This town seems enveloped in a culture of poverty. Generally, the middle and upper classes have a hard time understanding the ways of the lower economic classes. Blowing hard earned money on beer, drugs, or outings for the kids seems an extreme waste of such delicately balanced resources. The elite, or even moderately well off, do not understand that the smaller the apartment or house, the harder it is to keep it looking clean and uncluttered. They do not understand that after a stressful month of barely making bills, working non-stop, fretting about eviction, and trying to find rides to work, the most sensible action is to go buy some happiness.
It seems not to make any sense to maintain the extra cost of cable or ordering pizza, when cutting those costs out would make rent easier to manage. For people who have nothing to look forward to but after work television or an easy dinner, these costs are worth it.
It is difficult to break out of the culture of poverty. It follows you. Poverty is not about making an insufficient amount of money for stable living. It eventually becomes a mindset. The same person, barely able to afford necessities, will often maintain poverty even if allowed to come into a larger sum of money. Old habits die hard. This I know.
I have a difficult time comprehending the layout of this city. Driving side roads, you will see a dilapidated street overflowing with tilted properties, peeling paint, jagged window remains, and people unable to afford dental care, dressed in clothing that rightly should have been tossed years ago. The next street up, you'll view immaculate siding, landscaped yards, energy efficient windows, children's play sets and no people, as they are all likely at work. Is it possible for such poverty to exist next to the smartly dressed middle class set?
I read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged some years ago, and enjoyed it for the clever writing and unique moral. Rereading the novel while washing laundry at a local laundry mat years later, different aspects of the story jump out. A particular paragraph leapt at me, more because of the tone of desperation than anything else. Dagny and Rearden are on a unplanned vacation, driving just to drive:
"They drove through small towns, through obscure side roads, through the kind of places they had not seen for years. She felt uneasiness at the sight of the towns. Days passed before she realized what it was that she missed most: a glimpse of fresh paint. The houses stood like men in unpressed suits, who had lost the desire to stand straight: the cornices were like sagging shoulders, the crooked porch steps like torn hem lines, the broken windows like patches, mended with clapboard. The people in the streets stared at the new car, not as one stares at a rare sight, but as if the glittering black shape were an impossible vision from another world."
The people here do appear like Rand's description of the houses. They seem defeated. Poverty has beaten them down. Many people ride bicycles or walk, not for exercise, but for lack of transportation. Beyond the strange pattern of upper and lower class neighborhoods, I have the hardest time understanding the mindset of some people in my acquaintance.
Too many people seem fine with the status quo. Some do not appear to be seeking employment, although they cannot pay for cigarettes, a place to live, or food. Some find employment, but do not work to keep it longer than a month or so. Several people seem to live on scraps alone. The rates of depression are high here, the rates of suicide higher. There is a war to be won here, but who are the soldiers?