Wilkes-Barre has an inferiority complex.Northeastern Pennsylvania in general is like that, really. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like every time I turn around, someone has something disparaging to say about this area.
The comments seem to come from both lifelong residents and out-of-state transplants, and they rarely qualify as constructive criticism.
What’s most wounding is the unthinking casualness with which such insults are slung. Off-handed and matter-of-fact, as if Wilkes-Barre’s wretchedness was common knowledge.
Of course, not everyone feels that way. And not everyone appreciates the too-cool-for-school attitude.
Now, it’s not lost on me that this kind of thing is common mode of self-deprecating humor. I don’t know a single non-egomaniacal person who hasn’t cracked wise about their own all-too-human failings. Nobody’s perfect, and poking fun at one’s own flaws is a great way of owning up to them and making peace with them.
There comes a point, however, where a line is crossed. Where good-natured ribbing becomes mean-spirited mockery. Where it’s just not funny anymore.
For those new to the area, it’s understandable. This isn’t where you grew up. This isn’t what you know and love. I get that. I also get the frustration of people who have grown up here feeling like they want something more. Familiarity breeds contempt, right?
To those people more than anyone else, though, I have only this to say: This is your home.
Act like it.
A person’s home – both the house they live in and the larger geographical area around it – is as much a part of who they are as their mom and dad.
Your home is your third parent. It helped raise you, instilled within you certain values, created the filter through which we see and define the entire world. In many ways, it is it part of the reason you are who you are, in both the good ways and the bad ways.
Sadly, this whole “we live in a toilet” mentality is not only widespread, it’s also unsurprising. It’s to be expected in an economically depressed area such as NEPA. Everyone and everything suffers when there’s not enough to go around and that creates feelings of inadequacy.
Inadequacy leads to self-loathing, self-loathing leads to resentment and resentment (as Yoda might say) leads to “the dark side.”
We live squished in between New York City, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, world-famous, super-urban, cosmopolitan meccas of diversity and renown. It’s hard for a beaten-up blue-collar burg like Wilkes-Barre (or even its big sister, Scranton) to compete.
But why should we? It’s apples and oranges. You can’t compare them. Each one should be measured on the basis of its own merits, not the merits of another.
So what merits does NEPA have?
From coal mining to railroads, Pennsylvania in general is a hotbed of historical significance. NEPA especially has a long, fascinating and powerful coal-mining legacy.
Remember that the next time you start complaining about the hardscrabble nature of the area. The reason it’s like that is precisely because of that history.
2. Blue-collar attitude
Speaking of NEPA being hardscrabble, it also completely lacks pretension. There’s no pompousness here. Yuppies and hipsters talk about being in touch with the common folk.
We are the common folk. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Common folk is real folk, and NEPA folk is really, really real. We know how to enjoy the simple things in life: Frosty cold beer, gooey hot pizza and the great outdoors.
3. The great outdoors
I know I literally just mentioned this, but, dagnabbit, NEPA’s nature deserves recognition all on its own. We’re an area dominated by hunters and fishers and all kinds of flannel-clad mountain-men types.
Can you blame those bearded trailblazers, though? Spring, summer, winter, fall- there’s always an undeniable beauty to the tree-covered mountainsides that line the valley. Early in the morning, when there’s fog on the peaks and sunlight just barely inching over the horizon, it’s a work of art.
4. The arts scene
It tends to get overlooked, but Pennsylvania has an extremely strong art and music scene. The audience is small, which is unfortunate (and likely a side-effect of all this anti-NEPA cynicism). But the talent is huge. There’s so much incredible art and music in the Pennsylvania underground just waiting to be discovered, so many people trying so hard to help this area claw itself out from the weight that’s been holding it down.
Look to them for inspiration if you’re trying to figure out why you should give a crap about NEPA. You can be like them, you can help. Or you can sit, snarling snide sarcasm, contributing nothing. Who are you to criticize when you provide nothing of value yourself?
Look at it this way: At least you don’t live in New Jersey.