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I live in the Boonies; the honest-to-goodness, “why on earth do you live THERE?”  Boonies.  In American culture, the Boonies are a pretty recent phenomenon.  Up until World War II, everyone was in either the city or the country.  The city was where the action was, the excitement, and style. The country was where the farm boys were.  While we ridiculed our farm boys, we also venerated them.  That long tradition of American rural pride from the Green Mountain Boys of Vermont to the occasionally ominous Good Ole Boys of the South to the Tom Joads of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  Those fictionalized farm boys with stars in their eyes, and names like Clark Kent, or Jim Kirk, or even Mr. Smith, on a trip to Washington, are not boys of the Boonies.

Existing in the Boonies, then, is a particularly post-1950s, post urban sprawl, and definitely post-freeway American existence.  Today in American culture we have four types of neighborhood:  the hip “Big City”; the quaint “’Burbs”; the picturesque “country”; and last, in every conceivable way, “the Boonies.”    In Los Angeles, where I live, well where I tangentially live, the Boonies is considered tragically uncool.

In the Big City, or BC as we will call it, cars are sleek and expensive.   People are single or young-marrieds or gay, walking chic-ly down the boulevard clutching Prada bags.  Everyone’s in a hurry; everyone’s a legend in their own mind; a movie in the making; a story to be seen.  It’s big and obnoxious, but these people are ALL about the A+ list.  We’ll say West L.A., West Hollywood, Westwood.  Anything West will do really.  It’s the Wild Wild West, and we come prepared with our agent and our botox shots.  Think 310.  Got the 411?

By contrast, the Burbs are very soothing, in a contemporary Ozzie and Harriet way.  We don’t have to fight for parking, or pay for it.  Jamba Juice is on every corner, and everyone at Borders is surreptitiously peeking at Oprah’s picks.  We know she’s an overproduced cultural icon, but still People rated her number one, so there must be something there!  The cars here are more SUV in nature with many sport child-related bumper stickers.  There’s a great deal of family centered pride and pride in the dual income family.  “Don’t call me a housewife!  I work from home!” is the clarion call of this group.  For the L.A. crowd, think Valley—especially somewhere like, oh, let’s say Burbank, and say no more.

My neighborhood is none of these interesting climes.  To give you an idea, those of you who may live in the Boonies of New York City, or Cleveland, or Pittsburgh, let me give you a visual.  If you give people directions to your house that start, “Get on the interstate; drive for thirty miles; keep going…” you live in the Boonies.  If you find people “selling propane…and propane accessories,” at your local supermarket, you live in the Boonies.  If you live near a Circle K; smell skunk late at night; hear the roar of a train through your backyard; hear coyotes howl; have horse, deer or moose crossings nearby; can see the stars at night; or can name animals by the tracks they leave…and you’re not in the country…get over it, you’re in the Boonies. 

Now, the Boonies are not a valid label if you live in a small farming community nowhere near a big city or suburbs.  Let’s say you’re in Levelland, Texas…I suspect that qualifies you to be Salt of the Earth kind of people (and I’ve been there, I should know).  No, the Boonies are for those folks, like me, who are in spitting distance of a “real city,” and for some strange reason have decided to live where we can grow our own vegetables and permanently park our RV. 

Of course, for all the bad name that my terminally dull neighborhood gets, there are some perks to the Boonies.  We have Farmer’s Markets once a week and a rodeo at least once a year.  Sure, the people are a bit slow, and perhaps not the sharpest tools in the shed, but they’re generally friendly.  We get some razzing about our mullet-headed men, and our meth-lab neighbors, but I’ve also met university professors and scholars…okay, not many. 

Still the 909 (whoops, the Boonies to those of you outside of Southern California) has its up side.  Driving along historic Route 66, I feel a sense of history that stretches back at least a generation or two.  Looking at seedy strip bars, and seedier strip hotels with hourly and monthly rates, I am reminded that this too is Americana.  And perhaps there’s nothing particularly innovative about wagon wheels and cowboy dances.  And perhaps there’s nothing terribly intellectual about Monster Truck Races at the Fairgrounds.  But whenever I feel a bit of despair about my temporary lack of cool, I’m reminded of one important fact:  Homer Simpson, I venture a guess, lives in the Boonies.

So take that you hipsters, you farm boys, and you smug American housewives in perky BMW SUVs.  I may not live in the most stylish of venues, but in some ways, I live in the one which is the most cutting-edge American.  I think that perhaps I’m ahead of the trend, a trailblazer, a thrill seeker.  Still, just in case, I’m looking for a good boyfriend with a room to rent in Redondo Beach.

Any takers?

July 2003

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