White Towns

Another one of those burnt-out white towns somewhere on this continent. A town with a mediocre university and a classic coffee spot that’s been in business since before the third-wave coffee scene really started and thus still calls itself “European style”. There are cafe regulars and now kids of the regulars and the regular’s kids run around while the older people drink coffee to try to keep up. The shop hangs some local art that no one buys and annual pictures of the entire cafe staff. The shots from the 80s and early 90s look like the ones from today but the staff from the late 90s and early 2000s look archaic. There is no vestibule and so in the winter months cold air is always pouring inside in waves. The coffee itself is unsurprisingly dark. The lattes are lazy but good enough. In general, the food is better than the coffee is better than the wifi. Never have expectations of streaming video in another one of these burnt-out white towns, as the whitest of white people these days are becoming skeptical of wifi.

In old white towns there are railroad tracks where kids drink alcohol. To the unanimous chagrin of middle schoolers most of these tracks are being pulled up and turned into bike paths making them less safe places for drinking. There are whispers of a new place on a hill down the dirt road. Stop at the downed tree, turn the lights off. Use your cell phone’s light and follow the path left and you’ll eventually run into a big grey cliff. Don’t be loud here because the cliff will echo your voices and blow our cover. Go around to the top of the cliff where there’s a fire pit. Drink there. White sixteen-year-olds are bad drunk drivers and get in a lot of accidents.

The children of the professors at the mediocre university are all friends. They are the ones that sing in musicals and play wooden instruments and take AP classes. They don’t drink yet but will all go off to universities in US New & World Report’s Top 25 and taste alcohol for the first time. They’ll love it and get in trouble with their dorm advisors on and off during Freshman year even though they’re “good kids”. Their universities won’t care and shouldn’t, but when they return home to No-Name-America and go to the top of the cliff for the first time and see that girl from high-school, you know the one, they’ll want so badly to have sex they’d kill for it. Instead, they get sad and think about metaphors or songs about love, which is good enough.

In the mornings of Winter break from college, these sons and daughters of professors wander into mediocre coffee shops to cure hangover and make their world a little more pleasurable, to drink coffee on their parent’s dime, to show their sophisticated nature to the regulars. “I’ll take a triple Americano. For here. An 8oz mug please.” They know the most developed of pallets like dense and black. “No room.”

This genre of young adult looks around and down on everyone from their hometown. And for good reason. Some people are born talented, smart, “genetically endowed” one might say. They are the ones who participate in competitive yoga, crossfit, do pretty well at bar trivia, someday become “consultants”, and regularly binge drink, but lie on surveys when asked about their habits. They buy clothes from Goodwill, but never donate. Life accelerates for these white people around age 25 and around age 45 they generally have a little existential meltdown, regardless of their position. By age 50, depending on their upbringing, they either become more religious or more atheist, eventually “retire”, and volunteer at outdated non-profits.

On their deathbed they wish they had had the courage to live a life true to their self, not the one others expected of them, that they didn’t work so hard, that they had expressed their feelings more, had stayed in touch with more friends, and let themselves be happier. Just before the lights turn off for these people they think back to running around cold coffee shops, to the blur of work that was high school, posting their academic achievements and stats on CollegeConfidential’s forums and asking “chances of Yale?” and the responses “not a chance.” The beer pong in cramped college dorm rooms, the shitty beer on the cliff looking over their hometown, streaming for some reason and then falling drunk and crying under a tree with guilt of the genocide of the indigenous and of misogyny and for the tree itself and just plain loneliness never touching other humans or animals just watching the world as it is displayed by screens and by the smell of coffee. On their deathbed, people from old burnt-out white towns generally just wish they were less bored with life and are excited greatly by the prospect of death.

Fear, Progress, and Wild Foods: A Final Paper