Down to the River

Nantucket, the center of the world. A compass and mileage directory.

People stay where they’re from. So people who leave are different.

It’s easy for those of us who have left the farm to look back at those rooted through a long lens. They aren’t like us. And we aren’t like them.

We pretend we don’t understand them, but, without much effort, we could. Since they are us, and we are them.

I grew up in what is now a desert of empty boxes of buildings that once housed three shifts. Of wide boulevards that once moved those shift workers and now cracked by weeds pushing through concrete. The factories and roads are being reclaimed by nature.

Then there is the other nature. The nature of expectations. People, most of them men-people, were expecting to fill those three shifts. Like their fathers, uncles and even grandfathers did. The work was a grind, day-in day-out in a noisy factory, but you earned enough money to raise your family, an awesome health package, a little cottage near a lake and a minor discount on next year’s model. You married your high school sweetheart. You went out with the guys after shift. You did your part.

But now, instead of a cold one on your dock, you’re the protagonist in a Springsteen ode.

And even The Boss doesn’t get you, anymore. He lives in Greenwich. He takes his daughter to dressage competitions. Is that a sport? You played hockey, in the neighbor’s backyard that they flooded after you got your new skates at Christmas.

You never or just barely had a chance at those high-paying factory jobs. You stuck around, waiting for an industry comeback. Instead, the unskilled and semi-skilled jobs that came back paid less. So yeah. You’re disappointed. You’re willing to work hard. But jobs moved across oceans where people get paid pennies and there aren’t all the rules about health and safety and smokestacks that drove work away. The import side of the equation? People from countries not where your people are from with a dollop of terrorism and fear.

Crashed expectations crash into reality.

Those who left are judging those who stayed. Don’t lie. We know them. They are us. And we are them.

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