Reflections on Rural America
Just back from a delightful week in rural Maine, not far from the New Hampshire border. I’ve got some thoughts about rural life in general, but the first thing I will say is if you choose to ignore TLC’s advice as I did, Sabbaday Falls in New Hampshire is a VERY cool waterfall, just a short walk into the White Mountain National Forest.
The first thing that struck me about rural life is that you just have to freaking drive EVERYWHERE. Over the course of a week, I got used to driving between 15 and 45 minutes to do pretty much anything. Want a cup of coffee? 15 minutes away. Ice cream? 15 minutes in a different direction. Grocery store? half an hour.
You get the picture. You just have to spend so much time in the car all the time. These folks cannot give up their cars. Which makes it all the more important for those of us who live in cities to try to drive as little as possible and to fight to take our cities back from cars so that they (and the planet in general) will be more liveable.
(aside—You can’t be serious about climate change if you don’t address the incredible carbon footprint of the US military. We need to stop maintaining a global empire in order to save the globe. But I can’t make the DC establishment kick its defense contractor money habit, and I might be able to move the needle on driving a little bit. So we do what we can!)
Also, a lot of us anti-car folks should, I think, include a recognition of this reality of rural life when we talk about this issue. If I had to depend on a car to make my life livable, I too would probably be pretty hostile to anti-car rhetoric. I know there aren’t, percentage-wise, that many people in rural environments, but I think they could use some reassurance that we don’t want them stuck in their homes forever.
Also—while I did see some “Don’t Tread on Me” flags in Maine, once I got into New Hampshire, the fascist symbols multiplied, like, exponentially. In a supermarket in NH I saw a guy with a trucker hat bearing the Punisher Skull logo with the fascist “blue line” flag pattern and a swoop of orange hair atop the skull. It was like a parody of fascist merch, but this guy was not wearing it ironically.
I don’t know why New Hampshire is so much more fascist than…well, any other New England State, but in light of the Don’t Tread on Me flags, I started thinking about the many ways rural residents are subsidized by city residents. For example, in the Maine towns where I was, there were basically no roads—only state routes. The rural towns don’t have any roads of their own, presumably because they don’t have the tax base to maintain them. So they just build houses off the state route, paved, maintained, and plowed by the state, and therefore subsidized by people who live in non-rural areas.
Same with the power lines and cable internet infrastructure. A mile of power line on a state route in Maine might serve a hundred customers, but I feel like the actual number is far less than that. So either the state or the ratepayers are subsidizing the power and internet lines going to areas where it probably costs more to maintain the lines than the companies make in revenue from having them there.
Now, I’m not going to use crappy GOP rhetoric about freeloaders or whatever because I believe we should all take care of each other. And so I don’t think it’s wrong or even bad that rural infrastructure is subsidized by urban residents. But maybe rural residents could recognize this and a) stop demonizing the cities whose tax revenue makes their lifestyle possible and b) stop with the “independent homesteader” cosplay and recognize that you’re not some lone wolf living on the frontier. You’re someone driving every day on a road someone else paid for because they think you should have roads to drive on.
Well, I can dream.