I’m not particularly religious. It’s been decades since I sat through a church service that didn’t involve a wedding or a funeral. I was raised in the local Methodist church back home as a kid, but drifted away as a teenager. Like the poet said, “Mama tried.” Even as I’ve fallen away from the flock, I’ve maintained what I’d describe as an academic interest in religion. It seems to me that any force that has so powerfully influenced civilizations across thousands of years is probably worth having an interest in.
I may have been raised Methodist, but I don’t have any deep insights into the inner workings of the church, its governing body, or the personalities involved. I honestly hadn’t thought much about it at all until a few weeks ago when someone mentioned attending a meeting to decide if their little church would stand with its parent denomination or brake away. The divide, unsurprisingly, is over the current hot button cultural issues with gender, sexuality, and inclusivity leading the way.
I understand that the issues have already caused people who had been sitting in the same pews for 60 or 70 years to step away on their own before the whole congregation even made a decision. In a community that puts a premium on doing things the way they’ve always been done, that’s quite a statement. Whether that statement is about the church, its congregants, or some people’s determination to be stubbornly intolerant to anything that doesn’t toe the line of their own standards of goodness and right is probably up to debate.
The community where I grew up has always struggled to hang on to its young people. With the double yolk of declining populations and youthful disinterest in organized religion, the local Methodist congregation has already been in steady decline to the point that it’s made up of predominately elderly members. Just having this cultural fight, let alone setting up as a breakaway sect, in my estimation, only has one outcome for this small church nestled hard against Western Maryland’s mountains – its numbers will drop to a point where the congregation is no longer viable regardless of whether they call themselves United Methodists or Global Methodists. It’s already happened to churches in the small towns and villages across the country as younger members shifted to more modern forms of worship. This will be another old-line church that folds as the ground around it shifts in ways that ye olde John Wesley could never have imagined.
As someone who long since gave up practicing religion in any real sense, I’m surprisingly moved by these discussions and their implications. The little white church perched on a hill overlooking town always felt like something solid – a permanent fixture that remained even while the town itself changed. Permanency, as it turns out, should probably come with an asterisk, as terms and conditions apply.
As a rule, I find the Twitter algorithm much more entertaining than the one Facebook uses. Twitter tends to feed me a steady diet of people who talk about dogs, UK politics, the age of fighting sail, archeology, military affairs, book collecting, egirls, and the occasional American politician. It’s more or less balanced based on my interests.
Every couple of months, though, I somehow land in environmentalist crackpot twitter. My most recent territory was getting twisted up with Twitter’s urban planners who were demanding that everyone must live in densely built walkable communities.
I’d like to encourage that group to piss directly off. Not everyone wants or needs to live in dense, urban housing – walkable or otherwise. I’ve spent my life specifically avoiding living under those conditions. I have no idea why it’s so hard for urbanites to understand that not everyone is interested in living asshole to elbow with their neighbor, stacked 47 floors deep, just for the pleasure of having a bakery or bodega a block over. I worked my ass off to make sure there was plenty of space between me and the next guy. In fact, I suspect my current space allocation isn’t nearly enough and the next time around I’ll focus on less house and more land.
I’d be hard pressed to think of a single argument the urban planning true believers on Twitter could make that would lead me in a different direction. That won’t stop that oddball little corner of twitter from being filled by people who think they have the One True Way and the rest of us should just live in accordance with their pronouncements of the higher good.
I obviously need to find a way to get Twitter to stop feeding me this nonsense, as I’d much rather focus on the nonsense that actually interests me instead of rabbit holing me into things just guaranteed to elevate my blood pressure. Damned glitchy algorithm.
For a while on Sunday afternoon my Twitter feed was near filled with what I’ll generally call serious lefty climate people. Look, I’m there. Climate change is a real thing. It’s a topic worthy of serious discussion by serious people. I’m not in any way sure that’s what was happening on twitter. The one theme I kept seeing over and over was the call to “reimagine” cities.
That’s fine, I suppose. Cities have been reimagining and rebuilding themselves for as long as there have been cities. I’m sure in 3428 BCE some Sumerian urban planner in Ur was convinced there was a better way to build a ziggurat.
The trend of growing urban populations increasing while rural populations decline is not in any way a new feature in this country. It’s been happening since nearly the beginning as people left the farm for new job opportunities in the city created during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution. There’s no reason to think that trend will stop as we move forward, so our cities should absolutely plan for dealing with larger populations in the future.
What I always struggle with in these discussions is these “thought leaders” on social media never seem to take into account is the number of people who have never, do not currently, or never will have any desire to live in a densely urbanized bicyclist and pedestrian paradise. I just don’t care how many bus routes you have or how wonderful the subway is, trading my patch of land with its flora and fauna for 600 square feet on the 87th floor just sounds awful.
Good luck with it, though. The more people you convince to be warehoused in towers of steel, concrete, and glass, the more green space I’ll have out here “where no one wants to live.” You might want to talk about nature, but I value seeing it from my back porch. We’re not the same.
1. Bathroom stall phone calls. Yes, you’re sitting down and probably bored, but the shitter in the public restroom really isn’t a conference room. And yet at least once a week I walk into the one down the hall from my little section of cube farm and there’s someone holed up in one of the stalls having a full blown conversation. First, it’s the one room in the building where I can mostly go to escape pointless conversation. Secondly, whoever you’ve got on the other end of the line doesn’t need to hear you dropping the kids off at the pool. Lastly, you can save the stink eye, because every time I walk in there and find you on the phone, I’m going to fart, belch, whistle a jaunty tune, and generally be as loud, obnoxious, and passive aggressive as possible… because I dare you to say something to justify yourself in the eyes of gods and men.
2. City slickers. In Paul Krugman’s recent screed in the New York Times, Getting Real About Rural America, his thesis seemed to be that things could get better if only people in rural America started thinking more like people living in urban America. The catch, of course, is that I’ve made the conscious decision to live in rural America precisely because it doesn’t think (or behave) like urban America. I could have just as easily decided to live in Baltimore, Wilmington, or Philadelphia but none of those places support the kind of lifestyle or the quality of life that’s important to me. If the capital “D” Democratic Party ever wants to make serious inroads into the vast swath of country beyond reliably Democratic voting cities and inner suburbs, they’re going to have to come up with a far better argument than “you should just think like us.” The day I declare I want to give up wide open ground, backyard wildlife, towering oaks, no traffic, and idyllic quiet for “everything the city has to offer,” consider this my written permission to begin proceedings to have me psychologically committed.
3. Recognition. After spending the better part of six months mixed up in delivering a final product that’s “rolling off” the proverbial line next week, there’s nothing more cheering that sitting in a meeting where one of the Gods on Olympus turns to you quizzically and asks, “Ummm, why are you here?” Oh, no particular reason, I saw a meeting forming up and I didn’t have anything else to do this hour so I thought I’d hang. I don’t ever do things for public credit to see my name in lights – in fact I actively avoid those things. Still, though, sometimes it might be nice to know it’s recognized that I’m not just wandering the halls lacking anything better to do. You can just color my morale well boosted today.
The local county zoning board is set to hear a request for a variance centered on our little corner of the Ceciltucky. This long stretch of the Elk Neck peninsula we call home ranges from protected wetlands, state park, state forest, conservation trust land, horse farms, and what in zoning parlance is “low density residential” housing. That LDR designation is what’s important here in that it’s what’s prevented all manner of undesirable development – things like condo blocks, giant houses on tiny lots, and, last year, a proposed “RV park” that got rolled back when property owners howled.
Now that county is considering what, at first blush, might seem to be a so what variance that would allow an additional 2500 square feet of space to be put under roof on that particular parcel of land that was once home to a now-defunct local convenience store. The wider issue, and there’s always a wider issue, is that the stated purpose of the variance is to allow Dollar General to develop the site as a commercial retail space squarely in the middle of what is almost exclusively a low density residential area. I say almost, because the Dollar General property is directly next to a small, locally owned convenience store where you can stop to get your lottery tickets, a fried egg sandwich, coffee, and as much of the local gossip as you can stand. This place is a community asset.
The request, of course, discusses all of the wonderful benefits of having a Dollar General come to “town.” As a consummate writer of bullshit memoranda, I can tell you whatever legal beagle put it together did a fine job off adding the bells and whistles to make an appealing case without saying much of anything at all.
I have great discomfort about telling a property owner what they can or can’t do with their property. That said, though, the owners purchased it knowing full well what was and wasn’t allowed based on the zoning in place when they purchased. I moved down to this quiet part of the county specifically because it was far away from the “retail opportunities” along major local highways. The last thing I want is to see some generic rubber dog shit selling baby big box store moving in just up the way. Based on the electrons I’m seeing being burned up online, the bulk of my neighbors agree. I guess all that’s left is seeing if we can pummel the county into submission one more time.
What Annoys Jeff this Week is usually the place where I vent my spleen each week. Most of the time it’s easy enough to cull the “top three” things from the list and give them each a little paragraph of exposition. Some weeks, this one included, offer what I can only describe as an embarrassment of riches. In fact this week it would be easier to discuss the few things that have not annoyed me in some way.
1. The critters. Despite the bills for care, feeding, and entertainment, I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever begrudged one of my animals anything. Regardless of the stupidity going on “out there” beyond the four walls of the house, they’re consistent in their affection and pleasure at seeing me every afternoon. Even the cat. Walking through the door to be greeted by a wave of fur and slobber is the high water mark of each and every day.
2. Living rural. Every time I switch on the television I find myself faced with an endless amount of stupid things happening. For the most part that coverage is dedicated to the things happening in major cities here at home and around the globe. Now I’m tuned in to the local news outlets closely enough to know that there’s plenty of stupidity happening in Cecil County, too. Fortunately, my little corner of the place is remarkably serene. Now there may still be plenty of stupidity happening nearby, but we have the common decency to (mostly) keep in behind closed doors.
3. Blood. You don’t get to pick your family. What you end up with seems to be mostly be left up to the luck of the draw. Let me say that knowing that, I feel like I’ve been given a very fortunate hand to play. I’m looking forward to that rare opportunity of spending some quality time with them this weekend.
If there’s anything else you can think of this week, it’s safe to just go ahead and assume that it has annoyed me at some point.
I think of myself as a fairly seasoned driver. I cut my commuting teeth on the DC beltway, it’s safe to assume there isn’t much traffic can throw at me that I haven’t experienced before. A 90 minute delay because the drawbridge was open? Check. Snow-induced gridlock on 95? Done it. Five hour office to home drives because a tractor trailer hauling gasoline fell off an overpass? Yep. Run a line of red lights at 5 AM on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast because certain unsavory characters got a little too close? Did that too. Snow, sleet, hail, rain, wind, all manner of natural factors have conspired against my daily commute at one point or another and I’ve bested all of them.
It’s been a long time since I’ve run the beltway gauntlet and you’d think that living in the backwoods of Ceciltucky would leave me free of most of the urban and suburban commuting hazards I faced while fighting my way into and away from the District every day. Commuting is an art and a science, but the one thing making the drive down 95 every morning prepared me for was the complete asshattery of the people who stop in the middle of the road during a driving rain storm. I don’t mean that they slow to a crawl. I mean they come to a full and complete stop right there in the travel lane as if nothing could have prepared them for the sight of liquid falling from the sky.
Look, if you need to pull off to the side and wait it out, good on ya. God bless. But for the love of Pete can we at least agree that stopping in the middle of the road, when by your own actions you’re admitting that visibility is less than ideal, is a very bad idea? And if, for some unknown reason, you do feel compelled to stop in the middle of the road, how about cutting the rest of use a break and flipping on your hazard lights so we have a fighting chance of seeing you before your cute little toy car becomes my hood ornament. Yeah. That would be just great.
Oh. And I had to drive over a tree today. A tree. Right there in the middle of the road. That was a first in 19 years of being a licensed driver. Surely that adds something to my cachet as a recognized power commuter… like earning my “Rural Living” merit badge.
Some days leaving the house serves no purpose other than reminding me why I do it as little as possible.
One of the things that I note on nearly all of my trips to Western Maryland is the overall difference in price of “going out” there versus going out in the DC/Baltimore area.
Here’s a handy comparison for both (all prices are per person):
1. Dinner – WMD: $15; WDC: $75
2. Dance – WMD: Included in price of dinner; WDC: $15-20 cover
3. Beer – WMD: $1.25/domestic bottle; WDC: $3.50/domestic bottle
4. Liquor shot – WMD: $2.00; WDC: $5.00
5. Distance from bed – WMD: No more than 5 miles; WDC: 30-35 miles (including a drunken Metro ride or add $20 for parking)
So, in computing the totals, we find that an evening in WMD breaks down to the following costs: $15 for dinner and dance, $20 for beer and tips, $5 for shots, and $1 for gas. Grand total: $41.00. For WDC, the breakdown is as follows: $75 for dinner, $15 cover, $45 for beer and tips, $10 for shots, and $10 for gas and metro fare and parking fee. Grand total: $155.
As you can see, they both have their selling points.