I’m posting this from a Wi-Fi café in a town whose name I forget because it’s so weird. I haven’t seen much news, unless you count TV. I see that H5N1 is kicking up here and there. Happily there’s no pattern yet.
I’ve been in—or at least driven past—Rome, Naples, Geneva, Waterloo, Phoenicia, Poland, and Norway without ever leaving New York State. Or being far from Wal-Mart. The big box is the cultural contribution from my neck of the woods, now that Budweiser is brewed by Belgians.
The natives here are New Yorkers of a different sort. They have the trademark intensity and they worry a lot, but they can be nicer. The city dwellers are busier, more optimistic—and rotten listeners.
Upstate isn’t prosperous once you escape the city’s monetary spill-zone and that of the capital, Albany. Bird flu doesn’t faze upstaters. They cock an eyebrow if you mention it, curious to see if you have something new to say.
Where I’m from is more interesting to them than my views on H5N1. Few have visited Missouri, but it makes me a country boy, which they appreciate so long as I don’t seem dangerous or freaky.
The local papers can be fun. The crimes up here are pretty dramatic. Every time I pass through an old industrial town and then glide by one of thousands of lakes, I’m reminded of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. The book starts in Missouri and ends up here—from a storefront revival house to death row. The precedent keeps me on my toes. (Yes, it’s for sale here.)
New York City is a monstrous distant rival. Upstaters fight to the death for government money and attention. In some counties job growth comes only from prisons that house convicts from the city. Upstaters are tough on crime.
They sure do sell a variety of rolling papers in service stations. Real choices greet the roving consumer.