158 Youngstown, OH: Drydocked

At the card shop, I bought a post card of Pennsylvania Coal Town that put Hopper's name under the reproduction in large letters, as if it were on a theater marquee. The frail but spirited older woman behind the counter wore black pants and a pink sweater with pink embroidered roses on it. She had wispy hair and tortoise-shell glasses, and she rocked from her front foot to her back as she answered my question.

"No, I don't think so," she said emphatically but reassuringly. "You mean isolated from the rest of the country? People in Youngstown travel within the country and also abroad. Of course, as in every city, you find people who probably have never gone outside Youngstown.

"In general, people are very friendly, very nice, good people. Even though you hear awful things about Youngstown and how many people were killed this week, there's lots to recommend Youngstown, I think. The only thing is it's in the middle of Ohio. I grew up in Australia about twenty miles from the Pacific Ocean. And then I came to landlocked Youngstown. So it seems I've been here for quite a long time. I had no idea I'd miss the ocean as much as I still do. I think it gets into your blood somehow.

"There's a lot of unemployment [here] and a lot of poverty, as there is anywhere. When the mills closed, this--Pittsburgh, Youngstown and Cleveland--was what they used to call the diamond ... the golden triangle ... the diamond triangle, I think it was. With all the incredible steel industry here. It's gone."

"What about the other meaning of that word?" I asked.

"Which word are we talking about?" she asked.

"Isolation. Are the people isolated from each other?"

"Oh no," she said. "I think there are not a great number, but a diversity of ethnic international groups. And of course we have people who are well-trained professionals who are, through the job, taking advantage of the education that's offered near here. Other people kind of give up. But then there are also white people who give up, too. It depends. I often think, 'How would I act if I were in a situation where I felt I had not much control?' (I'm not speaking of black or white here, but in any case, it would be very difficult.) But then there are other people who rise above it through all kinds of situations. As I say, there's poverty, but there's poverty everywhere, and people try to do things to help.

"We have, up here, the Arms Historical Museum," she continued. "We have downtown, and then the Youngstown Symphony Society, which is a very good symphony. Mill Creek Park, which is really incredible. I could live in that Mill Creek library forever; just sit in the chair there and look out the window. It's a smallish town comparatively. Whereas, if it were the size of New York, you wouldn't even hear about these things.

"We have The Butler, which is open to all people free of charge. The kids are really very cute. I was standing out in the central hall, and a woman and her daughter looked a little as if they needed some directions. And I said, 'Are you familiar with the museum?', and the mother said, 'No, I'm not.' And the little girl said, 'But I am.' She was so proud, you know. She had come with her school, then she got her mother to come, too."

No comments: