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A Tourist in My Home Town!

October 10, 2012

My wife and I just got back from a month in the US (with a side excursion to Canada) and I’m still trying to process the experience. We spent most of our time in Ohio getting bombarded by election ads, so that’s why I’m kind of numb.  But we also drove to Washington, New York, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa and Toronto,  so we got a chance to talk to lots of people in a variety of places.

As usual, the countryside was beautiful.  It was the first time I’d driven across the George Washington Bridge.

But we especially like the quaint New England towns:

Unfortunately we were a bit too early for fall foliage:

But we met many interesting people:

I was hoping to get some insights into what is going on with the economy and the political environment, but what I actually got was a lot of conflicting data—the economic and political situations are as diverse and complex as the scenery and people we saw.

One of the biggest surprises was the economy.  Although we did see houses up for auction and long stretches of empty retail space, people for the most part were amazingly bullish.  Cleveland seems to be going through another one of its renaissances with lots of new building and renovation.  They are building fancy downtown apartments and people are filling them as fast as they can build them.

A lot of the empty retail space is being reclaimed by new businesses.  Admittedly, they are often sub-Walmart retail operations and lot of them don’t bother refitting the space, so you might be in a discount book shop with an Italian restaurant décor.  But at least the space isn’t empty.

Maybe it was just me, but it seemed as if there were more trucks than cars on the road—and I’ve got to believe that trucks are delivering stuff for people to buy.

Restaurants and malls seemed to be booming. 

Speaking of retail, Halloween is the next holiday on the calendar and every store we visited is geared up for Halloween spending.  My recollection of Halloween was a pumpkin on the front steps and a cheap or homemade costume but today it’s big business.  There was even “The Halloween Store.”

On the scale of essential living expenses, I have to believe that Halloween kitsch is probably pretty low and fairly discretionary in a bad economy.  But the amount of stuff on sale and the way people were snapping it up leads me to conclude that either (1) Halloween has gotten a lot more important than it used to be or (2) people are looking for stuff to spend their money on.  Or maybe both.

Everyone is in on the act, with products that used to be seasonal being retrofitted for Halloween.  I saw Easter delicacies such as Peeps and Cadbury Crème Eggs recast as Pumpkin Peeps and Cadbury Scremes, which are Cadbury Crème Eggs with the yellow yolk dyed green.


Someone’s making all this stuff and people are buying and deploying it with abandon.  This sort of thing is all the rage:

As hard as it was to figure out the economic situation, politics was infinitely more difficult.  I have to start with the caveat that I was curious to find out what was going on, so I brought up the topic more than I should have. 

From these discussions I didn’t learn a lot about what’s really going on, but I did learn that it’s probably not a good idea to bring up politics.  There is no such thing as a polite political conversation. No one is neutral.  And no one respects anyone else’s opinion.  If people agree, they talk about the irredeemable ignorance of the people who don’t agree with them.  If people don’t agree, they lecture each other on why the other person is wrong.

In short, there is no meaningful discourse on the real issues.  In fact, from what I can tell, there is no attempt to stratify the issues as to importance.  Or even to determine if they are real.  The President’s birth certificate can still get a front page headline.

I finally realized that when you condense all the arguments down to the essentials, everyone is just trying to simplify things.  Making things black and white makes life less complicated and more comfortable.  Even though it means that everything ends up cast as right or wrong, and worse, us and them.

The whole thing was put into perspective for me when we went into a big retail store.  It was a discount place and the vast majority of the stuff was from China.  What else would you expect at a discount store?

This was the sign on the door:

In any event, one of the issues in the presidential campaign is China.  According to the rhetoric, they are stealing our jobs.  We are letting them steal our jobs.  They are fiddling with the currency markets.  They are flooding the market with cheap knockoffs.  They are also a major trading partner. 

In other words, China is a complex issue.

And you would think that a store selling China-made goods would raise some questions.  But because complex issues aren’t welcome, this sign hung proudly from the rafters:

Sure keeps things simple, doesn’t it.

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Snoring Dog Studio permalink
    October 10, 2012 11:40 pm

    How interesting and revealing your trip was! Love your insights here but I have to say how sad it is how very much polarized we’ve all become. There are nothing but “hot button” issues these days. China is a complex issue and it’s very human to distill it down to things that are more close to home and more personal.

    Great photos.

  2. October 10, 2012 11:52 pm

    I haven’t been back to America in a long time; clothing styles have really changed.

  3. October 11, 2012 2:54 am

    I love the “buy American” sign in the store selling Chinese-made goods. I wonder if they sell any “ironies.” ouch

    Thanks for the comment on my blog about the Eldercare Underground. I’d sure like to hear what your total immersion experience in it was like.

    • October 14, 2012 7:38 pm

      It was an interesting store! As far as total immersion, I learned to expect the unexpected.

  4. October 11, 2012 6:22 am

    Oh lordy, I haven’t seen any stores like that yet. But those cemetery lawns proliferate around here.

    The thing is that people who can’t find the mortgage money (or can’t save any significant amount, for another example) can still scrape up a few bucks for cheap Chinese crap, so a lot of this Halloween spending, I think, is a self-administered booby prize for people who aren’t really doing that well. They can always say they’re doing it for the kids.

    And you were through Washington! Should have called ahead, you could have dropped by!!! I’m just outside town, but still in the belly of the political beast. (Obama is known for dropping in on local restaurants for a burger or ice cream, never when I’m nearby, though). I’m afraid you have summed up the election situation pretty well; politics has become a Sharks and Jets game in this country. I do tend to think of the present hardline Republicans as culpably ignorant, but I miss the days when there were bipartisan conversations about how to get stuff done, and I grit my teeth whenever the progressive MoveOn media feed gloats over a sound clip of someone “smacking down” a conservative. That’s really going to win friends and influence people isn’t it?

    Merry Thanksgivoween. I try to keep my head down from now until roughly Twelfth Night; the commercial pressure is relentless. Now you’ve given me more to dread.

    • October 14, 2012 7:39 pm

      Thanks, next time I’ll let you know if we’re coming to town. Good luck with the holidays!

  5. October 11, 2012 11:04 pm

  6. October 12, 2012 1:36 am

    Did those people buy all of that Halloween stuff? Those two are homes, aren’t they Thomas? Wow.

    • October 14, 2012 7:41 pm

      Yes they are! Two of many and you can buy all that stuff at “The Halloween Store.”

  7. October 12, 2012 3:18 am

    Love those covered bridges!

    People in my neighborhood do a lot of decorating for Halloween too. Then for Christmas, hardly anything. Strange.

  8. October 12, 2012 9:09 am

    I’m going to stick my neck out and say that a lot of the Halloween activity has to do with people who are on the outs for one reason or another. I sympathize. I saw it a lot where I used to live in Gloucester Mass. in neighborhoods with a lot of unemployed fishermen. Don’t get me wrong, I see where they’re coming from. It’s kinda like the “alternative” to the more earnest positive-thinking holidays.

  9. October 13, 2012 1:27 am

    I wondered where you’ve been. Looks like ya had a great trip, just hope you filled out your absentee ballot while over here 🙂

    • October 14, 2012 7:43 pm

      Thanks, it was a great trip. The ballot has been taken care of! (I wrote you in)

  10. October 13, 2012 9:45 am

    Trucks??? I think some days here also there are more trucks on the road than cars..Halloween, used to be fun, but some of the used to be little kids are getting a little demanding …..
    Welcome home Thomas

  11. October 17, 2012 7:30 pm

    I used to like Halloween when it was simple and there were no rules. You threw on old clothes paraded out as a hobo or anything you want to be and received treats for it. Now it’s full of more junk and overpriced candy bars. Phooey. thanks for taking us along on your trip. It looked like a great time.

  12. October 26, 2012 5:13 am

    Another road tripper – yay! What a great adventure, with so much ground covered. I love all of the photos, especially the New England houses. I love and miss them. Like sledpress, I’m also in the DC area. The three of us could have met up at a Halloween store and done some shopping. I heard the other day that BILLIONS are spent on the holiday each year. Scary. Or frighteningly good for the economy.

  13. December 9, 2012 11:13 pm

    sounds like a brilliant trip. Loved the photos, New England looks divine and the bridge reminds me of the movie ‘Bridges of Madison County’…gorgeous. As for politics!!! If people got off their soap boxes and deflated their egos just a tad, they may find out how diverse and interesting life really is, instead of shutting themselves up in little narrow-minded boxes. And as for China!!! why buy the stuff? People are their own worst enemies, they need common sense, which seems to be sadly lacking. Great blog.

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