April 15, 2008
The man in front of me at the main desk of the Holiday Inn in Johnstown, Pennsylvania was ready to go "running". He had his on track suit, running shoes and head set at the ready. He was asking the front desk clerk if the hotel had a jogging trail map. It did and he was given a copy. He then asked the clerk where it was safe to run. She said everywhere but down along the river was popular. He repeated the question, "But where is it safe to run?" The clerk was perplexed and did not respond. The runner was showing signs of aggravation. I offered "Do you mean safe to run as in personal safety?" "Yes, I do!" I responded that the young lady is right; it is safe to run anywhere here in Johnstown!
Johnstown is not the big city and during my three months residing in this city, I found it to be a friendly and easy-going place to be. At the time, I contemplated taking a job in Johnstown my wife and two daughters had already visited a number of times. The point is that Johnstown was better, not bitter, then many urban locations. Crime rates are low, the people friendly and the only time I was asked for something on the street was when a rather disheveled looking man asked me for a match.
The family of a friend of mine in New York owned a textile mill in Pennsylvania which produced lingerie. My friend's family was quite wealthy and I can recall some comments made about the "folks" who worked in the mill. There was a certain amount of derision concerning the values of the employees of the mill, but these comments were made while in New York not in Pennsylvania. Sound familiar? Maybe a free turkey just before Thanksgiving Day is not a big thing to sophisticated New Yorkers, but these folks obviously appreciated the gesture. What the mill workers found important, my New York friend found simplistic. Yes, they went roller skating and went to the VFW, but unlike the mill owners, they did not go to psychiatrists for their problems. There was a pronounced degree of almost pity on these poor bumpkins and their daily labors in the mill.
While driving to Johnstown from Northern Virginia, we would pass a number of homes that had a dressed deer hanging on the front porch. I said to my wife that if we did move to Johnstown, we would look for a house without a front porch as I never did hunt. The number of deer on the porches is indicative of the number of rifles in the population for hunting. The volunteer policemen directing traffic as a Sunday church service concludes is indicative of the beliefs and practices of the people, not alienation and bitterness. I just don't recall bitterness amongst the population of Johnstown.
Over the years I have learned to avoid those who know better than I do what is good for me, especially the politicians. This country "works" because people in places like Johnstown, Pennsylvania get up in the morning and go to work. I look at Pennsylvania as better, better because I learned about Johnstown and have good memories of my stay, better because my youngest daughter is looking forward to attending a culinary institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania come September. And I suspect, those mill workers still look forward to the free turkeys on Thanksgiving Day!