"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Back home again

I grew up in the midwest, in Indianapolis, but I haven't lived here since 1985.  Most of the intervening years were spent in either New York or Portland, Oregon, so I've been a coastal kind of guy for a long time.  To be honest, growing up, I couldn't wait to leave; I only applied to one college, UCLA, because it was as far away as I could get within the continental US.  There were several competing reasons for why I wanted to leave, but high among them was my sense that the midwest was dull.
When I came to seminary though, I moved back to the midwest, to Columbus, Ohio.  When I was leaving Portland and people would ask me where I was going, they would almost always express sympathy to me when I told them Columbus, Ohio.  Partly that's because Portland has lots of residents who are certain it is as close to Heaven as exists on Earth, but also because Ohio has a reputation as Dullsvilee, Nowhere.  In actuality, it's pretty nice.  They could use a few more coffee shops and brewpubs, but those places do exist and they're very good.  I have found it fairly easy to replicate the lifestyle I enjoyed in Portland here in Columbus - they even have pretty good bike trails (though they lack places to park your bike once you arrive somewhere) and bike lanes.

No, Columbus isn't anything like as dull as most might think.  But there is something that has changed since my childhood about the midwest, its kind of a mean place now.  It's  a place with much sharper divides and contrasts then when I grew up or that I saw in Portland.  The difference between the haves and have-nots is much starker.  It's also a place that seems to have lost its confidence.  It is no surprise to me that it is in places like Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin that public employee unions are under attack. 

Bexley, the suburb where the seminary is and which my neighborhood abuts, is very nice.  Excellent schools, a busy main street with shops and restaurants full of life and activity.  (on the map to the right, Bexley is the green rectangle just east of the center) Cross the creek though, and you enter back into Columbus and find yourself surrounded by abandoned and boarded up buildings, shuttered businesses, and decaying homes.  It is a difference like night and day.

And when I go back to Indianapolis, I see the same thing.  Indianapolis has a nice downtown, and its not as dull as it once was either, but the part of town I grew up in looks like it too has been abandoned, and I don't see how you can't just abandon huge swaths of a city without significant repercussions.  Economically, the midwest is broken, the good reliable jobs that my neighbors had when I was a kid are mostly all gone.  It's one thing to read about it in the newspaper, it's another to drive through its aftermath every day.

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