Saturday, December 19, 2009

The interior of the US is endemic with poverty...

(Picture from here.)

Those folks who had racist attitudes towards Native Americans might want to consider that their friends and relatives may have a similar destiny. The Sioux might not be so different than the Borscht Belt in time.

MONTICELLO, N.Y. — In the film “Dirty Dancing,” set in 1963, Max Kellerman, the proprietor of a fictional Catskill resort, laments that the golden era of borscht belt resorts is over.

“You think kids want to come with their parents and take fox-trot lessons?” he gripes. “Trips to Europe, that’s what the kids want.”

It was a prescient utterance. Of course, the film — released decades after the Catskill summer resort culture began its decline — benefited from hindsight. But as the strain of recession continues into its second winter, how is the economy of the Route 17 corridor faring?

Nubia Quintero-Edwards, 39, a caseworker at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, in Sullivan County, estimates that 80 percent of her caseload now includes recipients of unemployment benefits, a noticeable increase since the summer.

“They tell me, ‘I have three kids, and I need oil,’ ” she said. “The economy is really not good here, and it’s getting worse,” a development that has kept her busy.

“I’m tired,” she said with a sigh.

It’s a far cry from the area’s auspicious beginnings. In the 19th century, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties developed a robust farming economy, and farmers in search of extra income opened small boarding houses. Businessmen who passed through the area took notice of this nascent hospitality industry and purchased and expanded the rooming houses, giving birth to behemoths like Grossinger’s in Liberty and the Concord in Kiamesha Lake.

These resorts, which boasted top-flight entertainment — Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Don Rickles were among the comedians who sharpened their wit on area stages — attracted upper-middle-class Jewish New Yorkers, nearly a million of whom migrated north as soon as the humidity hit to mambo in the mountain air.

But starting in the 1960s, the lure of cheap air travel punctured the local economy, and the 50 or 60 resorts that dotted the mountainside dwindled precipitously.

I remember going on Route 17 to visit friends upstate studying at SUNY Binghamton. Some fools not far from Monticello also had the bright idea that the place could become a bedroom community for New York City.

These places have historical value far beyond their Borscht Belt incarnation; and one would hope that Americans develop more respect for their land. And that goes for the Sioux, too.

It's selfish and ignorant to use a place, and then leaving and leaving the poor behind (or giving the poor the worst possible places to live, as the Sioux got).

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