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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.