This article is making the rounds on my newsfeed right now, and since it pertains to my new theme of “personal geography,” I thought I’d share it with y’all.
I grew up in Johnson City, New York, a suburb of Binghamton; the city was an industrial-era powerhouse, like much of the rest of upstate and the Rust Belt. We all know how this story ends, of course – in something sadly resembling a ghost town, a skeleton of its former glory, filled with forgotten factories and disadvantaged people who fell through the cracks with the rest of the ship as it sank. The area’s main saving grace at the moment is what some might call SUNY’s flagship school, Binghamton University. My parents are both alums, along with dozens of people I grew up with.
The author of this article takes the town to task here, and a number of my Facebook friends (BU alums or people otherwise tied to the area) angrily reposted it. While there’s a lot of small-minded misses in what she wrote here, there’s also at least one hit. The core of it is her description of the city’s downtown area as the bastard offspring of a zombie movie set and a college kid’s wet bar crawling dream; she also complains of how there’s little to find to do aside from that. From the perspective of an undergrad, especially one with no local family or residential ties, this is accurate. There’s a minute arts community that’s mostly home to older people who decided to retire to the crazily low housing costs of upstate – oh, and a music scene that’s just as full of nothing but straight-edge hardcore bands as it was seven years ago.
On the other hand, the Binghamton area was a great place to grow up and it’s a perfect fit for my parents’ lifestyles. It’s naturally gorgeous, full of wide open spaces where you can disappear into the woods and not hear or see a car (or another human being) for as long as you like. The land costs pennies, so most houses provide tons of room for pools, gardens, tree houses, and childhood exploration. If you want to grow your own produce and rear chickens, or engage in any number of other difficult-if-not-impossible-to-do-in-a-city hobbies, this is the place for you. Mix that in with a laughably low cost of living, the ability to get across town in a matter of minutes, and some of the most kickass regional food in the Northeast, and you start to see it as less of a “shithole.”
Of course, these things aren’t going to mean shit to your average 20-something. Admittedly, I didn’t go to BU, but I grew up around it and in its sphere of influence (and I was in college once myself, not so very long ago). So, though she blames the Bingaling for her [self-perceived] weight/drinking problem and passes off some of the friendliest townspeople in the United States as an unruly horde of deformed hicks, the woman who wrote this has provided a decent summary of why I’m 3,000 miles away now – and that includes the desire to distance myself from people like her.
Love/hate? For sure. But I may well go back there when I’m ready to settle someday, and I’m sure as fuck not going to be drinking at Tom and Marty’s.