Monday, October 18, 2010

771 Visit to a Small Planet

771 Visit to a Small Planet

(PHILIPSBURG PA) -- It's a beautiful fall Saturday in what probably once was a beautiful small town and you wonder how people here make a living. A good number of stores are vacant. There's no traffic to speak of, and there are almost no pedestrians. There's a wedding at one of the several churches, else the "downtown" would be even more deserted. It's not a ghost town. Exactly. Not yet, anyway.

Time has passed this place by, at least from outward appearances. But somehow its people are keeping it on life support. At the start of the 20th Century, when this was coal country, people proudly put up buildings -- there's a red stucco-like exterior wall that's common to this region -- and even more proudly put their names and the year of construction on the front. The year labels are all before 1920, mostly before 1910.

If you didn't know by looking that this place needs a shave and a haircut, you'd know by learning there's a "revitalization" agency. Once there's one of those in a city or town, you can be sure things have deteriorated badly. There are two jewelry stores on the main drag, both closed on the weekends, or at least on weekend afternoons. Who buys jewelry in a place like this? A better question might be who's selling old gold to pay the rent?

We buy a small item in an "antique" store. Two dollars. The clerk -- probably the owner -- is grateful. Any of us would be, too. From the back room, you can hear a conversation about getting state help to pay the heat bill. And the place is only heated the four days a week it's open.

Still, they try. A new cafe and used book store, old but beautifully restored by a woman from Washington, DC. Bustling with four or five customers in a place that could easily handle 50.

On the edge of town there's a relatively new "Peebles" department store, one of a small chain. It's similar to a typical Kohl's but not as cool and half the size. And almost empty. That means there's time to chat with a worker, a tiny young woman with large, eager eyes a large eager smile and a large eager baby in her belly. She is picking up stuff that's way to heavy for someone that late in pregnancy. Down the street is a new supermarket, also fairly modern and about the busiest place we've seen today. It's one of two food stores of size in the region.

The requisite McDonald's is open. Business is slow. The Dairy Queen is open. And empty.

And there are at least two old folks' homes, one of them eight stories tall. Looks like Queens. Like a WAREHOUSE in Queens. Which really is what it is, except the Queens part.

But it's a beautiful day in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, with enough red and yellow and green and brown foliage to rival New England.

And for now, It's a good place for those of us with depression. Lots of company, relative to the population.


--Clarification: The booklet excoriated in Wessay #770 was not sent by Medicare, but by the health insurance company, which later followed it up with a "newsletter" style "publication" that said, essentially the same thing. Plenty o' bucks for publicity as they put the finishing touches on their next price increases.

I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you're welcome to them.®
©WJR 2010

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