­ers of any­thing of value. It seeks to replace the fac­tory floor with tourism jobs. Min­i­mum wage like the fac­tory but with­out any sense of con­ti­nu­ity or place in the grand scheme of the Amer­i­can worker.

These tourism pimps seek to some­how hop­ing to honor this tra­di­tion of a viable com­mu­nity based on real jobs and pride of place with chang­ing bed linens and clean­ing toi­lets and demean­ing, demand­ing vis­i­tors who have no stake in our future.

It seems tourists must be enter­tained, wined and dined, and the goal is for the vis­i­tor to leave with some­thing pur­chased down­town. This means either goods fab­ri­cated in China with local labels attached or used /​pre­vi­ously owned /​retro objects or art or crafts. It would seem that the local tourism boards should cul­ti­vate the arts, the artists, in the com­mu­nity since they drive the eco­nomic engine of commerce.

Artists are the only ones pro­duc­ing goods in this small community.

The few items man­u­fac­tured here are parts of a greater whole, not inde­pen­dent objects. The man­u­fac­tur­ers feed the sys­tem with much needed parts and this is good. When local fac­to­ries pro­duced com­pleted goods, they also pro­duced items to sell. Obviously.


Screw Tourism

Seri­ously. Give us back our man­u­fac­tur­ing base. We want our down­towns again. Encour­age store­own­ers to stock goods that our cit­i­zens actu­ally need. Do not base our econ­omy on the whims of real estate devel­op­ers who screwed us over in 2006 and who wait in the swamp­lands to return and suck this town dry once again. Those who would build on our water­front and con­trol access to the river thus depriv­ing locals of what has always been shared.

Take care of the res­i­dents. The locals. Stop pan­der­ing to some yee­haw with a $20 meal bud­get who's too cheap to leave a decent tip. We've a pal­try few items to sell because man­u­fac­tur­ing left the build­ing and our eco­nomic real­ity is min­i­mum wage at its best and under-​the-​table $5 an hour at its worst.

Do you rec­og­nize my lit­tle town?

Arkansas? South Car­olina? North Car­olina? Ken­tucky ... West Vir­ginia ... Pennsylvania?

We want to be more than what we are. You've taken away our pride of place and cov­ered our town with its mil­lion dol­lar views for all with your mil­lion dol­lar homes for the few. And when the few don't show up, you sim­ply apply for bank­ruptcy pro­tec­tion while we are left with your behe­moth con­do­mini­ums and empty storefronts.

Tourism. Shove it up your tight lit­tle developer's ass. Here in my lit­tle town, we pay the "Tourism Direc­tor" more than we pay our health depart­ment nurses.


I get to speak to this. Not just because my lit­tle town's eco­nomic blight can be seen right from my front porch ... I get to speak to this because of sum­mers spent in the bow­els of a huge fac­tory work­ing my ass off to pay for col­lege. That fac­tory is gone now. Shut down. Whirlpool Cor­po­ra­tion pulled out of Fort Smith, AR. Cer­tainly Whirlpool was not a small town man­u­fac­tur­ing facil­ity by any means with its over 5,000 employ­ees (I think) back in its hey­day, but large-​scale man­u­fac­tur­ing was fed by all sorts of parts made in plants in small towns like this one.

More of this social com­men­tary to come. I'm not done yet. Your lit­tle town deserves to thrive. Tourism will not sus­tain your econ­omy. It's a dead end.

Oct 24 2014

tour­ing the south, the rise of agri-​tourism

The post-​NAFTA South is depend­ing on tourism to bring it back from eco­nomic dis­par­ity. Every­one seems to blame NAFTA for their eco­nomic woes. Towns like Wash­ing­ton and Colum­bia, North Car­olina, are hop­ing to cap­ture tourism dol­lars to replace tax dol­lars for­merly paid by fac­to­ries like Hamilton-​Beach, Proc­ter Silex, Singer fur­ni­ture, and the like. But it’s a hard row to hoe. Two new ideas have come to the fore­front, lately.

I wrote that in 2003 on Pop­mat­ters. Wow, it's come true. Here in Wash­ing­ton NC, the local tourism pimps are push­ing the enve­lope with their fine sam­pling of swamp fun -- includ­ing Agri-​Tourism.

eastern NC farm house

The first is our lat­est entry in the tourism field of dreams com­pe­ti­tion. Agri-​tourism. It seems peo­ple will pay good money to drive a trac­tor, weed col­lards, and pick cot­ton. Guess it’s that Green Acres land-​spreading-​out-​so-​far-​and-​wide urge in folks. It causes a com­pul­sion to mix it up with the aphids and the cow dung. And the sec­ond idea? Eco-​tourism. Which is pop­u­lar all over the damn place these days. In Wash­ing­ton County, North Car­olina, they’re build­ing camp­ing decks at $10,000 a pop in the swamps of the Roanoke River so the canoeing/​kayaking pub­lic can take in 130 miles of swamp with­out ever see­ing a tele­phone pole or an SUV. Beau­fort County, NC and the Pam­lico River has some fine camp­ing plat­forms now. Not a snarky com­ment, a true one. The plat­forms are pretty damn skippy.

Check out the Pamlico-​Tar River Foun­da­tion.

Pamlico-Tar River Foundation camping platform

Pamlico-​Tar River Foun­da­tion camp­ing platform

The cypress trees are truly an awe­some sight and I’m not deny­ing the beauty of the area. Truth is, the mos­qui­toes there come in two sizes. Small enough to fly in through the holes in the screens or big enough to open the door and come on in. And gnats, snakes, alli­ga­tors, bears, pan­thers (yes Vir­ginia, there are still pan­thers in east­ern North Car­olina), red wolves (recently intro­duced to the area by our for­ward think­ing envi­ron­men­tal­ists despite the fact that red wolves are not an indige­nous species, not native to the area, they eat yard dogs and small farm ani­mals, and they wan­der into people’s back yards and scare the beje­sus out of some ham­burger grillin’ farm fam­ily). Con­tinue reading

Oct 23 2014

Holler. Hol­lerin'. Yelling too.

Bee Baby Jumps on iTunes!

Bee Baby Jumps on iTunes!

holler: [v] bawl, call, cheer, com­plain, cry, hoot, howl, roar, scream, screech, shriek, shrill, squawk, squeal, ulu­late, vocif­er­ate, wail, whoop, yap, yelp:  Roget’s The­saurus [or the sound one makes when one makes a high score on BeeBabyGames.]

I've told you about the Pan­tego Mud Run, one community’s answer to fund rais­ing for their vol­un­teer fire depart­ment. Dri­ving through a mud pit might be lucra­tive fun, but Spivey’s Cor­ner, North Car­olina, [pop­u­la­tion 49?] spon­sors the self-​proclaimed National Hol­lerin’ Con­test, a fire depart­ment fund rais­ing tra­di­tion since 1969. Held every sum­mer on the third Sat­ur­day in June, the National Hol­lerin’ Con­test is one slam-​damn good time. It’s so fun, it’s listed in the book 100 Things to Do Before You Die, Travel Events You Just Can’t Miss, right along with Mardi Gras and the run­ning of the bulls.

The res­i­dents of Samp­son County, North Car­olina don’t want you to con­fuse hol­lerin’ with yodel­ing. While sim­i­lar in its vocal inten­tions, the two dif­fer in tech­nique and sound. The roots of hol­lerin’ in Samp­son County can be traced back to the 1700s when men raft­ing logs down the water­ways to Wilm­ing­ton would holler’ back and forth to each other to request aid or to notify other rafters of their presence.

Con­tinue reading

Oct 20 2014

Dinah's Land­ing

Photo by Val MacEwan

Wash­ing­ton NC Water­front Sunset Progress

Roads change. Back in the late 1980s, I raised two girls and a garage full of crit­ters on a slice of the east­ern shore­line called Dinah's Land­ing. We lived in company-​owned hous­ing, a small pre­fab 3 bed­room, 2 bath home on a Wey­er­haeuser pine seedling nurs­ery. The house sat across from the nurs­ery office under a canopy of Loblolly pines and live oaks.

The road to the nurs­ery was paved with "reject", a pecu­liar mix­ture of fos­sils and clay -- the byprod­uct of the phos­phate mine owned by Potash­Corp (Saskatchewan CA com­pany, and one of the largest holes in the US) across the river in Aurora NC. It's an asphalt-​covered road now.

[Reject is described more fully later on in this essay.]

Let's move on, shall we?

How it was : Dinah's Land­ing Road, 1989

A tobacco barn, built before the Depres­sion and cov­ered with polit­i­cal signs hawk­ing can­di­dates from the 1980s, leans pre­car­i­ously toward the high­way at the turn-​off to Dinah’s Land­ing Road. The three mile stretch of road is barely vis­i­ble from the high­way. It’s just a nar­row slice cut through tobacco and corn fields. Most of the peo­ple trav­el­ing over NC Hwy 264E to Cape Hat­teras will drive right by and never see the turn-​off. Few will feel the urge to turn down this North Car­olina farm road. It ends abruptly at a small pub­lic access boat land­ing which gives the road its name, Dinah’s Land­ing Road. This is where the locals launch small, pretty sun­fish sail­boats and mod­est fish­er­mans’ jon boats. Three miles of unpaved incon­gru­ous lifestyles; where agri­cul­ture con­cerns co-​exist in frag­ile har­mony with upper middle-​class urban­ites that are hell bent to retire amid Loblolly pine and cypress on the banks of the tan col­ored water of the Pam­lico River.

Con­tinue reading