How “Farmers’ Marketing” Leads to the Microtrend of “Hometown Migration”

It’s never been cooler to live a simple yet authentic life.  Let me introduce you to the new American Dream.

*New words I made up for this post, which you will want to become familiar with:

Farmers’ Marketing noun: Not the actual gathering of a community in a central location in order to buy, sell, and trade their local produce and goods, but instead a subculture or lifestyle which reflects a mindset of minimal personal possessions, busyness, and stress; therefore rejecting the traditional mainstream idea of the American Dream.

Hometown Migration noun: A movement of late twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings actually moving back their own hometown several years after establishing a career and beginning a family in a big city; therefore refreshing the town they grew up in with new ideas and in essence, “new blood”.

There was a time when bigger and flashier was better.  And while there are still people out there driving Hummers (though it’s common knowledge that people who drive them tend to be obnoxious, unlike people who drive Jeeps) and who still refuse to buy store brand products, even down to their hand soap and kitchen table condiments (like it matters that your bottle of mustard says “Kroger” instead of “Hunt’s”), I think it’s safe to say that the modern cultural movement is towards simplicity.  We as a nation are learning the meaning of “living within our means” and not consuming more than we actually need; that credit cards are the devil and that food buffets are Diabetes factories.  We get it now that money isn’t everything- and more importantly, that it in theory it’s a waste of time to chase more money our whole lives only to find by the time we retire there may be nothing left for our own social security.  Money is simply a necessary evil, as far as I’m concerned.

This shift towards simplicity also translates to the people we allow to become celebrities through our favorite reality shows.  Celebrating mediocrity mixed with absurdity has obviously become a successful formula.  We no longer need to see beautiful people living in melodramatic plotlines.  Okay, so maybe The Bachelor is an exception. But it’s pretty refreshing to see normal people any hour of the day on HGTV.

Even though it’s not actually a reality show (but instead a fake reality show), I don’t see The Office being as good if everyone in the cast were exceptionally good-looking like the cast of Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy, or any other “provocative” show that repulses me equally.  Interestingly, The Office is more believable as a mockumentary because the plain-looking actors seem more like people we actually know in real life, instead of stereotypical stock characters we’ve already seen before in every other TV show.

It’s no coincidence that the Age of the Reality TV Show we are currently living in kicked into gear around the same time that the Internet became a standard for most middle class households (around the year 2000).  The Internet allows unqualified and unspectacular people to be seen and heard by anyone else in the world who is willing to look and listen.  We are able to, in a sense, peer into the lives of other regular people just like us.  And it’s evidently fascinating.  Simplicity translates as authenticity; and the idea of authenticity sells.

By far, the most popular and most recognizable thing I write here on Scenic Route Snapshots is my <a href="dad from day one series.  Noted, I am not the least bit famous (that means I don’t have a Wikipedia entry).  And while having a baby is absolutely a miracle, I can’t say that my story is drastically unique compared to most people who have gone through the experience of having their first child.  So why do people love to read about the pregnancy experience, being that it’s so common and familiar? Good narration from a male perspective is a part of it, which I can thank The Wonder Years, Scrubs, and Dexter for help with that. But really, there’s a certain comfort in feeling like you’re listening to someone you personally know, even if you don’t actually personally know them.

Though I would consider myself to be a “real writer”, being that my college degree is in English and that I have been writing original web content for over 5 years now, I can’t consider myself to be a “professional writer” because writing is not literally my profession- I have yet to make one penny off of anything I’ve written here on Scenic Route Snapshots.  As a recent commenter cleverly worded it after reading “healthnutshell: What Exactly is Food These Days?”, he labeled what I do as “guerilla-style publishing”.  I am clearly not doing this for money- I am doing it for art, for entertainment, for social commentary, for experience, and for my own sanity’s sake.  And therefore what I do is “organic”.  In other words, I haven’t “sold out”.

I was talking to one of my brothers-in-law today (my wife has 7 brothers) about the farmers’ market-minded, used-car-driving, old-school-is-king culture of hipster cities like Portland, Oregon where he lived for several years.  It appears that there is a Farmers’ Marketing of current American society, especially from those in my generation.  Inevitably mimicking the frugalness of those who grew up during The Great Depression, we are finding ourselves repeating history.  We no longer impress each other with classic status symbols like expensive cars: I always think it’s hilarious when someone I know gets a brand new car (as opposed to a dependable used one) and everyone says to them: “Oh, congratulations!  I like your new ride!”

Humorously, the brand new car owner is being congratulated on incurring a huge new debt.  Dave Ramsey explains that a paid off mortgage is the new financial status symbol. As much as I have a hard time admitting it, the Eighties are over.  Just like a familiar voice is welcomed or a worn-in pair of sneakers are so comfortable, allowing myself to become Farmers’ Marketed feels, so natural, so organic, so average, yet so right.

So it only makes sense why I’ve noticed the migration of so many of my high school and college friends back to their hometown, now that they’ve had several years to establish some career experience in a large city, get married, and possibly start a family.  Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, they’re taking their big city experience back to a town with a much lower cost of living; where the word traffic is simply defined by when the train comes through twice a day, barricading cars from crossing over to the other side of town for ten minutes.  It’s not simply that these people are moving back because they are now ready to settle down; it’s also has a lot to do with Farmers’ Marketing.  In order to truly simplify one’s life, it makes more sense to strive for peace-and-quiet than hustle-and-bustle.

Can you put a price tag on “peace of mind”?  I say you can.  The cost is giving up a higher salary, but adopting a lower overhead.  And people are doing this: Renting out their town houses in the big city and moving back to their hometown.  They realize that true retirement may not be a viable option and that if they can find a less stressful job they enjoy, it’s not really “work”.  From Farmers’ Marketing to Hometown Migration, there is an undeniable movement towards simplicity that will ultimately become a common characteristic of those of us who grew up watching Transformers… back when they were simply a cartoon show and had nothing to do with Shia LaBeouf.

Here’s to authenticity.

“There’s a message in the skies and in the streets: ‘Opportunity, the American Dream’.  It’s in the radio; it’s superstars- the veins and arteries that feed your heart.  From the Dairy Queen to the head of the parade, in a blink your life could change.”

-Guster, “This Could All Be Yours”



The Return of the Small Town: Boom Days 2010 in Fort Payne, AL

A glimpse at the culture of Fort Payne, Alabama.

It can be common for people who grow up in a small town to want to move away as soon they graduate high school, as was the case for myself.  Since I graduated from Fort Payne High School in 1999, I have lived in Florida, Virginia, and for the last five years, Nashville.  That means for over 11 years, I have pretty much lived away from the hometown that molded me.  Now, I realize that a lot of this could be that I am married now and have a baby on the way, but I must admit, my old hometown suddenly seems really cool again.  Maybe it’s because the pace of my life is slowing down, compared to my single days and even my married-with-no-children days, and is now starting to match the speed of a small town and no longer a big city.  But I still think something special is happening in this small town, apart from my interference or commentary.

This past weekend my wife and I spent the weekend there with my parents, sister, and her husband.  My sister Dana had mentioned to me that there was this thing going on called “Boom Days” on Saturday in the city park.  She heard something about free pancakes and people dressed up like “old times”.  That’s all she knew.  I was way too curious about this possible Lord of the Rings picnic not to go.  So I went.

Turns out the pancakes weren’t free, but instead they were part of an all-you-can-eat-pancake-buffet for just five bucks, and the people dressed up were Civil War reenacters, not from Medieval times.  There was also a llama, a clown, a car show, a guy on a unicycle, horses, cool crafts exhibits, three concert stages, (four if you count two guys playing bluegrass on the sidewalk), a BBQ competition, and even a dog show.  I had originally only planned to check it out for a little while to say that I went, then leave.  But instead, I was there for over two and half hours and left with a slight sunburn.

In other words, I had a whole lot of fun.  It was a reunion of sorts: I caught up with some childhood classmates like Alex Igou and Tiffanie Baker Vincent, as well as our legendary elementary school librarian, Mrs. Jane Mauldin.  Boom Days 2010 was truly the kind of city wide event that had something for everybody.  I predict that like the days of June Jam (1982-1997), Boom Days will similarly help the culture of the town to resurface.

It wasn’t really until I was in college and started bringing friends home for the weekend that I realized that Fort Payne supersedes commercialized stereotypes of what a small Southern town is supposed to be like.  Fort Payne is not simply Country music, cows, and tractors- which are all good and necessary.  Being that when I was growing up I was constantly in plays and musicals, most of them written and directed by native Eddie McPherson, I was always aware of Fort Payne’s love of the arts.  It has to mean something when there are two theatres in downtown, on the same street, a block away from each other.

Fort Payne is also set apart from many towns in that half of the city is on a mountain and the other half is in a valley.  I grew up on the mountain side, sandwiched in between Little River Canyon, Little River Falls, De Soto State Park, and the artistic town of Mentone.  So while the valley half is where I learned to be social and outgoing, at school and at church, it was the outdoorsy mountain half that catered to my introspective and artistic side.  Simply put, Fort Payne is the perfect environment to yield well-rounded and level-headed people.

It takes a village.  Mine was Fort Payne.

All of the scenic route snapshots  used in this post were taken during Boom Days 2010, courtesy of Nick Shell.


Parks and Rec: How Growing Up Near DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, AL Made Me Who I Am

“A crooked chimney standing in the middle of a field once surrounded by walls of work, by laughter and by love…  It once was beautiful, right here.  It still is beautiful, in here.  You once were beautiful, I hear.  I hear it can be beautiful, just remember.”

– “Just Remember” by Sister Hazel

I grew up in the wooded mountains of Alabama, a few miles down the road from DeSoto State Park and the Boy Scouts’ Camp Comer. It was only inevitable that I would forever enjoy hiking and exploring trails, well past the days of Cub Scouting. Barely marked paths are rough draft adventures that offer something more sacred and wild than any tourist attraction I could know.

Whenever I trek through new terrain, I always wonder how few people in the history of the world have stepped where I step. And I wonder how long it’s been since anyone else was there. And what kind of animals cross the path throughout each day.

Saturday my new friend Daniel is coming over. That means two things will happen. We will play New Super Mario Bros. Wii. And we will go hiking in the woods behind my neighborhood. There’s an urban legend that an Indian man has been sighted out there meditating. And wild boars.

I’m not inspired by sporting events where the players and coaches switch teams each new season. So when another guy chooses to hang out with me, I will find a way to incorporate some sort of exploration of the wild.

In 2001 my dad and I spent a Saturday morning exploring the undeveloped, unmentioned land in between the Interstate and main street of my home town. I had never talked to anyone who knew what was back there. Forty-five minutes into the hike, we found what we didn’t exactly know what we were looking for.

We looked up and it was as if it just suddenly appeared. An old abandoned house with no power poles or roads leading to it, but instead, an isolated railroad track ran right in front of the house.  Only a few miles from civilization, yet completely forsaken. The entire house was covered in moss. We dared to step inside.

The front door was already open. The couch in the living room was rotted out. The floor of the back bedroom and bathroom was gone. The only proof of recent life was in one of the kid’s bedrooms. Blue shag carpet. Tinker toys. And the local newspaper, The Times Journal, from 1986.

Mentone, AL

The year I started kindergarten was the last time a family had lived there, evidently. In a way, my dad and I discovered it. If anyone in my town wanted to know details about this forgotten house, they would have to come to us. Otherwise, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist.

And it’s that sort of discovery that is the motivation for my constant attraction to hiking the woods. It’s what I do. I thrive on it. Not hiking a three day excursion through Catskill Mountains surviving on Cliff Bars and filtered urine. But just finding simple forgotten pockets of wilderness wherever I am.

Today I spent my lunch break from work hiking in the woods behind my office building and found a mysterious soccer field with no parking lot or road leading to it. And an old pony stall. And a frozen baby snake. Perfect.

And as I was searching for pictures of Canyon Land yesterday I stumbled into a new discovery about myself. I am fascinated with abandoned amusement parks. While I didn’t successfully find many pictures of Canyon Land, I did come across several others that fellow abandoned amusement park enthusiasts have taken the time to post. These wonder-playgrounds that once brought thousands of people joy now sit tucked away on the corner of town.

Maybe I romanticize the situation. I see them like Cinderella waiting for someone to come along and save them, bringing them back to their full potential. Like Jim Carrey in The Majestic, I imagine bringing the lost back to life. But for now, these broken-down Ferris Wheels and rusty roller coasters sit quiet like Atlantis.

Below is a collection of the beauty and wonder I see in abandoned amusement parks.  Sometimes creepy.  But what a life they once saw.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on this, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one

The Opposite of a Beach Bum

Along with “Check, please!”, “I think it’s time for Plan B”, “That’ll leave a mark!” and “Smooth move, Ex-Lax”, one of my favorite overused quotes from ‘80’s sitcoms is the sigh-infused “I need a vacation…” When my wife and I were planning our honeymoon last year, many people assumed we were flying out to somewhere in the Caribbean Islands. Because that’s the normal American thing to do, understandably. Though we have never been to a sunny beach coast together before, we both were aware that sitting on the sandy shores all day doing nothing would drive us both stir crazy.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Vacationers who relax and vacationers who explore.

And while it’s possible to do both, ultimately a person’s instincts causes them to plan their vacation according to one over the other. The observation is this: People who like to sit and relax while on vacation (often known as “beach bums”) generally go to warmer, sunny locations and stay in hotels. People who like to explore go to less sought after places often with colder temperatures and higher elevations and stay in lodges, cabins, and bed-and-breakfast’s.

In the last two years, my wife and I have traveled to the foggy, cold, rocky coasts of New Zealand, Maine, and Northern California. We are drawn instinctively to places where there are not a lot of other people around and where there is exploring to be done. Always in search of the next perfect, quaint local coffee shop. Or that beautiful scenic drive we can only take in a rental car in a city we’ve never been in before.

And when we can’t go on a week long vacation to a place we can really only get to by plane, we enjoy hanging out in The Highlands of Louisville, KY (an artsy hippy neighborhood with lots of cool, weird ethnic restaurants including Moroccan, Turkish, and Argentine, to name a few), Sevierville, TN (equipped with black bears), and Fort Payne, AL (my hometown that somehow became cool again when I wasn’t looking).

Most people take their vacations in the summer, when it’s hot. As I do. And most people travel to places that are even hotter than where they live. As I don’t. I loathe the depressing England-like climate of American winters, except in the summer when I want to escape to it. I escape to a more isolated city with less people around with no need for AC.

If people go on a summer vacation to escape all the chaos around them, why do they go to a really busy beach where it’s honkin’ hot? Shouldn’t they do the opposite? Shouldn’t they cool off in a quiet, peaceful place? I am the self proclaimed opposite of a beach bum.

New_Zealand_cause_Old_Zealand_sucks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHL3tBnzWP8