I WENT BACK TO OHIO BUT MY CITY WAS GONE
THERE WAS NO TRAIN STATION THERE WAS NO DOWNTOWN
SOUTH HOWARD HAD DISAPPEARED ALL MY FAVORITE PLACES
MY CITY HAD BEEN PULLED DOWN REDUCED TO PARKING SPACES
A, O, WAY TO GO OHIO
WELL I WENT BACK TO OHIO BUT MY FAMILY WAS GONE
I STOOD ON THE BACK PORCH THERE WAS NOBODY HOME
I WAS STUNNED AND AMAZED MY CHILDHOOD MEMORIES
SLOWLY SWIRLED PAST LIKE THE WIND THROUGH THE TREES
A, O, OH WAY TO GO OHIO
I WENT BACK TO OHIO BUT MY PRETTY COUNTRYSIDE
HAD BEEN PAVED DOWN THE MIDDLE BY A GOVERNMENT THAT HAD NO PRIDE
THE FARMS OF OHIO HAD BEEN REPLACED BY SHOPPING MALLS
AND MUZAK FILLED THE AIR FROM SENECA TO CUYAHOGA FALLS
SAID, A, O, OH WAY TO GO OHIO
- The Pretenders
That song used to haunt me in the 80's - it seemed to capture Saline, the farming and factory town where I grew up. There were a couple thousand people, and a one-stoplight downtown with more than half the shops boarded up. I was sure the town was dying, that suburban shopping malls and Reaganomics would combine to destroy it. The factory would close, and one hot summer a strong wind would come and blow the remnants of Saline away.
I wasn't totally opposed to the idea. The place could be small minded. We had Klan sympathizers in town and Survivalists in the woods. There are still rumors that some of them were involved in the Oklahoma bombing. Mexican immigrants would come up in the summer to work the strawberry and pickle farms, but we never, ever saw them. I never even knew they were there until I was 20, and danced one night with a girl at the bar who turned out to be a migrant worker on the farm next to our house.
There were good things too. There were small town, Frank Capra style liberals - the kind that seem to have disappeared everywhere else. A few friends were Mennonites [Amish without the buggies], and their home-life fascinated me. The countryside - rolling hills and old farm houses - really was pretty. Our school would empty out the first three days of deer season, as all the boys headed up into the north woods to hunt with their fathers. And I did have some good friends, even if we felt ourselves outcasts. But for the most part, I thought: Let the wind blow, and take this town with it.
Ann Arbor was my oasis - five miles down the road, and a world away. It was all aging hippies and leftists and freaks. And even though its main street was also half boarded-up, the bars that remained were full of musicians and artists. Everyone shopped at the food co-ops, and the churches offered Sanctuary to people fleeing Reagan's wars in El Salvador and Guatemala and Nicaragua. Marijuana was semi-legal [a $5 ticket per joint]. At the time, it seemed like paradise.
But life is change, and even before I left both places were starting to transform into something new. Saline's farms were closing, and being replaced by golf courses and gated communities. And Ann Arbor was gentrifying, the old leftists being replaced by limousine liberals. And now, what? Saline is rich. The dirt roads have been paved, and are now lined with mansions instead of farm houses. The new high school is huge. And Ann Arbor is even richer - instead of empty shops with newspaper-covered windows, Main Street is all cafes and brew pubs and ethnic restaurants.
And my cities are gone, and I'm not sure what to think of either.