Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

The Boonies… Not!

December 1, 2007

It’s become apparent during conversations over the past few months that I have inadequately described the area where I now reside. My “compound” is in Madbury, New Hampshire.

  • About 1 hour 20 minutes north of Boston.
  • About 50 minutes ENE of Manchester, NH.
  • About 1 hour 15 minutes SW of Portland, ME.

The above cities comprise the reasonable airport options. OK, but clearly not great. I keep hoping the Portsmouth International Airport (PSM, 26 minutes SE) will begin offering more flights.

The town of Madbury, NH (the only Madbury on Earth)  is something of an oddity in the area. It was originally a farming and lumbering community, and has transitioned into a bedroom community with no real consumer commercial activity or town center. There are no grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, etc. But Madbury is a thin wedge sandwiched between Dover (reasonable city, about 30,000 people) and Durham (University of NH). So history and geography allow Madbury to be the bedroom community that it is.

Grocery store, bank, gas station, and a few restaurants are all less than 10 minutes away. Uptown Dover/Somersworth (about 15 minutes) has reasonable, but firmly middlebrow, restaurants and shopping. Portsmouth/Newington (20-30 minutes)  offers higher end shopping and restaurants, with Portsmouth satisfying the liberal, yuppie, artsy city requirements for the region.

So, all in all, it’s not a bad situation for me. I get to have my 90+ acre backyard with open fields, wooded trails, and river, while also being within reasonable driving distance from just about anything I’d need. Mail order shopping makes up for the rest. Well, except good exotic restaurants. New Hampshire’s 97% white population has yet to truly embrace good international cuisine. I can get Mexican, Japanese, Thai, Indian, and Indonesian food here now, but none of it is really up to the standards of the better SF Bay Area places. And I’m not sure anything resembling actual Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, or Ethiopian food is available at all. The so-called Chinese restaurants here are their own food group, but they’re nothing like any of the good regional (Sichuan, Hunan, Cantonese, etc.) Chinese restaurants that I really miss from the Bay Area.

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Why the hell?

August 21, 2007

The last few days have been somewhat busy and tiring. That’s my excuse. But I have been collecting material for future updates:

  1. Local author book reading, signing, and discussion at the Barrington library.
  2. Barrington NH Antique Truck Show.
  3. Visit from cousins Royce and Keith, who I haven’t seen in almost 20 years.
  4. Lots more interactions with and observations of the natives.

There no way I can cover all that ground tonight, so I’ll dwell on a trivial observation instead.

As a consequence of the move, I’ve spent quite a bit of time signing up for new services and taking care of house, car, and personal tasks that require interaction with my fellow New Hampshirites. I usually begin these interactions with an explanation of my situation. I greatly prefer to buffet my conversational adversaries with context. In the event of any misapprehension by my opponent, I will have generally provided sufficient information to release me from blame. Of late, the typical prelude to interaction goes like this:

Me: I just recently moved back to New Hampshire after 10 years in California.
Not me: Why the hell would you do that?

The first time this happened, I was a bit confused. I’ve now gotten this response about half a dozen times. On previous visits to New Hampshire the interaction was:

Me: I’m here in New Hampshire for a couple weeks visiting family. I’ve been living in California for the past few years.
Not me: Why the hell would you live out in California?

or, from the more witty adversary:

Not me: Looks like they’re feeding you pretty good out in California.

So you might think I just can’t seem to catch a break here. Actually, I view the new response as a huge step in the right direction. Many people from NH have now a) visited California rather than just seen it on TV and heard about its evils from their pastor, and b) identified some number of positive qualities in California that just might make it liveable. I think this new attitude speaks volumes about NH and its place in the world. People recognize that it’s possible to choose where one lives. And some people even choose to live in New Hampshire.

Rehearsing for Springer

August 14, 2007

Continuing a bit with the ambush by talker theme of my last post…
There is a certain class of talker that revels in sharing very personal details and stories with complete strangers. My non-scientific polling indicates that the majority of such talkers are women. I’ll divide these talkers into two groups:

  • Unburdeners. Some people just want to vent and garner a bit of sympathy or approval. Or maybe just commune with someone who hasn’t learned to shut them out. I have a pretty high tolerance for this behavior.
  • Storytellers. Fascinating and baffling, these are the people who are honing their stories and presentation for an appearance on a daytime trash talk show. Or maybe they’re just working on the backstory for a country song they’re writing.

Of course I’m going to focus on the storytellers a bit more because I totally don’t get it. Maybe these folks should just get involved in community theater? Take the following interaction with a storytelling waitress:

Waitress: Hi. How you guys doing today?
Me: Pretty good. And you?
Waitress: (Sighs) Well, it’s been quite the day/week/month/year. The kids have been sick with polio/tuberculosis/spinal meningitis, so my sister had to take the day off work to look after them since the owner is such a hardass and made me work my shift. Now, normally, their father would have been around to look after them anyway, but since he split it’s been more of a burden. But I was cheating on him with the neighbor, so I guess he doesn’t share all the blame for the situation. Of course it didn’t help that the car broke down on my way to work today and they’re saying that the transmission’s shot and I’m probably better off getting a whole new car. But it might be for the best anyway, since I have some bad memories from a few years ago when I had to spend the whole winter living in that damn car.
Me: Uh, thanks. I think we’re ready to order.

I’m reasonably convinced that actors don’t make the best waiters/waitresses.
The first time I traveled to (southern) California, I noticed that the wait staff at restaurants sometimes put so much effort into acting the part that they weren’t especially functional or efficient at the more mundane but necessary tasks. Like bringing missing utensils. Or getting the orders right.
Overall, an amateur storytelling waitress is likely preferable to a professional actor in the same role. It’s an issue of priorities. Professional waitress/amateur actor trumps professional actor/amateur waitress.

(Shared) Culture Club

August 13, 2007

To me, one of the most striking things about the rural/suburban Northeast is the pervasive willingness to strike up conversations with complete strangers. I sometimes refer to this as the Secret White-People’s Club. For the past 11 years, I’ve lived the quasi-urban, multi-cultural experience. So now why are these (seemingly non-homeless) people conversing with me? What’s their angle?
Now I’m pretty certain this is largely a side-effect of the initiators’ expectations of shared culture and context. There is an automatic assumption that I am an English-speaking American and, most probably, a local. I’ve wondered if I would get a similar amount of conversational attention as a “person of color”. Now add urban streetwear or maybe a turban. Hmm?
There’s nothing especially insightful in my observations here. I’m just a bit amused whenever I’m ambushed by a talker. I’ll probably get over it.