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The Changing Face of America

Porn and Art, Adam Smith Style

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted September 2, 2005

Dear Wealth Daily reader:

The last two weeks of August is my favorite time of the year. Those weeks are a kaleidoscope of emotions invoking the excitement of the changing seasons with the realization that the freedom of summer is coming to an end.

It's both joy and sadness. Ying and Yang.

Physically, you can feel the change. The days are shorter and the nights cooler. But it's also a spiritual awakening.

When I was a younger man, the end of August meant one final summer party before heading back to school to hit the books.

Those days are long gone. But I still experience the end of the summer with the same energy of a 20-year old. But now, one final party has been replaced with one final summer vacation.

This year, the Hicks family is headed north. First stop Niagra Falls.

Like most vacations, half the fun is getting to there. This trip was no different.

Instead of driving north on the soulless concrete vein I-95, we decided on a more direct route, straight through the belly of Maryland, Pennsylvania and New York.

This is farmland. And corn is the main crop. And there's lots of it.

For dozens of miles, we saw one farm after another. We stopped counting at about 20, and we were barely 30 minutes in Pennsylvania.

My wife and I were confused. "Who eats all of this corn?"

We soon found out when we stopped by a roadside stand looking for fresh peaches. The answer is: Nobody.

The lady minding the stand told us most of the corn will wither on the stalk since putting it on the market would crush the price of the corn.

But finding useless farm crop was just the first revelation we would encounter.

Porn and Art, Adam Smith Style

Making our way through Pennsylvania and mid-west New York, we drove through one industrial ghost town after another. One in particular looked as though the residents never heard of cable TV, much less the Internet.

The town's movie cinema, the New Family Theater, was so shabby, it appeared the last movie to run on its screen was The Godfather.

Sidewalks and streets were overgrown with weeds. And one of the town's last remaining stores focused on an industry considered high-tech 60 years ago, vacuum repair.

Other than that, the town was peppered with empty buildings and vacant storefronts. Oh, there were drunks though. At 2 in the afternoon, they sat, tomato-faced and swilling Schlitz in front of Main Street's only thriving business, the tavern.

In these towns, there are always 2 enterprises with steady patronage, the bar and the clinic.

Depressing, yes. But the town's slide into economic oblivion was inevitable. This region, like many industrial towns in America, is the victim of a changing economy and high union wages. For every farm we saw, we came across twice as many abandoned factories and textile mills.

But don't worry, many of these buildings have found new life as porn video stores and art foundries.

You see, when a town's industrial base goes belly-up, one of two things occur in the aftermath: Either the town descends further into the abyss and turns to depravity for economic activity, or artists move in buying distressed real estate for pennies on the dollar.

That's pretty much how it was through mid-west New York until we reached Niagra Falls.
Why I Would Make a Terrible Environmentalist
I'm almost embarrassed to say that this is my first trip Niagra Falls. Though I've been a lifelong resident of Maryland, and Niagra is a short 6-hour trip by car, I've never been. Now I know why.

Yes, I was awestruck by the sheer size and power of the Falls. Its beauty is almost unmatched.

But other than that, the town that supports the Falls is pretty much your run-of-the-mill tourist trap. Here you'll find Austin Powers standing next to Ronald Reagan, in wax.

You'll see a giant Frankenstein eating a Whopper. And if you need keychains, coffee mugs, or another refrigerator magnet, this is your place.

It's an environmentalist's nightmare. A travesty to the senses.

But I also discovered that the Falls itself would send a tree-hugger screaming up a tree.

Niagra Falls was born around 11,000 BC.

Prior to that, the Falls and New York lived under one big sheet of ice. But through global warming of the, um, natural kind, the earth's temperature began to rise. The ice melted and the giant glacier that covered New York retreated into northern Canada.

The big melt created what is today the Niagra River, and it also exposed a massive gorge, which drops roughly 170 feet. This is the Falls.

You have to wonder what today's environmentalists would do if transported back to 11,000 BC. Would they think up insane ideas like a space shield to deflect the sunlight in an idiotic attempt to slow or stop global warming.

My guess is that they would.

As you can tell, I'd make a terrible environmental activist. Mainly because I accept change. And not only accept it, but welcome it.

Environmentalists (at least the ones I know) want to keep the environment unchanged and status quo it's in a pristine state. If it isn't in a pristine state, environmentalists would like to get it back to it.

Rivers aren't supposed to change direction and snow caps shouldn't melt.

Query: The largest producing oil field in the world is beneath a desert. What does that tell you?

Catch my drift.

Yeah, like I said, I would make a terrible environmentalist.

But environmental change isn't the only transformation that's occurred in Niagra.

Trading-in My Fork for Chopsticks

Check this out: For every hot dog stand I saw in Niagra, I saw at least 2 Indian food stands. Indian, meaning chicken Marsala.

In fact, Indian restaurants in Niagra outnumber every other ethnic restaurant, including Italian.

So as you may have deduced, Indians - and even Chinese -made up the bulk of the tourists in Niagra Falls.

It was a microcosm for how the 21st century is shaping up. The 3 nations that'll influence the next several decades are mingling in a cultural stew. In Beijing, Shanghai, Bangalore and Bombay you'll find the marvels of western capitalism, Hooters, McDonalds and MTV.

The Indians and Chinese are returning the favor in kind. Bollywood, Jet Lee, and green tea are in America... and here to stay. And forgive me if I say that I hope this "epitome of globalization" continues. I'd rather look at Zhang Ziyi over Paris Hilton any day of the week.Change. One of life's blessings.
-Brian Hicks
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