Rust Belt Expat Story #2: The Question of Career

I grew up in the 1980s in Bradford, Pennsylvania, a small industrial city where the largest employer is the Zippo lighter factory. My memories are probably similar to those of a lot of Rust Wire readers — learning to ride my bike in the parking lot of an unused factory, trick-or-treating in the snow, the closure of our last department store. At 23 I moved to Buffalo, which was the “big city” to someone from a town whose population had dipped below 10,000.

Two years ago, after being semi-unemployed for a year following being laid off from the real estate department of a law firm, I gave up on my life in Buffalo and moved to New York City. Here, despite the lingering economic malaise, I’ve not only found work in affordable housing, which is what I really wanted to do, but I can even say that my career is finally taking viagra professional online off.

When I lived in Buffalo, I briefly tried watching The Wire, but it was too grim for me — it hit too close to home, home being a neighborhood beset by heroin and boarded-up houses. After I moved to New York, a friend and fellow Rust Belt expat got me to give it another try, and this time I could reflect and enjoy. Watching The Wire helped me think through exactly how I felt about the situation I had given up on and walked away from. To me, The Wire, especially its second and fifth seasons, is nothing less than a 60-hour eulogy for communities and ways of life that are dying all around us.

The second season focuses on Baltimore’s struggling shipping industry and dockworkers union. It’s about what it means to come from the Rust Belt. Sons can’t make a living in the industry that their fathers and grandfathers did. The next generation has to either leave home, or stay at great economic sacrifice.

Nick Sobotka, a young dockworker, is a central character of the second season. Over its course, he loses so much in terms of his family, his livelihood and the future he thought he would have. The life of an honest day’s work paying enough to own a home, family close by in the neighborhood, camaraderie in the union hall, drinks after work with your best friends — it’s all been lost to smuggling and fancy condos, big paydays for a handful of people and nothing for everyone else. The second season closes with a montage of all of those changes. When I watched it, I noticed one thing was missing: someone like me packing up the u-
haul and hugging friends and family goodbye.

In addition to the small-town America I grew up in and the no-nonsense values of the Rust Belt city that became my adopted home, the life that I knew as a young adult is disappearing too. I applied to journalism school at 16 and showed up at
the student paper at 17, earnest, idealistic, and full of ideas for opinion columns I wanted to write. Dedication was the number-one quality for succeeding at The Bona Venture and when I demonstrated it, they put me on staff right away.
Journalism was my life until I was almost 24, when I pitched it and went to law school. My reasons for doing so were not well-formed but it turned out to be a good decision. After I left, my old colleagues, incredibly bright and incisive people
and good writers too, started getting laid off in droves. Newsrooms shrunk, contracted again, and shrunk some more. In my kitchen cupboard here in New York I have a mug that says “Circ’s up!” — the whole staff got them when the circulation of our small-city daily newspaper rose. It looks like a rotary phone or an eight-track tape, just eight years later. Newspaper circulation rising and profits going up, when did that happen?

The small-town main street where my dad had a sporting goods store when I was young now looks battered and broken, infinitely more commerce taking place at the Wal-Mart outside of town.The factories where generations of Buffalonians made their livings are shuttered and the old neighborhoods are largely abandoned too, filled with vacant houses, weedy vacant lots, drug dealing and sad corner stores with almost nothing for sale.The newsrooms where I began my career, learned who I was and what mattered to me and formed lifelong friendships are now ghosts of their former selves, scores of literate and
smart people left adrift in a world that doesn’t always value those qualities.

In The Wire’s fifth season, we see seasoned veterans taking buyouts as the staff of the Baltimore Sun is reduced, the paper loses institutional memory, and its quality declines. David Simon, who created The Wire, was one of those veterans who took a buyout. It’s no wonder journalists and former journalists love The Wire so much; Simon sees the world through our eyes. We see sweeping narratives everywhere, in the lives of kamagra oral jelly strawberry cost everyday people. It’s all part of the larger story.

The final episode of The Wire is called simply -30-, which is the way reporters once signaled the end of an article. It’s the end of a brilliant piece of work that chronicled the end of so many other things. Just -30-. It’s over, done and gone.
Buffalo is in trouble but isn’t gone, of course, and sometimes I miss it terribly. I miss my work with Heart of the City Neighborhoods, a not-for-profit housing agency where I served as board vice president. I miss writing for Buffalo Spree,
a local magazine. I miss summer in Buffalo, the gorgeous 80-degree weather, the endless street festivals, nights spent on porches and patios running into everyone you knew, the breeze blowing off Lake Erie.

Mostly I miss my friends, and being an easy drive from my parents and grandparents. But it’s hard to cialis with dapoxetine 20 mg cost picture returning to a place where the local government, and, honestly, the culture too, is so stagnant that I can’t think of a job I would want if it came open
or a single thing I can picture myself accomplishing. Harsh words for a place I profess to love, I know, but I’ve come to mean them. For now, Buffalo is a place I love to visit, but I don’t think I want to live there.

By Jessica Keltz

This post is part of a series of first-person essays from readers on the topic of “Why I Left the Rust Belt.” If you are interested in participating email

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