Recently, we met some lovely people who live nearby and they offered to take us on a tour of their farm, where they primarily raise chickens, sheep, and pigs. It was a gorgeous day, and I am always up for tramping around outside and taking pictures of things. There were also a lot of City People on the tour, and that brings me to today’s post, which is a lot of opining about the effects of CPs on our small town.
Oh, and a lot of pictures of chickens.
We live in Columbia County which is a 2.5 hour drive north of New York City. For years, City People have been renting or buying weekend homes up in our bucolic locale so that they can attain rest and relaxation for their weary selves. Their presence is an ongoing joke to locals, who affectionately (or not…) refer to the transplants as “Citiots” and happily share stories about the bewildered Manhattanites.
It is hard to describe to the uninitiated just how strange City People are. It will sound like I’m being unfair or cruel or hyperbolic. BUT NO, I am not! They are so often…so very…weird. Let’s look at some of the common threads that unite typical CPs.
- They almost uniformly wear clothes that they think “people in the country” wear. Layers of breezy white linens, floppy sun hats, expensive fleece, chic Sperrys, and sandblasted pre-worn denim. People in the country do not wear those things.
- Ditto with the cars. What we actually drive (I look out the window at the 2005 Saturn VUE with 170,000 miles on it) is very different from the Hummers and huge shiny Jeeps that appear on Friday afternoons as the Northward Migration begins.
- They like to say that this area has a lot of “really cool people here now” by which statement they are in fact referring to themselves. They also like to talk about how the locals should move away, and I once heard a lady from the city say that we needed to “clear the swamp” of locals. Ouch.
- They aren’t very nice. (See above.) Now, that is a blanket statement for sure, but on the whole it holds up. New Yorkers are famously brusque, and that attitude is exacerbated when they are walking up and down Main Street not smiling or saying hello to anyone at all.
A common theory around these parts as to why they are so uniformly odd is that they have too much money and it makes them go a leeetle bit crazy. I think this is a pretty good theory. For example, there is a lovely old farmhouse down the road and it was restored to original condition. A movie producer from NYC pays many thousands of dollars a month in rent to be able to have a country home, and she comes up here from Manhattan roughly three weekends a year.
We sometimes like to play a game called “CITY or LOCAL?” It is best played on Friday evenings at the local grocery store parking lot. It goes like this:
Me: How about that guy? *points to a well-dressed man in loafers getting into his shiny, expensive new Jeep with a bag of artisanal cheese and a baguette*
Me: How about that guy? *points to two men walking into the store with a small, brand-name dog-suitcase-carrier perched below the shopping cart, from which interior a small dog peers out helplessly into the world*
Me: How about that guy? *points to a guy standing next to a beat-up old minivan and getting changed in the parking lot*
Everyone: THAT’S JOE!
Okay…they’re not all weird, but it is fun to point out the spectacularly weird ones when we see them traipsing down Main Street wrapped in linen and fleece with their little tourist maps pointing out the architectural details of what we know used to be a run-down store but is now a gourmet cheese store run by a lady from Brooklyn.
Main Street used to be full of businesses owned by locals, and catering to locals. Now, there is a Yoga studio, the aforementioned artisanal cheese shop, four art galleries, a bespoke linen goods store, a craft-beer brewery and a couple antique stores. Instead of the locally-owned one-screen movie theater with its syrupy soda and three-month-old blockbusters, the theater is now city-owned and renovated and primarily shows extremely artistic Indie films.
None of those things are bad in and of themselves, but there is no getting away from the fact that they all cater to weekenders and the town has changed so much that it would be unrecognizable to my grandparents.
One good thing the CP’s have brought with them is the money which has gone toward revitalizing certain areas. Rural America is struggling right now, but up here we have had this influx of wealthy Manhattanites who buy some acreage and try their hand at small-time farming; who bring delicious new foods or locally-roasted coffee; who invest in local businesses to make sure they stay open.
The farm we visited is one such place; financed by some out-of-towners and run by some very kind people who open the farm up to tourists on the weekends. We tagged along. It was an extremely beautiful day and the animals were on their best, photogenic behavior.
There were City People, of course. And they were suitably garbed in many layers of fleece and linen and prepared to be wowed by the agricultural happenings of a small farm.
- “Oh look! The cow is peeing!”
- “Do you have thistle growing here?”
- “Is that a road or a lake over there?”
- “What do you do with the chickens when they get bigger? WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU KILL THEM? MOM I AM GOING TO BE A VEGETARIAN.”
- “Ooooh look, the cows are just bunched together!” <–grown man in his fifties.
I had a conversation that went like this:
City Lady: “So where are you guys visiting from?”
Me: “We live here.”
CL: “Where? HERE? What do you mean?”
Me: “I mean we are from here. We live here. My family has lived here for about 200 years.”
CL: “Wow. So you’re a local?”
Me: “Yes. And you’re a City Person. And never the two shall meet.”
CL: *brushing back her linen dress which was billowing in the breeze* “What? Really? But if you come up here a lot and then you buy a home, then you become a local right?”
It’s complicated though, because on a deeper level, their presence in our county has provided a lot of industry and work for all kinds of local businesses. Plus, they have brought certain establishments of art and culture with them that add a lot to our little town. Not to mention…there are a lot more restaurants, cafes, and good coffee available now that there is a bigger and broader audience for those places.
Still. It is hard to see the size of the incoming school class shrink more and more every year. As property values skyrocket, the local population is pushed out into neighboring counties and areas because they simply can’t afford to live here anymore. As a result, the incoming class at my old high school this year is somewhere around 60 kids, while my graduating class hovered just above 100. So, it is fun to laugh and make jokes with other locals, but it’s also true that the fabric of our small town is in the process of completely changing.
It’s also hard to escape the feeling that the influx of moneyed New Yorkers would very much like the locals to clear out so they can have this place to themselves. Except, obviously, the ones that buy them groceries, stock their pantries, and clean up when they go back to the city.
And, you know, it’s a strange state of affairs for me because I have spent so much time living elsewhere that when I come back it’s kind of nice to see new and more sophisticated offerings until the owners aren’t very friendly and you realize the repercussions on all the people you grew up with.
The place has changed, there’s no getting away from it. One thing that hasn’t changed? To me, it is the most beautiful place in the world, and it is Home.