I was musing today about the unstoppable march of “progress.” Well…perhaps progress is the wrong word…how about “the unstoppable march of people”?
I don’t know what the solution is…people need places to live, of course, and if they want to live in a nice place they should be able to…but there’s no denying that when a place is known for its quiet, slow pace and rustic charm…that slow pace and charm are hard to maintain once a few thousand more people descend upon it.
I was thinking about my town today, and feeling kind of melancholy about it. Not to boast but I live in a pretty idyllic sort of place. Some of you may be city people; lovers of the hustle and bustle that comes with the congested streets of a concrete jungle. That’s not me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to visit. But for home-life, I need some nature, lots of green landscape, and some semblance of quiet.
The region where I live is both rural and water-oriented. In the past it was home to family farms and any number of watermen. In fact, there are still some small towns dotting the landscape here and there where families make their living on the water — fishing, crabbing, and harvesting oysters as generations have done before them. But those small towns are described as “quaint” these days instead of “bustling” and are becoming more and more like ghost towns every day. The family owned farms are mostly shut down—consumed by the much larger corporate farms.
By and large the area used to be slow-paced with plenty of open space. Mom and Pop stores were where you used to go to get whatever home-goods, knick-knacks, or specialty food you needed. We’ve always had our main “chain” grocery stores (Acme, Food Lion and Safeway), but there were barely any franchise restaurants except for one of each of the staples McDonald’s, Burger King, and Dairy Queen. Besides these three there were only local eateries that served fresh, locally sourced seafood, as well as a couple of “homestyle” restaurants. This was the Eastern Shore and the atmosphere was fantastic.
Years ago, going across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to get to Maryland’s Eastern Shore was no issue; you could make it across and be home in no time. Except on Friday evenings in the summer.
On the weekends in summer, traffic was a mess because people from the Western Shore just had to get to the beach (it was the only route to Ocean City). If you were caught on the Western side on a Friday evening, it sometimes could take hours to get home. But people who lived over here knew that the occasional tourist traffic congestion was a necessary evil, and they felt it was worth it because of the lovely Eastern Shore atmosphere. We adjusted our commuting lives accordingly on those “seasonal weekends.”
Then, somewhere along the way, things changed.
Western Shore people got wise to how great the Eastern Shore was. Eventually, just visiting on weekends wasn’t enough. They wanted to live on the Eastern Shore. So the transition began and they started moving over in droves. Unfortunately, once they got here, they couldn’t do without all those amenities that they were once so anxious to leave behind.
It was okay, apparently, to enjoy the “small town life” when they were just visiting and getting away from the chaos of their own lives. But once they lived here – oh no. They had to have those amenities then!
So in came the strip malls, the nationwide franchise stores, the franchise dime a dozen restaurants, convenience stores on every corner, and out went the locally owned places – driven out because they couldn’t compete.
Up went the sky-high hotels, and houses upon houses upon houses to accommodate the number of people moving here and concrete….concrete everywhere.
And now, now we have traffic every day of the friggin’ week! Instead of expecting hours of traffic on a Friday, we have daily rush hour traffic that takes forever. And it doesn’t stop at the bridge either. The throng of new inhabitants has caused bumper to bumper traffic all the way down the highway and across the Island.
Now, instead of a placid, rural place, the Eastern Shore has been mutated into a paved extension of the suburban Western Shore with miles and miles of constant development.
And they call this progress. My question is, progress towards what? More noise? More corporations exerting their influence? More congestion? More pollution? If that’s the definition of progress, I just want to state for the record that I liked exactly where I used to be.