Notes From the Urban/Rural Divide: Yes, We Have Modern Conveniences

I thought I wouldn’t need to debunk one of the most ancient myths about rural life, but I guess I do, so here goes: Yes, we have modern conveniences.

The very fact that you’re reading this post should be a clue: Obviously I have access to some form of power and an Internet connection. In fact, I have electricity provided through PG&E because I live on the grid, as do most of the people I know. If I didn’t live on grid (some people in more remote areas of the county are too far out), I’d probably have solar power to meet my electricity needs, because, uh, I like lights, and I enjoy being able to use electronic devices.

And I have my very own high-speed internet connection courtesy of ATT, which, while a generally shitty provider, does in fact offer internet. Multiple providers up here do. There are a range of choices and you can get not just dial up (why you would want that, I don’t know), but also DSL, satellite (again, not the greatest service), and 3G. Yes, my phone works up here, in most areas!

I have running water! I have a water heater that allows me to take nice, cozy showers in my indoor bathroom with a flush toilet! I have not one but TWO sinks, one in the kitchen and one in my bathroom! I have a propane heater and stove to go with it! I have a circulating fan! My neighbours have a washer/dryer, and I know people with…dishwashers.

Are there rural communities in the US where this is not the case? There absolutely are, and they are primarily isolated (think about the costs involved in extending utility service to small communities) and low-income (residents don’t have the money to pay for service extension or the clout to lobby for it). There are parts of Mendocino County that are off-grid and I do remember when electricity service was brought to our house in Elk. I also know people who live off-grid, primarily by choice (they could have bought land closer to utility services and chose not to).

There seems to be this belief that we all have outhouses with corn-cob toilet paper and we wash ourselves with water we haul up from the crick and boil on the woodstove. (Okay, yes, I do know a lot of people with woodstoves for primary heating devices, but that totally makes sense in a former timber community where wood was once cheap and plentiful when opposed to other fuel sources.) The fact is that most rural communities do in fact have access to utility services and have, you know, running water, heat, and electricity.

In those where utilities are not readily available, people may improvise and come up with innovative ways of addressing the situation. Outhouses are not gross if you manage them properly. I’m honestly more grossed out by indoor toilets (why would you waste all that water? why would you want to shit and piss in your house?) than I am by a nice, well-maintained, happy outhouse (yes, you can use toilet paper in an outhouse, not whatever plant material you can scrounge up). If you have a limited electricity source, yeah, you might need to budget how you use it (want a computer? okay, use a laptop with a good battery), but you’re not cut off from society.

The assumption that rural communities don’t have modern conveniences is both largely wrong and reflective of attitudes people have about those who live in rural areas. We’re backwards. We’re unclean. We don’t know how to appreciate the finer points of civilised society; we don’t even know about the basics of modern society, and wouldn’t know what to do if confronted with a sink and a pair of taps, or a dishwasher.

My lack of experience with things like dishwashers and other appliances isn’t because I’m from a rural background. It’s because I’m from a poor background. I washed dishes at the sink by hand just like a lot of my friends and that’s been the case at almost every house I’ve lived in as an adult. I’m not familiar with microwaves because I’ve never had one. But plenty of people I knew as a kid did, somehow overcoming the utter desolation of rural lifestyle to not only know what a microwave was but obtain one and install it in their homes.

I like to tease my City friends by playing the rube when I travel, but the fact is that for many rural and semi-rural areas in the US, things like what is in your house are not that different than they are in the City. We know what running water is. Most of us have it. Most of us have water heaters that allow us to heat it for additional bathing satisfaction. We have stoves and lights and refrigerators.

Those of us who do not have these things typically choose this; I have friends who prefer to use cold pantries, for example, and don’t have fridges. Not because they don’t have electricity or don’t understand refrigeration, but because they don’t see the point and having a fridge doesn’t fit with their lifestyle. People in the City could make the same choice (and indeed some may well be) but for some reason all the attention is drawn to people in rural communities making these choices, like they are exotic and bizarre because of where they are taking place and who is involved.

Believe it or not, we not only have modern conveniences, but specialists who repair them like plumbers and electricians and appliance people. We have experts in installing them. We have stores that sell them and knowledgeable salespeople who can help out; if I had to replace my toilet, I could go on down to Rossi’s and the boys wouldn’t be all ‘well now, I don’t know ’bout them toilets.’ They’d show me to the toilet department and provide the catalogue with model options if I didn’t like anything on the floor.

I personally don’t think a flush toilet is really a convenience, but that’s an issue for another day.