Consumerland

Over 30 years ago, sometime before I met Beth, my father gave me these six, prescient words of advice:

“Son, get out of New York.”

Back then, I was not ready to heed my father’s succinct advice. First of all, I did not want his pearls of wisdom. In fact, if he had said, “Son, the sky is blue,” I probably would have argued the point.

Secondly, I was enamored with the thrills, challenges and opportunities that existed in New York. Acter all, Frank Sinatra sang, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” My friends and I swallowed that one, hook, line and sinker. We thought everywhere was the developing world next to the Big Apple.

Times Square, NYC

Our excessive superiority aside, I was willing to believe that New York and it’s suburbs bestowed on its inhabitants something worth the hardships we endured living here. I told myself a story – that metropolitan life was for the best and the brightest, the most talented and the toughest and that the rest of the country (including Texas where my dad lived) was full of rubes and boobs.

Of course, I never said anything like this out loud. Part of “the code” was to look down one’s nose at people who lived elsewhere with a quiet disdain. Well, unless you lived in New Jersey. Manhattanites openly treated people from NJ like they were less than. We called them “bridge and tunnel people” and that was not meant to compliment their driving skills.

So, it took a long time to recalibrate my bias for all things rural or remote. I did succeed, however, with a three-step process:

First, we moved from Manhattan to Yonkers, NY. Nowadays, Yonkers has some cache. Twenty years ago, moving there was like moving to the moon.

Ten years later, we moved further up the line to a rural section of Yorktown Heights, a one-acre parcel where we learned things like how to cut and stack wood and enjoy almost daily trips up our local mountain. We lived there for 17 years through multiple power outages and took a big step towards “roughing it.” To my surprise, we liked it…a lot.

Lastly, we sold that wonderful home and most of our possessions and took a 7 month, southern US trip in a very uncomplicated, 22-foot tow trailer. This took us one step further away from the life I had known as a boy when the only traveling I did was to Miami to visit the grandparents or Maine for sleep away camp.

Fast forward to the present. We’re living in a small town in Sullivan County, NY. It’s got four walls and a roof, but that’s about all that’s similar to the life I knew living, working and commuting in the NY metro area. Its the most remote and rural place either of us have called home.

But something else has changed.

Now, Beth and I suffer whenever we return to areas like Westchester, Long Island or Northern New Jersey, most specifically the miles and miles of chain stores, ugly big box behemoths and countless strip malls with their screaming neon signage that seem to be everywhere.

Central Avenue in Yonkers, NY

The vibe in these places, areas we inhabited for decades, now give us the creeps. We’re anxious and uncomfortable almost to the point of sickness driving around these towns. We feel like we’re trapped in Disney’s new theme park meant to overload our senses. Let’s call it Consumerland.

In my youth, it was Route 17 in New Jersey, Central Avenue in Westchester or similar strips throughout the metro area that stunk of too-much commerce. Now, however, it’s a blight that had spread like a plague throughout the suburbs and most especially in parts of the once-bucolic towns of Long Island. To be in these places is, to me, like living in the modern versions of Sodom and Gomorrah. I didn’t like to use these words, but I find it utterly disgusting. Like I said, it’s almost sickening.

So, it turns out my dad was right. Once you leave New York (or any large city with sprawling suburbs that feed and fester on that energy), many of us don’t want to go back. We’re fine living without 400 restaurants and 100 different bank branches. We no longer crave museums or want to deal with mass transit. We hate expensive parking lots and noisy traffic with a passion, yearn for open roads with no cars and cannot wait for real darkness where we can actually see the stars.

I’m not sure what this realization will lead to. Currently, we make 80% of our income in the places I’ve grown to dislike. Mind you, I don’t dislike the people here (unless they’re in cars), but we may have go figure out a plan that limits our interaction with energies that sap our strength. I know wee not the first to experience this phenomenon, so there’s likely some good advice out there.

In the meantime, we’ll use Bierko Strong to endure Consumerland. It’s all an Adventure, right?

Oh. And dad? Thanks for the advice. I’m sorry it took thirty years to understand it.

End Note #1: Beth and I have many friends we love and admire who reside in the places named above. The opinions I’ve stated are not a criticism of the people who live in these places, but of the way these places affect us. Others may thrive in areas we find too much for our central nervous systems. To each their own!

End Note #2: Somewhere near every “ugly” part of these towns is beauty. It may be in a flower box, a Symphony hall or even a dive bar. God’s handiwork or what can “turn us on” is always accessible, but it’s a little harder to find when the senses are overloaded. May we find it or, if not visible externally, discover it inside of us.

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