I was talking to a young friend who is in the process of applying to colleges the other day, and since he’s applying to a number of schools, I recommended that he get fee waivers, since his family isn’t exactly rolling in money. It became readily apparent to me that he didn’t know what a fee waiver was, and that no one had told him how to apply for one, despite the fact that he’s obviously eligible.
“Well, you know,” he said. “I go to Mendo, it’s not like anyone there thinks about that.”
I thought he made an excellent point, and one which was more far reaching than I think he realized. The thing about living in a small town is that people seem to live in some kind of fantasy world, where a relatively minor meeting of the Planning Commission is packed with people while serious issues in the community are not addressed. People don’t “think about that” because “that” is ugly and unpleasant.
In this lovely fantasy land, we have no homeless people. No one is poor. Everyone who needs health care gets it, and women are never beaten by their husbands. Kids who want to go to college can do so without worrying about how to pay for it. No one is ever raped, and everyone lives in big, spacious homes with stylish modern design. Everyone is so very happy and comfortable.
Which would be awesome, if it was true.
In fact, our community has a lot of serious problems which I think are made more serious by ignorance. Anyone who works in social services can tell you about the major issues faced by people in our community every day. Do we really think that we can sweep these things under the carpet? That if we pretend nothing bad is happening, everything will magically get better? This is not, my friends, how the world works, much though we might wish it.
There’s a concerted effort right now which is focusing on promoting the tourist industry in Fort Bragg, which I’m sure we all know that I am very opposed to. Not just because tourists are, in my opinion, ruining this town and my quality of life, but because they are tearing this region apart. Tourists force everyone here into the service sector while they drive up the price of property and basic goods. Sure, the people on the “Mendocino County Promotion Board” are doing ok, but almost everyone else is getting fucked up the ass. I’m lucky because I managed to break out of the service industry through sheer force of will (and some natural talent, I like to think). But I can see the damage that it’s doing, and I still can’t buy a house in the town that I grew up in. I certainly don’t feel comfortable standing by while a handful profit on the backs of the masses. While tourism may not be directly responsible for homelessness, domestic violence, and poverty, I personally believe that there is a link here. People are getting poor and desperate because we ruined all our natural resources and now we’re pimping this town out like a trashy hooker.
People who are new to the area criticize it because it seems slow and quiet. Perhaps it doesn’t occur to them that some of us like it like this, that some of us grew up in a mellow logging town (which had its own problems), and we enjoy a more relaxed and, yes, sometimes dull mode of life. Don’t fucking move to a small town if you want businesses that are open late, and diversity, and ethnic food, and something entertaining to do at night. That is not what small towns are about. Small towns are about peace and quiet, church luncheons and parades and funds for injured firefighters. I am so tired of hearing interlopers bitch about how boring it is here; they chose to move here, they chose to drive property prices up, and now they have the gall to complain about it? Maybe the arts and culture would be more likely to thrive if artists could rent houses for less than $1,000 a month, or if the only decent theatre in town hadn’t been driven out. There are lots of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative types up here, and most of us are slogging our asses off in the tourism trade to pay for our expensive hovels.
This is not, my friends, the answer. The answer is honestly facing our problems and addressing them in constructive ways, like creating a minimum residency law to cut down on vacation homes, or telling the goddamn yuppies to fuck off and stick their wine bars up their uptight asses. We need to come up with long term, sustainable solutions and sources for income which do not involve pandering ourselves. Until we do, we’re going to keep living in a fantasy land, drowning in our own pastiche.