Green Hell: Rural America's A Nightmare

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:39

    Me, that's who. Moving from the Upper West Side to rural Ohio in 1998 may not have been the worst idea I ever had?buying a used Ford Taurus takes that honor?but Green Acres? Green Hell is more like it. In fact, life in the country today has nearly all the disadvantages of city life, but absolutely none of the advantages.

    Take food in the sticks, for instance. Got a hankerin' for down-home cooking, maybe some hearty porkchops with potatoes and homestyle green beans, corn bread and iced tea, topped off with a big slice of pie? Bad news, unless you plan to cook it yourself. Restaurants in the boondocks are rare and almost invariably awful, usually serving prefab microwaved airline food concealed beneath a blanket of glutinous gravy. The coffee served is unspeakably horrible. Pizza out here is a soggy, tasteless parody. And you'd better get used to eating when the locals do, which is to say precisely at 8 a.m., 12 noon and 5 p.m. Most restaurants, even McDonald's, close by 9 p.m.

    Planning to cook at home? Welcome to the land of the grocery superstore, where you can wander miles of aisles as you wonder at the nine billion varieties of deep-fried, freeze-dried, sugar-frosted dreck that Middle America shoves into its mouth every day. I can't imagine why Ohio has the second-highest rate of obesity in the country.

    Which is not to imply that all that variety includes any genuine food. You cannot, for instance, buy real bread out here. Even the "crusty baguettes" sold in the supermarket gourmet section have the floppy texture of baked latex, and the soft, fluffy "bagels" offered for sale in rural Ohio would, in any civilized society, be illegal. And oddly enough, in a state largely devoted to agriculture, the produce in most of these stores is wretched. Any Korean greengrocer in Manhattan has fresher vegetables.

    Shopping for clothing or household supplies? Forget the local stores, driven out of business years ago by the humongous and soulless Wal-Mart 15 miles away. The only business that makes money in most small towns these days is the live-bait vending machine at the gas station. Feeling intellectual? "Bookstore" out here translates into Waldenbooks at the mall, staffed by depressed Trekkies in "What Would Jesus Do?" t-shirts. Looking for a newspaper means driving 40 miles if you want one without pictures of livestock on page one. Music? All Shania Twain, all the time.

    The common denominator of existence out here is the personal motor vehicle. There is no such thing as public transportation, and from my house you can walk for a solid two hours and still not be anyplace except in the middle of a cornfield. You're going to need a car. And don't think you're gonna get away with some little Nissan sedan. You'll be going toe-to-toe on two-lane blacktop with some of the worst drivers on Earth, pumped-up glue-sniffing trailer trolls raised on Nintendo, fueled by Rolling Rock and armed with Daddy's F-350 pickup and a cheerful ignorance of the laws of physics. If you're not driving at least a Chevy Suburban, you're toast. And don't dawdle on the road. According to the Ohio Highway Patrol, the average speed of vehicles traveling our local stretch of I-70 (speed limit: 65 mph) is anywhere from the high 70s to the low 80s.

    Off the highway it's nice and peaceful, unless you count the incessant gunfire from dawn to dusk. Hunters in 1994, having run short of things to kill, persuaded the state of Ohio to let them "hunt" mourning doves, perhaps the most graceful, trusting and inoffensive member of the avian kingdom. So now your neighbors (everyone out here is heavily armed, by the way) will be rising at dawn and dressing in camouflage from head to toe to go out and shoot doves. Come deer season in the fall, they'll be busy blasting each other, as well as the occasional innocent civilian, with depressing regularity. Last year they drilled some poor shmuck mowing his lawn on a Saturday afternoon.

    Crime in the countryside bears a remarkable resemblance to crime in New York in the 1980s, complete with a booming crack trade, drive-by shootings and home-invasion robberies. The Ohio state mascot is the Disgruntled Ex-Boyfriend, protagonist of the dozen or so daily domestic violence incidents in our hood. Should you or yours be attacked by this critter, feel free to call the county sheriff's office, but you'd best have a Plan B for the 40 minutes or so that it will take a deputy to reach your house. Assuming they come at all. Our local sheriff was recently indicted on more than 200 felony charges by a state grand jury, so departmental morale is running a bit low.

    And I haven't even mentioned the bugs (you'd better really like spiders), the unpotable well water, the poisonous chemicals blowing off the cornfields, the vultures, the coyotes, the abominable weather and, best of all, the stultifying boredom of the place. But you get the idea. So give my regards to Broadway, eat a real bagel for me and count your blessings. And please let me know if you hear of any good sublets.