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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cracker county welcomes careful boaters

There's merit in living in a small town, apart from the clean air, the quiet environment, the scenery, and the friendly's cheap, for one thing. My property taxes are a stunning $1200 per year. The property we live in cost us very little to buy* - the price of a down payment on a mortgage in the big city (as if anyone ever does such a radical thing these days as put money down on a house).

For a boater of limited means, one could close such a property and go sailing and it wouldn't cost too much to keep it going. Someone to cut the grass in summer and shovel snow off the driveway in winter does not cost much in a place where people will do casual labour for $8 an hour and a case of beer...

After our 6-month trips to Florida by boat (97-99) it would have been nice to return to a cottage like this instead of selling most of our furniture, putting our remaining stuff in storage and bunking up in my mother's place when we returned.

Another rather endearing thing about the town is that it is so white bread. This has disadvantages (minor for us: we will never fit in, our ancestors weren't born here**; major for visible minorities who are given a hard time, including the nice Sikh family who run the local gas station) but it also has advantages. As a foodie, I can pompously evangelize in the local supermarket. Mick's Value Mart is at the end of a long distribution chain, with (presumably) a computerized allotment of various foods that get shipped to them. This has hilarious results: the store gets all this funny fresh produce shipped from the big city and then it sits around until they throw it out.

No more; as soon as the avocados are thrown into the "99 cents a bag bin" we score big time. They have just reached that perfect state of ripeness to be eaten and 5 for a dollar is a good price compared to $1.49 each on the normal shelf.***

The store has a lot of minimum wage ($8 per hour) cashiers. The checkout is the place for interesting conversations: "What is this?" they ask, desperately searching for the item on the computerized pictorial list of produce.

"Celeriac", "Raddichio", "Anise", "Mango", "Avocado", we breezily answer, "Product code 4538."

The smarter ones then sometimes add: "How do you cook it?" Clearly it's vegetable matter and has to be boiled to buggery to make it edible. A couple of times, I have given a recipe and had feedback: "My friends were impressed with that mango I made!" one said recently. "It goes great with beer!" I agreed.

On the other hand, the Jamaican lady and I who buy the "unusual" produce probably should hope that the locals remain in ignorance; if the demand goes up, so will the cost to us.

Another minor disadvantage is that a depressed town is, well, depressing. More than half of the population are fairly genteel retired people. The smart folk have mostly moved away. When the factories keep closing, the already marginalized part of population gets poorer. When the cable TV is cut off or they can't afford to run their air conditioners, on a summer night obese people sit around on their front porch drinking beer and swearing at their many snot-faced kids. It's a cheery scene, punctuated by the occasional outbreak of even louder swearing as families come into conflict with one another.

To an outsider, this is all totally harmless - we are invisible. The only people that the local halfwits are interested in are other halfwits. We have come to affectionately term this place as "F#ckwit County" in their honour.

I may sound like I'm laughing at them in my elitist way, but I recognize the seriousness of the situation for them and the community at large. Fewer jobs, less money and everyone suffers. However someone is doing well: the lottery machines in the local convenience stores, the supermarket and (what are they thinking?) the pharmacy are rarely silent. The beer store and liquor store do a roaring trade. Smuggling across the border to/from the US increases: people, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, guns.

There are many houses for rent in this town for $500-$600 per month. They are not bad places to live either. That's all the market will bear.

If you want to feel a frisson of pure horror, imagine being a teenager in a town like this...

* House: 600 square feet(55 m²) on a 75x120 foot lot (23x37m) - for a boater this is huge! I used to lie in bed at night and reach up with my hand to touch...nothing - "What will we do with all this space?" $50,000 to $100,000.

** The United Empire Loyalists settled this place at the end of the 1700's when they were ethnically-cleansed or politically persecuted in the United States. Wagon trains of refugees marching North through Winter to their new promised land. Their descendants are still here. Technically half of North Carolina still belongs to some of these families, if you follow the current Cuban exiles' logic.

*** I refuse to pay $1.49 for a mango or avocado. The very idea! They grow on trees, you know!

Update: OK, as a concession to the kindly folks that undeniably exist in the majority round here, we'll re-title this item from "Halfwit county..." to "Cracker county..."

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