Chronicles in Ordinary Time 34: Urban vs. Rural

146 counties=1_2 US population

“Using publicly available Census data, Business Insider‘s Walter Hickey and Joe Weisenthal have deduced that over half of America’s population is localized to a mere 146 of the 3,144 U.S. counties and county-equivalents.

I live in one of those 146 counties, Multnomah County, in northwestern Oregon. Oregon also includes 2 of the 50 least-populated counties [14 are in Alaska].

For a couple of years we’ve done without cable TV; an expense that wasn’t needed. This isn’t entirely accurate- for most of that time, we were able to watch the two channels we most often watch, because they apparently were ‘unencrypted’ on our cable provider’s signal. That changed a few months ago, and I lived with DVDs for AV entertainment.


I’m a movie junkie. Back when dinosaurs ruled the earth, the early ’80s, I put our portable TV in the closet, or gave it to Goodwill, or something like that. One night I realized that I was choosing not to go visit potential customers on Thursday evening, so that I wouldn’t miss “Cheers” and “Hill Street Blues”. It dawned on me that NBC or CBS, whichever, wasn’t paying me to watch these shows. I was taking money out of my families mouth, so to speak, by not seeking out new work as a remodeling contractor; so that I wouldn’t  miss a couple of TV shows… The TV had to go.

So, our kids mostly grew up without television, mostly because I’m a movie junkie. We’d occasionally borrow my parent’s portable TV for weekends. By the latter part of the 80s or early 90s, we allowed ‘the beast’ back in the house full-time. My sister was moving, and wasn’t taking her old, but very durable, color TV [yes, they used to be black & white, only] with her. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and none of the usual places were willing to take the TV. The deciding factor was the detachable power cord. The Beast went into the living room, and was covered with a blanket. Our kids got to watch TV by appointment, and I kept the power cord hidden. I was working for the City by this time, and my movie addiction was less injurious to our family income. My ‘two-week vacation’ came to be the time between Christmas and Martin Luther King Day. I could be gone from work for a period of time without it being too painful upon my return. Not a lot of construction takes place in Portland during the Oregon Winter. I spent most of my vacations watching movies and drawing.

Back to my point:
We have an antenna device now, and have more channels available to us than during the ‘brown out’. Antenna-television relies on a lot of stuff from my childhood. Late in the evening [early morning] when my DVDs has been run-through, I often switch to TV  rather than dealing with the challenge of getting out of my recliner [legs are becoming problematic]. Antenna-TV brings back black&white memories–my childhood, and lives of my family. My parents had the American Legion and the Lions Club as ‘their church’. I was raised without a knowledge of God, beyond the word, which was usually the first word of a phrase. Life amidst the American Legion was very traditional.

The early 60s and before were ‘unsophisticated’ eras. The late 60s and early 70s were a time of ‘social consciousness’ [in addition to sex, drugs and rock&roll]. The US awakened to ideas that weren’t acceptable in earlier years. ‘Unacceptable’ due to this strange mix of religious, social, and traditional morality that makes up so much of the American Way of Life. A way of life that still exists in much of the US. Traditional Thinking that was neither moral nor true.

Over half of America’s population lives in 146 counties of the US; in total, a handful of blue dots on a much bigger landscape. Presumably, around half of the voters in America live in these 146 counties. My observations of Oregon rural life give me the impression that life in Rural America hasn’t changed all that much since I was a kid. Many technological changes, but the ideas around which rural society operates are still very much the same.

On road trips I pass by hundreds of tiny little towns; their extent can be seen through the side windows of the car. The bigger towns may take up the front and back windows as well. Passing by these window-sized towns, I wonder about the kids growing up in a tiny rural town: what is life here, like? I’ve lived in Portland nearly all of my life. I think the total time I’ve been outside of Metro Portland is less than 7 of my 61 years. I learned about rural life from my parents [my Dad was raised to be a wheat rancher; Life had other plans]; most of their friends shared a basically-rural mentality. Portland was a small enough city that a rural mentality could easily coexist with Urban thinking. I have no idea what it would be like to grow up in a town that I could easily bicycle across and back in a couple of hours.

I know that rural Oregon is usually upset by the fact that Multnomah County  largely determines the outcomes of State elections. Some friends of ours live in a small community in southeastern Oregon; and the river that crosses their property is ‘environmentally-protected’. When the river floods their property in winter, they can’t legally do anything to change the course of the river. They can’t dump excess dirt into the river that crosses their property, to prevent flooding. People in the Willamette Valley, on the other side of the State, many of whom have never been to southeastern Oregon [it’s mostly flat wheat fields, small hills and rocks], determine such things as ‘environmentally-protected’ rivers.

I think that the encounter between ‘Urban thinking’ and ‘Rural thinking’ is the basis of most of the conflict and inability to make decisions that affects our government at this point in history. Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans can’t agree on many issues. I remember a Conservative lawmaker recently making a statement that “he would never compromise on his beliefs.” One of my favorite movies has the phrase, “Never compromise; compromise is the language of the devil”.  I’ve lived most of my life among people who share that belief to some degree or other. Is this a Bad Idea? I can’t make that statement, but I understand the thinking of those who have this idea. At the same time, I’ve learned that “compromise” literally means, ‘with promise”. I believe compromise is necessary for progress to occur. I understand and empathize with Fundamentalists; and their thinking isn’t wrong. I think the Creator is larger than Fundamentalist thinking.

I think “life makes more sense” in the rural environment, and this environment has traditionally been the focus of American thinking. I think the ‘more sense’ has come from fewer options. There are more options available in the Urban environment. Not all of those options are good. Not all of those options are helpful. Not all of those options are easy for traditional thinking to accept. We won’t be going back, any time soon.

and then there’s Syria…

Ashes of Hiroshima

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