For an area that is vocal about its disdain for outsiders, Northeastern Pennsylvania certainly has collective low self-esteem.
When I meet people here, I always get asked the same question: “How do you like it here?” When I flash a smile and respond with, “I love it,” I’m more often than not met with disbelief.
It happens everywhere I go. Business events. Charity events. The dentist’s office. People seem mind-boggled that someone would move here and enjoy themselves.
I tend to return their disbelief with disbelief of my own: Why’s it so hard to think someone would enjoy living here?
Quality of life is relative. Some people are happy in big cities. Others prefer the solitude of living in remote areas. Is it such a stretch to think people would be happy living here?
Everyone has their list of things they look for in an area. Northeastern Pennsylvania fits the bill for me for several reasons:
• The competition. Journalists by nature are competitive. We love beating the other guys and hate getting beat. I don’t know of any newspaper market more competitive than ours. Luzerne and Lackawanna counties have four daily newspapers. I’d be willing to bet there are more newspaper reporters covering our two counties, per capita, than anyplace else in the country. Who wouldn’t want to work here?
• The location. Half my family’s in New York City, and the other half’s upstate. Our area is the perfect halfway point. I’m close enough to go home for weekend barbecues yet far enough to get out of those family obligations no one really wants to attend.
• The convenience. Having to slow to 35 mph on Interstate 81 is a “traffic jam” by NEPA standards. Any store I want is a five-minute drive from where I work and where I live. (Wegmans is a big part of that. I’m an upstate New York guy, and Wegmans is one of the few things we’ve done right. Having two in our area is both a huge convenience and a constant reminder of home.) My biggest inconvenience is the series of red lights between work and home. All in all, not a tough life considering I’ve had one-way commutes in the past exceeding 75 minutes.
I love watching the reaction I get when I spout off all the reasons I enjoy living here. It comes in stages every time.
First, the disbelief. They probe my eyes and facial expressions wondering if I’m being sarcastic.
Second, the guard comes down. Once they see I’m being sincere, they start to warm up to me a bit.
Then, as we start talking, they tell me how refreshing it is to hear from someone who likes the area, how rare it is, and why they also like the area.
Finally, they’ll tell me that they grew up here and chose to stay here, even though everyone advised them to move away.
At the risk of sounding like a preachy outsider, I think we need to work harder to project a little confidence in our area. There’s nothing embarrassing about growing up here and staying put. If anything, I’m envious of people who have that life.
I’ve moved around so much — as a kid and again as an adult — that all of my friends are scattered up and down both coasts. And while my immediate family is only two hours away either north or east of here, my extended family lives much farther away. As a result, hanging out with my friends involves weekend trips planned weeks or more in advance. Seeing my family is something that gets scheduled, too.
When I talk to people who were raised here and who still live here, I find myself wondering what it’d be like to be able to text a friend to grab dinner that same night. Or to drive over to my parents’ house just to spend time together for an hour or two. A lot of the people I’ve met here have that — and they take it for granted.
How much better off we’d all be if we appreciated all that we have to offer both natives and outsiders.