Friday, November 19, 2010

This is About My Hometown

When I first saw this on TV I didn't realize where he was from, but I recognized that special mix of bitterness and apathy towards the severity of the situation and thought, "Now, that's a man from Northeast Ohio."  Lo and behold, from my very own Akron!

I used to hate my hometown.  Especially in high school, I came to realize that Akron was essentially just a hollow inner city center surrounded by trashy suburbs full of former hillbillies.  Seriously, if you look at a map tracing the moving trends of the Industrial Revolution, you'll see that a ton of people from the Virginia/West Virginia area moved up to Northeast Ohio.  They live in Akron now, and they're crazy.

A member of the Rust Belt, Akron was at one point a booming industry town centered around, among other things, tire and rubber manufacturing.  Now those industries have all moved on in one way or another, so there's not a whole lot going on around there anymore.  Lots of empty buildings and jaded people.

Like I said before, I used to hate Akron for it's general lack of activity, but what really drove my from the place was the new understanding I gained of who lived in this cripples town I gained while working at JC Penny.  Now, I don't live in Akron proper, I live in one of the suburbs, and my god what a suburb it is.  To maybe help explain things a bit, here's a visual of the plaza where I worked:

Courtesy of Google Satellite Imaging.  And ignore that vast expanse of nothingness in the middle of the parking lot, it's used to house the occasional carnival.  That was one of the few things I enjoyed about working there, because once in a while I could buy some funnel cake before or after my shift.

Anyway, I recreated the stores present to the best of my ability.  There's a couple empty spots, and a whole lot of turnover from businesses failing, so it may not be completely up to date.  The Penny's has been there for decades, though.  I don't know how many times people came to my register chuckling to themselves and said something along the lines of , "This place is still open?"  I often found myself wondering the same thing when I took a look around the place.

I don't know who owned the plaza, but they were bat at it.  The roof leaked.  As in, if it rained all us employees had to take the trash cans from the storeroom and put them around the main floor to catch water.  There was a mold problem upstairs, too, so I often got the sniffles when I went on my lunch break.  The Penny's itself was not a complete store, either.  It was one floor (the upstairs was offices and such) and only had the main clothing departments, shoes, jewelry, and catalogue.  People often though it was an outlet store, and maybe it should have been.

People stole things a lot.  We didn't even have very good stuff, but people were always trying to take it.  Once I saw a man walk by me bow-legged from all the t-shirts he had rolled up and stuffed in his pants.  Another guy walked in on New Year's Eve, picked out a whole new outfit for himself, changed into it in the dressing room, left his old clothes in there, and tried to just walk back out.  Women were constantly dumping things into their purses (I guess since men don't usually have purses they have to be more creative).

Even stranger than that was what some of the paying customers did.  A man who wanted an item we had run out of  pulled a knife, offered it to me, and suggested I start opening boxes in the store room just to make sure we didn't have any (I did not respond well).   I sold a pair of shoes to a woman who, when I told her I couldn't find my pair of scissors, used her lighter to set the tags on fire so she could wear them out.  Some real problem solvers.

There's a bunch more, but the point is that I wasn't dealing with the classiest clientele on earth.  People regularly had weapons or animals on them.  We also had the cops overrun the whole plaza once because someone was selling fireworks illegally out of their trunk in the parking lot.  Everything was exacerbated perhaps by the fact that we shared our plaza with a liquor store (see picture above), and the trailer park next door.

Yes, a trailer park, and a very stereotypical one at that.  I really don't know what else to say.

So, I wanted out of Akron.  Badly.  I decided that college was my way to do that, and got myself into North Central, located close enough to a major city (Chicago) to provide me the life and culture I was after, but far enough away from it to keep my claustrophobia from kicking in.  The thing I didn't know before moving there was that Naperville, the town my new school was in, was that it was consistently in the top five rankings for cities to raise a family.  It was beautiful.  It was perfect.  It scared the living hell out of me.

Now, when you've spent your past eighteen years in a dying town full of bull-headed and apathetic folk, the last thing you should do is transport yourself to Pleasantville.  You will get culture shock.  In the event that you suffer from General Anxiety Disorder, your paranoia will kick in and you will begin to suspect you are living out the opening credits of a Stephen King film, and that your time is very quickly running out.  Finally, you will be confused by how much you find yourself missing the beat down and trashy place you left behind.

When constantly greeted by shiny smiling faces, you will begin to realize that you are not equipped to deal with positive people, that you are not a positive person.  You are sluggish and mistrustful and harsh, you laugh at every sort of problem, no matter how serious, and you solve those problems however you want to, so long as it works.  You realize that, to the people you live with now, you seem how that lady with the lighter seemed to you back home a year ago.

So, in leaving Akron, I gained a new love for the place.  Thanks to the university, things are starting to perk up a bit, too, which makes me happy.  I don't want my dying town to die completely.  I'm not sure if I'll ever live there again, as the job situation had always been pretty sad, even more so now due to the nation's economy, but I'm pretty excited about going back to visit this Thanksgiving.

That's all, really.  I guess I'm just on a nostalgia streak since I'm going home soon.

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