You guys know I’ve been dealing with a lot lately. I’ve received some great emails, comments, and tweets and I’m immensely grateful for the support I have online (since I don’t share a lot of this information in real life).
That said, it’s Friday, and that means it’s time for a rant. I haven’t had one in awhile. Some of the feedback I’ve received has been…less than great. If you read this and think it’s aimed at you, it’s probably not. This one has been building for YEARS. So grab your popcorn and have a seat, because it’s going to get all kinds of ranty up in here. I’ll try to stay calm.
John Mellencamp Knows What I’m Talking About
Ever heard the song “Small Town”? That’s pretty much where I live. I always overestimate the population here, but the census says it was 4,398 in 2000. There are only about 30,000 people in the entire COUNTY, which consists of maybe 13 towns.
My town has two stoplights. The only sidewalks are on Main Street, on the block surrounding the courthouse. We have a public library and two locally owned furniture stores. There is no public transportation. None. If I want to buy alcohol, I have to drive about 10 minutes to another town because alcohol sales are banned in most of the county. When it snows, I could be stuck in my house for days because the snowplows only run on the main roads.
I know nearly every single person here. If I don’t know them, I probably know their parents, siblings, or kids. And if that still doesn’t tell me who they are, I just need to hear the beginning of some gossip about them. “You know, she’s the one who dated that guy with the blue F-150. The one who got arrested for meth.”
The main form of entertainment? Listening to the police scanner (every home has one) to see who’s getting in trouble or being rushed to the hospital. I wish I was joking. Back when everyone had landlines, we used to cross our fingers for a cordless phone conversation that would be picked up by the scanner for the whole street to hear.
Why I’m Telling You This
I just want to create a picture of where I live. I’m not some grandma telling you a story about the 1940s; this is how things are right now. This is the life I live when I’m not glued to my computer screen.
Many of you have probably never seen a place like this. A place where it’s common to stop for cows who escaped and are standing in the road. A place where there are more churches than gas stations and you’re judged by your last name. A place where you might get pulled over if you rent a car, just because the sheriff didn’t recognize the vehicle. (That actually happened to me once.)
I try to remember that things aren’t this way all over the US. I really do. Because there has to be a reason why so many people give me shitty advice.
It’s Different in the Country
I’ve posted before about financial advice that gets on my nerves. Because so many people assume that their circumstances are the same as mine when they’re not. Here are just a few differences off the top of my head:
I’m not going to get rid of my car. It’s not possible to survive in this area without my own transportation. I can’t take a bus or a cab because they don’t exist here. I can’t walk to the grocery store because there are no sidewalks and the nearest store is probably a good 7 miles away. I can’t ride a bike to work because it’s 30 miles from home. I hate my car payment, but I must have a reliable vehicle. Period.
I can’t just “go get another job.” Last night I picked up this week’s newspaper. Yes, I said this WEEK’S paper, because we don’t have enough news to fill a daily one. Actually, 80% of the weekly one is filler, like the social column about who had visitors from out of town last week and the list of people who filed for bankruptcy. (Again, not joking.) Here are the exciting listings under Help Wanted:
- Snow plow operator (requires Class B CDL. And avoiding my road at all costs, apparently.)
- Part time bus driver (requires CDL)
- Part time preschool teacher at a Methodist church (you must be Methodist, which I’m not)
- Mechanical engineer/drafter (2 yrs. exp. with AutoCAD)
- PRN certified lab tech at the hospital
- Hourly “team member” at Wendy’s
That’s it. That’s all. The only one I could even apply for is the job at Wendy’s, but they won’t hire me. I’ve applied at McDonald’s and Dairy Queen and they laughed because they know me – they know I have a master’s degree and wouldn’t stay there for minimum wage. It’s not like there are all these opportunities and I’m passing them up; there simply aren’t any opportunities.
I can’t enroll my son in after-school programs to work a second job. We don’t have after-school programs here. Some kids ride the school bus for an hour just to get home. Our middle and high schoolers start and end their day (9-3:30) an hour later than the elementary kids (8-2:30) because there aren’t even enough school buses for the whole county. Many of the teachers live 30 minutes or more away – there’s no way in hell they’re staying after that last bell rings.
I can’t go apply for public assistance unless we are literally starving to death. People from a bigger area won’t understand this. But I would have to run out of things to pawn, including my refrigerator and possibly my dental fillings, before I would humiliate myself by applying for food stamps or anything else. Reasons?
- I know everyone who works there.
- People would see my car there and gossip. It would be Facebook official within 20 minutes.
- My career is in social work. I would never work in this town again. Clichéd but true.
- My son would be teased at school. Mercilessly. Because of #3.
Those are some of the realities that many people don’t seem to understand. I’ve been pretty calm and tried to explain them, so do me a favor – STOP TELLING ME TO DO STUFF THAT ISN’T WITHIN THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY.
Many people in my situation could, theoretically, find a different job or a side job. Some could get rid of extraneous vehicles or find childcare for their kids. Some would apply for assistance, even if temporarily.
Right now, I am completely stuck. Life won’t be this way forever, but there aren’t many ways out at the moment. And before you open your mouth, moving isn’t an option either. My son has two sets of grandparents and three sets of great-grandparents in this county, and I’m not going to rip him away from his family. (Plus I don’t want to give up the free babysitting.) Also, the cost of living here is incredibly low – my house is 1450 square feet with a full basement on an acre of land, and we paid under $90,000 for it. Find me a deal like THAT in a city.
Put This in Your Pipe and Smoke It
In therapy, I make a point to start where the client is. That means I don’t start telling someone how to climb Mt. Everest when s/he can’t even walk to the bathroom. I don’t expect clients to rattle off all their positive coping skills when they don’t even know what coping skills are. And here on the blog, I’m not going to post a bunch of crap about investing when many of my readers are struggling to pay their bills.
Similarly, it does no good to email me a bunch of useless drivel about what you would do in my situation if you don’t really have a clue what my situation is. I know you mean well, and I know I don’t deserve a lot of the support and suggestions I’ve received. Especially since I’m bitching about it now.
It’s enough sometimes to say, “That really sucks. I’m so sorry,” and move on with your life. People don’t always need someone to rescue them or solve all their problems. People don’t always want advice, no matter how kindly worded or well-intended. And I’ll just tell you now – the next person who offers me irrelevant advice from a city dweller perspective is going to get e-slapped right across the face. So just stop it.
Country folk, if you know where I’m coming from and have suggestions I haven’t thought of yet, you can tell me anything you want. I know there have to be people out there who speak my language.