The scale of economics

Or a guide to getting the fuck out of West Virginia, or another similarly impoverished area with ultra-low paying jobs, and overbearing politics.

If you live somewhere like West Virginia (which there really isn’t anywhere else like), and you want to move away, you have to deal with what I call the ‘scale of economics’. That might be a real thing and I didn’t research it because I’m just simply refering to the differnce in costs between two places like California and the aforementioned impoverished place, and what it takes to move to CA. Yes, that’s probably just about the most extreme example I can give save for maybe Puerto Rico where they are poorer and you’d also have to add in a longer flight or boat ride to get you and your stuff out.

I’ve always used this concept to explain to people why it’s so hard to go from WV to CA even just to visit for a vacation. Visiting California is just not something you hear about much when you grow up there. The few people you know who have even visited California are either in the Navy, or just the coolest and most interesting people otherwise. California is a fantasy place in a land, far, far away and one you just don’t image yourself being able to afford to visit or even move to.

You have a few options and I mentioned the Navy already and there’s also the Air Force and Coast Guard which are great ways to get the fuck out. You can even get paid to go to school and unlearn some of the crap you thought you knew. The second options is couch surfing and that one is the most random, fly by the seat of your pants way of getting there and that’s how I did it. But, you can’t have a plan like I did because it just randomly unfolded in front of me and that is all about the luck you create. You just have to be able to spot the opportunities as they present and jump. I had a lady I met and we were interested in each other and that gravity made it so much easier. The random reasons I even met her were a crazy series of events that ended up with me in a chat room and an offer to visit California.

I’ll explain my journey later, but for now I want to talk about the other options and the saving money one is probably the only realistic route you have. It costs a lot out here. I pay $4.20/gal for diesel. I pay $40 for a steak from the grocery store that I still have to cook. I can take you down the street and get you a $9 beer and a $20 hamburger and they’ll be damn good, but nothing is cheaper out here than it is in West Virginia expect opinions. And before I continue, let me rant a bit: Californians who have never even visited KY, WV, TN, VA, AL, etc… know so much more about it than you do. Now, stop laughing and listen up, because when you come from somewhere like that, this shit is already obvious, but the jerk from San Francisco who has a never been there, knows how to solve all our problems, and won’t even listen to you explain whlie they anxious wait to blurt out their next ignorant and misguided idea. Out here, we have people who are more than activists, their what I refer to as ‘assumists’, and they assume they already know everything because they’re from California.

I won’t pick on California because I love it here and I’ve been able to reap the rewards and live a good life for a long time. I got out because I didn’t fit in and I never did. I think my greatest failure in life was not getting out earlier, but I don’t think I was ready and that’s attached to another failure I have, that I didn’t go to college, or should I say that I didn’t stick with it. I’ll have to explain that all at another point but I definitely think that young people need to travel a lot and see as many different places as possible. It wasn’t until I started traveling that I really started to understand a lot of the information I had accumulated from years of reading about all sorts of different topics. I think if I had front loaded the experiences that the information would have made immediate sense, even though at the time I read it, it made sense to me, I didn’t understand as much about perspective then as I do now. The flow of learning things naturally is often a lot about luck as well!

So, to suffice to say that the perspective is hard to explain to someone who lives here in California, but who has never visited one of these places and has never really seen a fifty year old house trailer on cinder blocks, with junk cars in the yard and kids playing about the broken down machines and what might appear as junk to you. That junk often provides parts and money to the people who collect it. It’s all about the perspective!

The price of rent really hasn’t increased much in the thrity years since I rented my first apartment. I paid $350/month back then and I can find places to rent that are equivalent quality and factors for $4-500 and then a range that’s just all over the place and I’m sure the quality and location as well. A trailer on a hillside, up some hollar with a dirt road is going to a lot cheaper than an apartment in the city but if it’s a new trailer and they have city water, then it costs more. You don’t hear that out here ‘city water’ and it’s been some time since I’ve heard it said, but I kind of miss it. So the rent has barely moved there in a long time but out here it’s ten times what I paid thirty years ago, and 8-9 times more than what I would pay right now if I were in West Virginia. I do see with the pandemic that there are some deals to be had and it looks like prices on apartments have dropped some out here but that will change and go back to normal in no time. Corporations are buying up all the houses out here and eventually will own it all and just rent it back to us.

What has gone up are utilities and the price of food, and guess what, they pay basically the same damn prices for electronics, cell phones, the service for them, etc… and they make a lot less money. Your new TV is the same price, the Internet sucks and is barely available and costs a lot. I have gig fiber at home and I’m super spoiled with it and don’t even have a phone line or cable. Internet is all I need but if you live in West Virginia, you have to get cable and pay too much for it because the Internet isn’t going to good enough to stream everything. You’ll still have to have a land line because you might live somewhere that doesn’t have cell service or Internet at all. Yes, in America that’s entirely true in many regions just like West Virginia. You’d think the east cost of the US would be all fiber and advanced like that but it’s not and more like a third world country in many ways.

So you’re going to move to California and get a job and live the good life for a while. You now understand that you’ll have to save first and last and the deposit, right? So your rent might be $3,000/mo so that will be $9,000 up front and you need money for utilities and the deposits. It really starts to go up and saving northward of 10k for anyone from those areas is a huge thing. Especially in an area where the minimum wage isn’t $15/hr. You need to start saving when you’re five if your dad can keep his job the whole time and your parents don’t need your money. It’s going to take a long, long time to save the money that you have no guarantee will be enough. You really need to find a job that will relocate you but that’s pretty rare unless you’re a highly educated, professional type or a programmer with lots of experience. You do not want to have a plan that involves you sleeping in your car because that will end up bad, every time. You’ll be robbed. If not while sleeping in it or when you’re not with it, someone will break into it or outright steal it. Cars with crap in them get broken into here. It’s a career out here so that’s the worst option. After the car is gone you’ll only have the street and it’s really, really bad out here right now if you live on the street.

It’s all about the money and when you’re from a place like I am, that money seems like it’s on another planet with California. You just daydream of getting out of there and seeing all the amazing things you’ve read about and seen in movies.

At this point you have few other options and I just want to stress again, that sleeping in your vehicle isn’t an option you want to try. There are so many that try and some that are successful at it, but they’re also usually the ones that are permanently living in their vehicles and they’ve got experience and wisdom from the road. They’re figured out a lot of the stuff that you have no idea about and they also figured that stuff out in a different time. California is way different than it was twenty years ago, and another twenty, etc… There’s always been a dangerous element and you know all the movies about serial killers, mad bikers, whatever, it’s just a lot worse these days and there are other, potentially more dangerous elements from the side effects of hateful politics, waiting to explode.

I think you can still manage to couch surf in this crazy, pandemic ridden world, but it will have elements that I never had to deal with. Maybe you can find someone that will let you pitch a tent on their deck or in their enclosed back yard. If there’s a will, there’s always a way to find something safe, or at least safer than the street. You have to remember, if you don’t live our here and have never been out here that there are elements you may have seen on TV but cannot begin to fathom until you experience them in person. Most homeless people do not want to be on the street but have no choice because of numerous factors, and mental health is often a big part. We do have a lot of pandemic displacement but oft times, a lot of that was a from a population of folks, already in tight situations with life that are easily disrupted. Then once they get out there, they’re just one of thousands in a line for soup, or another need. Once you’re on the street, a lot of normally available opportunities go away because or more than perception and bias, but prejudice. Don’t be quick to judge something you have no immediate knowledge or experience with and that’s a common misconception from West Virginians I hear about homeless people. There are a few in WV, and not many. My mother used to make blankets for them. It just gets too cold in the winter and you won’t see them as much, so you just don’t have perspective.

I met a lady online and she made an offer to visit. I took her up and immediately fell in love with it. I’m not saying that you should aim for the same place or ideals; there are many other states and locations where you could upgrade your lifestyle and not spend as much getting there like Florida. The only thing California has in common with Florida is palm trees and sunshine. Absolutely nothing else at all.

My advice is to get an education in the first place and pick a career that has jobs in the place you want to be. I was given my first job in California because they told me they were impressed with me because I just up and moved to California without more than a couch to sleep on. You see, out here, someone will look at that as evidence of ambition and desire. It also shows a ‘can do’ attitude and that you’re not afraid to take a risk. Out here, failure is seen as experience and hopefully wisdom gained. They look at people who don’t move around jobs a lot as though they aren’t ambitious. You have to show a career that looks like you’re eager to climb the ladder. Someone who just sits at the same job doesn’t appear to have ambition here and that’s so backwards from the notion I got growing up in West Virginia where you want to get a job and cling to it by all means. You don’t want to see too ambitious because they’ll fire you. You want to be plain and boring and just hard working.

Breaking into certain industries isn’t easy and many don’t want what they consider outsiders. Take the video game industry. Hard to get in if you’re never had experience! That’s a catch but you just have to get an opportunity and then be able to show them what you’re capable of and that’s not easy. That’s another luck thing and you don’t want to be one of those annoying people who have no real skills and persistently hang out around the game developer hangouts. They show up at all the hiring events and GDC, WWDC, you name it, if it has to do with video games, you can expect some of the same folks, over and over again, trying to get jobs that they just don’t fit. But once you have experience and if you’re a likable person, then there are a lot of opportunities and recruiters and HR managers are more willing to talk to you. Shit, they might even read your resume then. I know film and the music industry are the exact same way and you need a marketable skill and some experience to get in.

If you’re from West Virginia, you probably got pushed to go to some vocational program and learn welding or autobody or something like that. Those are useful skills that once mastererd can earn you a lot of money out here, but you need to be good because they get applications from all 50 states, all the time, from young, eager and ambitious people like you with mad skills.

I don’t know if many Californians know that West Virginias are some of the hardest working people on the planet, but if they’ve ever worked with one they would know. That could be a benefit to you anywhere that has that same experience. As a West Virginian, we are an esoteric anamoly. I think there needs to be a campaign to educate people about just how hard we work but then they might try to lure us all away! But isn’t that what we want? Not really as I would love to see my home state prosper, but until it does, the jobs and money are elsewhere.

It ain’t always about what you think it is

In my travels, I’ve learned a lot of things about people and their nature. I’ve learned that what I’ve learned is just based on my interactions with them and observations of them with me adding my bias and wisdom to sum them up in a way that probably only makes sense to me. From that I try to add some optimism and doubt so that I’m not so sure that I’m not entirely incorrect. What I’m saying is that we only see things from our perspective and we all wear self-tinted glasses, so-to-say. We have impressions we learn from our experiences which won’t match what most other people have. Sure, we will have a lot of common experiences, but there are always unique qualities. Think about two people observing an even take place from different sides of event. One person will see it happen from left to right and the other from right to left and there you already have the premise to make the observations different. Now take a car crash and the driver is killed on the side of the car you are observing. You see the driver die but the other person observing does not and walks away thinking ‘people need to learn to drive’, while you experienced death and a tragedy that you will never forget seeing. Now, let’s take a look at a place and try to think about it like the guy who saw the driver die and not the guy who saw the crash then walked away because he didn’t see the driver die and he was in a hurry anyway.

I’m going to talk to you about West Virginia and I’m going to talk about a few things that I don’t think are well known or understood and that I think need more talking about.

Every time I’ve met a Mexican who has worked with a West Virginian, they’ve offered to buy me a drink. You see, and I haven’t met everyone on the damn planet so I’m not really qualified to say who is the most or best of anything. I only offer up my opinion, from my experience, that Mexicans and West Virginians are the hardest working mother fuckers I know of, on the planet. It’s like a competition to us and if the guy beside us is busting his ass, then we’re going to work harder than they are. So when these two different gentlemen I encountered met someone just like them, they understood it. They had met someone else who has been shit on, used, lied to, abused, murdered and killed and tortured and exploited, since before the places we all name to identify our origins ever existed. We’re both hard workers with integrity that show up every damn day and don’t complain. We do our jobs and that’s just the way it is.

When I moved to North Carolina I got fired from a few jobs because I worked too hard. They even told me that and said that if they didn’t get rid of me then they worried that they would be expected to work as hard or that I’d just get promoted while they didn’t. I would imagine some places automatically rejected us West Virginians on that basis because we are some of the hardest working people on the planet. They had developed a working culture in North Carolina that was just plain lazy. I had never seen so many temporary job companies. It was amazing to me that I could just find a job and go work and get paid without driving two hours. I thought I had struck gold at first and got myself a temp job at a mill making carboard tubes. What a braindead thing to do and I quickly thought that there was no way I could do such a repetitive task for more than a few weeks. Fortunately, I worked too hard and they canned me in a few days. Then, I went to another place and it was the same thing. They didn’t like me because I worked hard and didn’t need ten breaks and then didn’t bitch about everything.

I think the lazy work culture was so bad there that the temporary companies came to be more of a need to fill jobs in a very lazy and unreliable workforce. Where I came from people kept jobs for life and clinged to them no matter how bad or toxic they were. But not in North Carolina. They even had all these colloquial sayings like “laying out of work” which took a while for me to understand. It just meant they skipped work that day and didn’t feel like going so they either called in sick or just didn’t go. I would also wager that this systemic laziness caused a lot of the mills and factories to just up and leave. When you don’t have a very reliable workforce that just bitches about everything and then collectively works to oust the hardest working people, you’re creating a scenario that will fail. Big companies are smart and get big by being smart. Places like North Carolina at that time in the mid ninties was difficult to staff and when they did, they had people who would willing cut their own fingers off just to make a phat paycheck and get disability. That’s actually a thing there. My brother used to joke that you could tell how long someone had worked at a mill by the number of missing fingers. And he had examples of people who bragged about doing it.

Had they put those mills and factories in West Virginia… But that state was hard to commerce due to the lack of highways and had huge hills that caused trucks to use a lot more fuel. Building I77 through West Virginia helped the state a lot and at the time was the most expensive road ever built per mile. That interstate was just a little too late and probably still just not enough to compete with areas like North Carolina for factories and mills. I think it was a stupid mistake on the factories and mills because what they ended up with was a lazyass workforce that they would eventually have to bail on. I still don’t think a lot of people get it, but let me say it again, West Virginians are some of the hardest working people on the planet. If you put factories and mills there, you’ll have lifers whose children will want to work the same damn job that their parents did. It’s like all those sad movies but it’s what we do. It’s an ethic that’s inside us and we see it all around us growing up of people who have to work way harder than average for way less than average.

Maybe if CEOs put factories in places where the people work hard, not just that are easy for management to visit… And that’s always been another problem. No one wants to move there and it is kind of depressing in some areas. I’ll even admit that West Viringia in the winter can be kind of ugly with the snow on the grey trees and all the dirty snow on the highways. I remember it more from days long gone where the pollution was a lot worse and the soot showed in winter from the coal. But far worse than that are the areas with all the runnoff from Mountain Top Removal and waste products from mining coal where people can’t drink their own water and can’t sell their house because of it. But, that’s still not as bad as areas like Lake Washington near Parkersburg or many others and potentially some really nasty ones we just don’t know of.

When you think West Virginia, I bet you think about coal. Well, maybe some dumb jokes as well but none I haven’t heard told to me thousands of times like it was going to be the first time ever. But when I think of home, I think of chemical companies. I didn’t have any miners in my family and we didn’t really live near any mines but for just a short time. But the chemical we had all over Parkersburg and in fact they made a movie about it. In the Kanawha River valley we had, and I’m just refering to my memory of 30 years ago but a lot of them are still there, all the big chemical companies. DuPont, FMC, Monsanto, Carbide, Corning, etc… I met a lady from Bhopal India and we had a lot in common considering what they went through. We supposedly had more MIC in Belle than they had in Bhopal and probably in very similar conditions. In fact, a number of years after the Bhopal disaster, a tank of something else exploded at Belle and a piece of it laded right beside the MIC tanks. I worked for a carpet cleaning company when I was 16 and we cleaned the carpet in the offices at that plant. It looked nice and clean but what the hell did I know at that age? Nothing.

If that tank had ruptured, it would have went straight into the river and then downstream to the Ohio, then to the Mississippi. As far as I know, that same scenario still exists today and there a shitload of highly toxic chemicals sitting on a flat beside the river. But they’re not the only ones in a similar situation that if disaster struck, it would be in the river, then down to the Gulf of Mexico. We’re just now learning about all the DDT that’s dumped off the coast of California and if they did that in fucking California, what do you think they did in West Virginia where a lot of toxic chemicals are produced? That’s a serious question I would love to have answered, but what hidden places do we have in West Virginia that are just the same or worse? I would be you any amount of money there are plenty, hidden away up some hollar or in an old coal mine or just plan buried somewhere. In the movie Dark Waters that’s about how DuPont poisened people in a hundred mile radius, including me — I have never been tested but we had a cabin at Lake Washington which was right beside that guy in the movie where they found levels of the chemical C8 was around ten thousand times higher than what even DuPont regarded as safe and you know that had to be ultra conservative. So there’s no way I was less than a mile from that and not exposed. My mother had a health monitor and enough said.

The chemical companies have been there for a long time and have left a less visible impression than the coal industry, and will be there long after the coal industry is gone.

Now I hear West Virginia has suffered the biggest loss of population of any state in the last ten years. It was over two million people when I left in the ninties and now it’s 1.79 million. People cite the same reasons I left which were jobs and pay and just wanting to see bigger and better things. West Virginia is at the bottom of a lot of bad lists and at the top of many others. None are good. It’s not an easy life and getting out of there isn’t very easy when you make so little money and the cost of moving to another state means you need to save up the rent and deposit for where you’re going, which is going to be a lot higher than where you ware. I’ve always said that from WV to CA was basically just adding a zero to the end of everything. I’ve paid more in rent in one month in California than I did for a whole year in West Virginia, granted that was 30 years ago, if you look now, the rent price hasn’t changed much in that time. I actually know one person who pays less in one year than I pay in a month. You just have to embrace the scale of economics to understand how hard it is to leave there and why then, everyone wants to get the fuck out.

Let’s recap my thoughts here:

West Virginians and Mexicans are some of the hardest working people on the planet.
West Virginia has as much chemical as coal and we’re ignoring that.
If you think the DDT off the coast of California is a problem, I’d ask you to kindly look at WV.
What hidden gems have the chemical companies produced in WV?
People are leaving WV because a failure of leadership that has been systemic for a long time.
If you put factories and mills in WV, you will get lifelong, hard workers whose kids will come work for you.

I love West VIrginia. I know people will claim I hate the state because of this, but I’d question anyone who uses that bullshit line that I just hate whatever it is I’m supporting because it’s wornout and braindead. You hear it all the time in policitcs that this or that person hates the country or whatever, but if you fall for it, you just didn’t think about it very much did you? I want to see my home state prosper but it won’t as long as it’s still held in the same train of thought and level of thinking that was created all its problems, and kept it there.

Listening to the news about a DDT dump being discovered off the coast of California and I have to ask what else is hidden in the hills of West Virginia? There were a dozen Superfund sites but you know there are more, undiscovered ones waiting to be found. I’m just glad the coal and chemical industries weren’t tighter!