Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Good Times, Bad Times, You Know I’ve Had My Share

In some parts of the country, the financial meltdown was well underway long before the rest of us got the idea. James H. Kunstler, on his blog, may have been the one to coin the term “Yard Sale Nation.” On a recent road trip through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Nudge (who is kind enough to read FAR Future and other things here) gave us an excellent write-up of her encounter with Yard Sale Nation — where recreational equipment and other merchandise with for-sale signs share road frontage with yard signs for the Republican candidates that brought the country to this fix in the first place. (Irony? What’s that?)

Sector 706 of Planet Georgia has never been part of Yard Sale Nation, perhaps because the region was traditionally impoverished… that is, until recently, most people never really had the means to collect all the toys that are supposed to symbolize the realization of The American Dream. Yard Sale Nation is usually found in the former industrial areas, usually in the north, where sons (and recently, daughters) would follow their fathers in working at the same factory. It was reliable work for reliable workers, usually well paid (union scale)… if it offered limited opportunities for advancement, at least it meant that if you showed up on time and sober and did your job, you could raise a family in your own house and enjoy a decent retirement. At least until globalization took over and the factories (and the factory jobs, naturally) moved to Mexico, China, or even Pakistan. By contrast, Sector 706 was one of those places that didn’t quite fit the stereotype of hillbillies living in shacks — although the moonshine trade thrived well into the 1970s, and if you know the right people you can still find it — but it was agrarian, poor, and kids with any prospects moved to Atlanta or even farther away to find their niche… and returned only for visits. The population decline had just started to reverse by the time I moved here, and only recently has the county I live in returned to its population levels of the early 1900s.

The prosperity that has come to Sector 706 is broad and shallow… it’s not the kind of prosperity that comes from the work of families with roots. Rather, it’s the prosperity of gentrification and suburbanization. The newcomers are solid middle-class people, nothing wrong with that, but they came here only because land was relatively cheap and the commute to Atlanta is barely tolerable (I came because I was in love and didn’t know better). An old joke about some of the first gentrified communities, much closer to Atlanta, was that “half the people drive Volvos and the other half wonder why they named a car after a woman’s anatomy.” But the old farming families with deep roots, even deeper than Mrs. Fetched’s family, have prospered… by selling the land (that has been in the family for generations) to developers. The brothers who sold a farm just down from FAR Manor got $3 million for 300 acres last year, and it’s a good thing they didn’t hold out because the housing crash finally caught up to Planet Georgia soon after. The place still looks pretty much like the picture I posted over a year ago.

So if the jobs in Atlanta go away, the newcomers will soon go away themselves… and it won’t take 25 more years for the county to lose the population it gained in the previous 25. But Mrs. Fetched remembers crossing a foot-log to get to the outhouse (shades of Barney Google! and there’s some more irony for you) as a little girl, so the dirt-poor days are well within living memory of the forty-somethings. If things really do go to Hell in a handbasket, the real losers may be the people who sold their farms.

6 comments:

  1. You bet, Far! Excellent post! There's another old saying, "There's nobody left, except us chickens". Never give up the farm! Sure it may be hard, but another old saying, "People have got to eat". Anyway, What is 3million dollars, if that 3 million becomes worthless? That's exactly what will happen if we loose our "petrodollar" status...

    I expect the same thing to happen here in da U.P., depopulate. All these hard core "doomers" moving into the area, only to find out life is too hard here...Can't find a job (Mackinac county's 24% unemployment rate, is among the highest in the country), or the jobs here don't pay enough, or the hospitols aren't good enough, or, or, or.........Gee, if these people can't make it here now, well!!!!!

    There's another old saying Far, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." And yet another, "If you can't hang with the big dogs, get off the porch!"

    Yooper, and proud of it!

    (Yooper, isn't just a name, it's a lifestyle).

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  2. Gee, come to think of it, I'll bet us yoopers and the "ol dixie boys" have a lot in common..(and I'll just bet you know what I'm talking about)......

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  3. Hopefully things will turn around soon. You may be right about those with/without farms. There will always be a market for agricultural products.

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  4. Yooper, I guess those doomers weren't doomed enough yet! And you're probably right about the similarities between the UP and the south... Starting with the terrain. I thought, early on, that Sector 706 is much like the UP with less cold.

    Boran, that's one reason I stay here instead of finding somewhere a little more sane - it's not the worst place to ride out a crash.

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  5. We're deep into "Yard Sale Nation" up here in the extreme northeast. I mean, it's always been so. People up here live for the spring and summer "yard sale season", but it's gotten much worse over the past year. It's not just people's junk for sale on the lawns anymore. This evening, as I was passing the local drive-in theatre (closed for the season), the marquee said, in effect, "buy my trailer for $1200 and I'll throw in the truck." That's rough.

    And we've experienced a lot of that gentrification and suburbanization, too, with people moving up here where land is cheap and commuting down to Boston, or with the people who live out near the lake and commute into Portland.

    It'll definitely be interesting in the next few years.

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  6. Oh sure, Wendy, people have always had yard sales. Back when I lived in the Atlanta 'burbs, I liked going to yard sales in upscale neighborhoods — you could get really good stuff for next to nothing.

    But from what JHK and Nudge have been saying, it's like perpetual yard sales, all the time. Actually, I can think of two places like that here, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

    But I think if I was in a position where I might need a bolt-hole, I'd wait for people to start having "moving" sales, and offer to house-sit until they got the place sold. (Counting on it not ever being sold, natch!)

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