Just Passing Through – Small Town, West Virginia

Just Passing Through – Small Town, West Virginia

Rhodell, West Virginia – a place I’d never heard of prior to standing in front of the alternating colors of the post office’s awning. Why would I have? It isn’t a pass-through on a way to a bigger town. It isn’t famous for anything. No, it’s just a little tucked away place where normal people live their lives.

Normal people, doing normal things.

While I was taking a photo, a young woman came out of the house to receive a little boy getting off of the school bus. When the bus pulled up, a young man also came out of the house to see that same little boy off the bus.

Instantaneously, I’d made a judgment as to why two young adults were home in the middle of the afternoon based on the realities of my own existence.

But – maybe one was a stay at home parent and maybe the other had time off work. Or maybe one was on vacation, on sick leave, worked nights, cared for a sick relative, or it was their regular day off. Maybe one of them hadn’t started their shift yet. After all, I myself was there in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. The reasons two parents were home in the middle of the day, during what you’d call 9-5 work hours were myriad.

And yet… based on what I’d passed on my way through that burned out and vacant town, I assumed something else. At least one of them might be out of work.

Out of work. That was a real possibility. Where would they work, anyway? Where are the jobs in that little pocket of the world? Of course, I have no idea what the truth of their lives is. I was just some opinionated asshole passing through town, making assumptions.

Later that evening I wrote some notes in my travel journal about what I’d seen throughout the day. “Poverty isn’t a tourist attraction, and yet I feel as if I cannot tear my eyes away.” I feel this so strongly.

Seeing poverty firsthand leaves me with a sense of helplessness. There is a chaos that stirs inside of me and it’s like I just want to “fix” everything, help everyone, give them a place to work… and I can’t.

I look at my life and my surroundings and become desensitized to them. This place where I live becomes reality. Everyone, everywhere lives in this comfort, right? Wrong. And in the wide arc of my own life from childhood to now, I should know this. But, how quickly we forget when lulled by our own good fortune.

Rhodell, West Virginia
2000 census
The median income for a household in the town was $17,143, and the median income for a family was $19,167. Males had a median income of $17,750 versus $18,750 for females. The per capita income for the town was $7,582.
– Source: Wikipedia

2 Replies to “Just Passing Through – Small Town, West Virginia”

  1. It’s difficult sometimes not to judge from our own “normal” perspective. A perspective with income, health insurance, opportunity, home, car, motorcycle, scooter and a host of other normal stuff that others may not have. I try not to judge but it’s insidious how the mind goes there.

    The visualization of poverty is seductive. Especially for those wielding a camera. It’s like we’re adventurers seeing the “other” — some unknown tribe or burnt out community. Their normal environs become our odd view.

    Could be the young family in question is exactly like us save for where they live. They could both be remote workers for a Fortune 500 company who chose to live close to parents or other family. Hard to say. But I’ve often asked the same question — “Don’t they have to work?”

    Without turning to much toward politics — I fear the future will see many without work through no fault of their own. There just won’t be jobs. Mechanization and automation will remove hundreds of thousands of jobs. And someday, like parts of Europe already, and Star Trek the Next Generation, society may have to consider the idea of providing universal income. Money for no work. Because there won’t be work. Or we can ignore it. But as Dickens shares in the Christmas Carol when the ghost of Christmas present reveals the two children — Ignorance and Want — he warns of Want for doom is on his forehead. From want comes revolution, violence and death.

    Sorry to hijack your wonderful post so early in the day. But your ponderings tend to stir things up…

  2. My mind wanders too as I pass through these changing scapes. Wondering about incomes, vocations (historical and current) and local social/cultural norms. Our provincial government here in Ontario has embarked on a guaranteed income project involving four communities in different regions of the province. As AI gains traction in the work place societies will have some serious issues both practical and philosophic to address. Interesting times?

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