July 20, 2006

Had a conversation with the shuttle driver taking me to the airport the other day. A native of Connecticut, he, like me, had been living in Arizona for the past few years, and as soon as he found out I was from the East Coast, he basically started into his view about the cultural differences between the East and the West. I told him I thought geography was the primary factor, his view was that it was demographics. He talked about “ocean people” and “desert people” as one way to think about “Easterners” and “Westerners”: “in the West, people see the ocean as solely a means for recreation, back East they talk about shipwrecks. Out West, people see the desert as an expression of freedom, Easterners wonder what the hell they did with all the trees and start planting ’em everywhere they can.”

In his view, because Arizona, Washington, Colorado, etc. have such a close proximity to California, the culture in these states is infected (his word) with the need to be new, be different, and, above all, be an individual. Contrast that with back East, where there’s much more a sense of, and respect for, the old – after all, that part of the U.S. is older – and hence, the value of traditions, family, community. Because of this, he reasoned, there’s much more attention paid to communal concerns and less emphasis on individuality – that dreaded “do your own thing”.

“If that were the case”, I asked him, “if individuality is so important, how do you explain the fact that so many people out here share the same kind of mind-numbing subdivision life where everyone’s homes look alike, and the three concrete walls that surround you mean you only see your neighbor twice a day if at all – maybe in the mornings and evenings when their cars appear or disappear behind the opening or closing garage doors. That, by the way, all look the same?”

He thought for a second. “Because they’re idiots.”

I suggested that maybe the weather has something to do with it as well; because the weather is usually – if not always – good, there’s a tendency to embrace a sun culture that subconsciously rejects any suggestion that life is actually going on within you and without you, and the idea that – gasp! – one really doesn’t have any control over their lives.

By that time, I was at the airport terminal and we said our goodbyes.

But it got me thinking: here in the East, the annual course and change of the seasons provide a reminder of not only the passage of time, but how much people depend on each other as well. I think about having to share raking duties whenever large oak and maple trees cover multiple yards with fallen leaves, or the snowstorms that force everyone outside to help their neighbors shovel out cars, or clean driveways, or run errands for the elderly. The lack of walled-in communities mean most homeowners are forced to share common ground and recognize and interact with neighbors (whether you like it or not) on a regular basis. Again, the work of geography and demographics drawing people together, not establishing distance, as out West.

Of course, some people (like my wife Tracey) like the distance, the lack of community, and the ability to be left alone to do their own thing and not be impacted by the demands of community and family. Some like the empty desert stretching out their back door, the doors and windows closed, the central air making perfect temperatures inside regardless of season or temperature. I’ve tried it, am glad I’ve tried it, but find myself a fish out of water in the West. Maybe it’s just that I’m a New Englander and an Eastern Time Zoner needing the change of seasons, the sense of community, the annual renewal of rites and traditions based on teachings, practices, and values passed down from one generation to another.

I guess that’s why this week’s annual rite of male bonding known as the Goodboys Invitational is something I cherish and look forward to each year. Whether the golf is good or not, the chance to touch base with friends, share memories of Goodboys past, and kick back a few beers on a New England summer weekend brings me back in touch with a part of me that finds no solace in the mind-numbing succession of hot sunny days, crawling snake traffic, and cookie-cutter subdivisions whose only difference is the size of property and the average income.

Contemplating East and West; to each his own!

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:15 | Comments (3)
  1. What do you mean by “the annual renewal of rites and traditions based on teachings, practices, and values passed down from one generation to another.” ??
    My experience has been that a “sense of community” comes with becoming part of a community. As you know I live in a “cookie cutter” condo development in your beloved Greater Lowell Area and I don’t know very many of my neighbors. However I found community when I became active in a local church and in local community affairs.
    I hope you know that I am smiling as I write this and nudging you–I don’t have those smiley face emoticons. As for “crawling traffic” have you ever communted on 128 or 93? I adopted New England as my home when my traveling days ended and I appreciate the many fine features of the East but my experience has always been that the Southwest is friendlier than the East and sometimes I miss it. Enjoy your tournament!

    Comment by Dona — July 20, 2006 @ 4:35 am

  2. Hi Dona –
    Thanks for your comments. You bring up some very good points. The traditions, customs, etc. mentioned had to do with those family-related activities and informal traditions that provide a sense of community and continuity down to generations. The Southwest has such a transient population and alot of people living there just to get away from the so-called “trappings” of those very traditions.

    Of course I’m generalizing, but I’ve met more than a few people who see the SW as a means of escape – whether it’s snow, cold, family, “the rat race”, etc., and I think that’s what Mr. Cabbie was referring to. He has a point – without a doubt, the “do your own thing and the hell with everyone else” culture is alive and well out here. Thank you, California! 🙂

    Comment by The Great White Shank — July 20, 2006 @ 10:39 am

  3. “He has a point – without a doubt, the “do your own thing and the hell with everyone else” culture is alive and well out here. Thank you, California!”

    That sentiment is alive and well almost everywhere. In fact, I would say it is the dominant sentiment. None of my neighbors have ever dropped by for a cup of coffee or borrow a cup of sugar. I get along fine with them but we all go about our business without much interaction with each other. Just an observation. I don’t necessarily think it’s good or bad.

    Comment by Rob — July 20, 2006 @ 8:18 pm

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