Some website ranking the worst places in which to live in North Carolina recently ranked Rockingham, my hometown, at No. 2.
It’s funny, but No. 2 is precisely what I thought about the study.
It’s true that Rockingham, like many small cities and towns throughout the South, has never regained its equilibrium after seeing its textile industries decimated in the 1980s by injurious foreign trade agreements. There are, despite that, many wonderful people there who are struggling to turn it around.
The last thing they need is some smarmy hipsters poking fun at it for what they call “infotainment.”
There were so many textile mills in Rockingham through the 1970s that even lifelong residents can’t name them all without difficulty. My cousin, a reporter at the N&O who was raised there with me, and Gene McLaurin, former mayor and state representative, sat down recently, and we couldn’t even think of them all.
“They were all major employers,” McLaurin said. “It’s safe to say that the textile industry employed several thousand people.” The city’s population was 10,000.
Now, only the bosses were getting rich, but you could support a family and at least see the next rung on the economic ladder. With a promotion or two and a spouse who was working, you might even be able to grab ahold of it.
I still remember the day my buddy T.K. rushed into the poolroom and told us that some new company, Clark Equipment Co., was hiring and paying $9 an hour. We laughed him out of the joint, since nobody could imagine a job paying $9 an hour.
One of The Temptations’ underrated great songs from the 1960s is called “Since I Lost My Baby,” and it contains these lines:
“The birds are singing and the children are playing
There’s plenty of work and the bosses are paying.”
That was Rockingham when we grew up there.
How plentiful were jobs?
This plentiful: I once got a job from my bed.
Relax: you don’t have to run the young ’uns out of the room to read the rest.
Having dropped out of college after one year and returned to Rockingham in ignominy, I figured I’d be a man of leisure for a while and then return to school the next year. My aunt had other ideas.
Boy, you’d better get yourself up out of that bed and go find a job. She said they were hiring at Sandhurst, the hosiery mill at which she worked.
Hmm, how can I make sure I don’t get a job at a hosiery mill? I asked myself.
Viola! I’ll call. They’ll be so disgusted that I was too lazy to come in in person that they’ll reject me and I can continue watching Phil Donahue, “The Price Is Right” and “All My Children.”
It didn’t work out that way. I called from bed and, conjuring the most uninterested voice possible, asked “Y’all got any jobs over there?”
Yup. Come on downnnnnn.
Dang. I took the job, but trust me on this: a semester of loading pallets of pantyhose onto trucks will make one yearn to return to learn in school.
The Durham-based website www.RoadSnacks.net contends that it uses “science and data” to reach its rankings, to “create bite-sized snacks of shareable information about places and cities across the country.”
Hey pal, I’ve got a bite-sized snack for you.
RoadSnacks was co-founded by Nick James, a California native who told me Wednesday, “We’re not trying to hurt any feelings.” He also said they seldom have firsthand knowledge of the municipalities about which they write. That’s obvious:
Me: This is Barry Saunders of the News & Observer.
Nick: Are you like a writer?
Nick: The News & Observer: Is that in Durham?
RoadSnacks, he said, has a sister site that that positively rates cities, but it is far less popular – by about 10 to one – than the one that low-rates them.
RoadSnacks rates cities and towns across the country, often highlighting things the chambers of commerce don’t tout. To paint a picture of a region for “infotainment,” the site says, “we gather data from around the web to help determine a wide array of factors about where you live, things like safety, desirability, and culture.”
Hey, if it’s on the web, it must be true, right?
Rockingham, in its study, fared better than only one Tar Heel city, Forest City. Both are beset by crime – “Odds are, if you live in Rockingham, either you or one of your neighbors was the victim of a robbery last year,” the site says – and low home values.
“If you’re passing through, don’t leave your car unlocked,” it says.
It also notes, cavalierly – as though it has no relationship to the other stats – that unemployment in both cities is 8 percent.
Much of the crime in Rockingham as well as every other city is related to the inability of people to find jobs, and the inability to find jobs is often related to government policies that allow companies to ship jobs overseas for cheaper labor and higher profits.
Now that’s a crime, Mr. RoadSnacks. Y’all take a bite out of that.
You won’t, of course, because it’s easier to pick on struggling municipalities in which you’ve probably never et a Vienna sausage than to look into what’s causing the problems you so erroneously and cavalierly catalogue – for infotainment.