A comparison of geographically separated subcultures (III of III)
One other interesting observation: almost all the people there were White. I saw a small handful of Asians or Pacific Islanders, and maybe three black people all week — a Navy guy and his family. I didn’t notice any Hispanics at all, although Bob said he heard some Spanish. It was… a little odd feeling. I guess I like San Jose’s ethnic plurality.
I didn’t see much in the way of piercings, aside from earrings, but I saw a huge number of tattoos, even on what you might call “respectable-looking” middle-aged women. Nice tat work, too. There were many women (unsurprising in a Navy town), and quite a few of them were apparently Mary Kay ladies. Then again, that seems an elegant solution for a bored Navy wife to fruitfully occupy her time.
Another interesting thing about the people was their size. I saw several chubby people of both genders — but none that were morbidly obese. By “morbidly obese” I mean so overweight as to spill out of chairs, not fit at all into booths, and to be unable to move with any ease — to walk as if it were painful and required all one’s concentration and effort. I mention these because during the short time I visited St. Louis I saw more morbidly obese people than I’ve ever seen before. It was just painfully sad to watch.
Initially I wondered if I was just imagining it, but since then I’ve read a study showing St. Louis had one of the highest percentages of morbidly obese people in the country. Unsurprisingly, the mayor has called for a change in folks’ eating and exercise habits. Good for him.
On the whole, I’d say Whidbey Island society appeared quite conservative. For example, all the women’s restrooms had diaper changers — but none of the men’s did, according to Bob. No diverging from “traditional” role models allowed, I take it?
Also, maybe I didn’t find the right radio station, but most of the music I heard was oldies — rock music between 5 and 30 years old. There wasn’t a lick of rap all week!
There were some things you saw a lot of, though. There were tons of US flags everywhere — in ads, on cars, in windows, flying in front of buildings — every place you could possibly imagine! Not entirely surprising in a Navy town, but somehow I doubt every single one of them was put in place by a flaming patriot… ah, commercialism. ;)
Another thing you saw a lot of was churches — my god, they were everywhere! At least they didn’t all appear robotically duplicated, though, like in New Haven.
Man, that was creepy, in New Haven — like an alien conspiracy or something. You’re lost, driving down a maze of twisty backroads, all alike — then you break out of the trees to find a crossroads. Hurrah, we can maybe find ourselves on the map now! -and every crossroads had its identical corner with the monotonously identical clone of a tiny white box building capped with an identical steeple. You could get lost, depending on them as landmarks. ;->
There are a lot of churches in San Jose, too, but they’re all different, and a lot of them have really cool, interesting architecture.
One thing San Jose doesn’t have, which both Whidbey Island and St. Louis did, was a lot of Christian paraphernalia. I saw a surprising number of stores and people sporting and selling that stuff. Bumper stickers, t-shirts, necklaces & earrings with crosses or the characteristic fish on them, wristlets, tag-holders for around your neck, car decals, etc. — there was a disturbing amount of it floating around.
I have a question about this stuff, and it’s not geographically related at all — I’ve noticed this everywhere I’ve been. Why do people buy it — especially the “What Would Jesus Do?” paraphernalia?
Every time I’ve seen someone sporting one of those WWJD things, I’ve been deeply unimpressed by their behavior. Cars with those bumperstickers cutting people off on the road, people wearing the wristlets trash-talking those around them, folks with those tag-holder thingies gossiping maliciously about co-workers — what are they thinking? Surely they don’t believe Jesus would behave like that?
Yes, I know people will be people, but if you want folks to think well of your religion, shouldn’t you walk your talk? Or is this just another religious victim of rampant commercialism? Someone’s making money on all this paraphernalia, after all.
Appearances vs. reality?
However, even though the area appeared quite conservative on the surface, most folks we met seemed taken with, or at least amused by, Bob’s lapel button, which said, “Someone less dumb for president.” He always grinned when they laughed, and noted he wore it every election year.
It makes me wonder if most places are like that — a surface appearance of conformity with whatever is the norm in that locale, but in reality there also exist a lot of folks who don’t necessarily agree but aren’t comfortable expressing their difference (“Hang up the flag and put on your cross before you go out, dear” ;-).
An example: at one restaurant we went to there was an old white beater car in the parking lot, with simply wonderful art all over it, done with black sharpie pen. It had repeating geometric patterns, swirling anarchy symbols, occasional pithy comments such as “What am I doing here?”, a lizard rocker, big decorated eyes and stars — and it was signed by Lara Star. Nice work — very cool!
We went in and asked who owned the car. A rather worried looking middle-aged woman called out a young man from the kitchen — he couldn’t have been much older than 18 or so. We complimented him enthusiastically on the wonderful artwork on his car, and he grinned and said, “See, mom?”
Apparently the worried looking woman was his mom, who thought he should have parked behind the restaurant, because otherwise his car might offend someone. Wow… poor woman. That’s too much conservatism in a society.
I wonder too — does conservatism occur more naturally in economically depressed areas? On the radio the morning I left for Whidbey Island, I heard Bill Moyer talking about his newest book. Fascinatingly, he postulated the real societal divide isn’t liberal or conservative at all. It’s class-based — whether you’re rich or poor.
From what I’ve seen, I’d have to agree with him, especially regarding his sadness over those who claim to be conservative, won’t do any research — and thus keep voting in politicians and programs that actively harm them.
And finally, one last thing which tremendously amused me. A lovely, large, Dutch restaurant on the island was called “Kasteel Franssen,” but for some reason my brain kept blurting out “Castle Frankenstein” instead.
As we were driving by late one night, I noticed some colorful holiday lights shaped like a huge star and hung in the parking lot. Naturally, I pointed and exclaimed, “Oh, look, there’s a really nice star in Castle Frankenstein’s parking lot — see it?”
Bob turned to me with a gleam in his eye and said, “So you’re saying there’s a light — over at the Frankenstein place?”
Argh. Puns are so dreadful — and even worse when you can’t help laughing! ;)