The Land of Steel and Rust

Photographed on 9/15/2023

Published on 9/23/2023

When I was in high school I spent a lot of time online. Actually, I still spent a lot of time online. Truthfully, I have always spent maybe too much time online. However, one of the great benefits bestowed upon me by offering up a significant portion of my life force to the internet is that I have met many people whom I otherwise would likely never have interacted with. It was through the internet that I met my good friend V from Ohio.

We met through an online community playing video games. The community sort of fell apart over time, as many communities do, but somehow our little group stayed in touch through the years. We would meet in person a few times when they came traveling through the South. I swore that one day I would visit them up North, to even things up. I went to their graduation earlier this year and visited again more recently to take a break from work and see some live music performances together.

On the Friday of the weekend I visited I was left with the whole day to myself while V and their partner worked. I put in my earbuds, played the new Mitski album The Land Is Inhospitable And So Are We, powered on my camera, and stepped out into the cool midwestern morning. The whole day I walked around the downtown area of Toledo and marveled at the sights before me. As someone who was born and raised in the south, the North-Midwest area of the US was like uncharted territory to me.

The first thing I noticed was how run down many of the buildings seemed to be. It was clear the buildings were all quite old, but unlike the relatively well kept historic towns of the South, the architecture here was crumbling and quickly being reclaimed by nature. I saw a boarded up church and an arts center. Old buisnesses, once pillars of the community, had now been shuttered for god knows how long. There was an eerie quiet about the town, but also a great warmth.

I wandered into several storefronts and was greeted by kind owners and workers. I met a man on the street who asked me to take his picture. I saw a church selling thrifted clothes and homegoods. Above it, there was a mural depicting the importance of connecting with others. The rustbelt is home to some of the most run-down, economically depressed areas of the country, and yet the people here are amongst the sweetest I have ever met. They love their home, their community, and anyone who might pass through it. They are maintaining their way of life, even when it seems much of the country is content to move on without them. Bless the midwest and the midwesterners.

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