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 A Vivid College Town and the Harsh Reality Around it 

Submitted by Richard A. Bachmann on Fri, 01/21/2011 - 00:23

Athens is vibrating. Laughter and bawling arise from the bars on Court Street. Sounds of joy vitalize the city for a moment and finally vanish into the dark winter sky of southeast Ohio. With the beginning of the winter quarter life came back to this place. As thousands of students poured into the city, an American small town became a vivid college town again. Glitter cocktail dresses and red cups at night, a tired crowd during the day. With books to read and assignments to finish, everybody seems to be constantly in a rush. You can meet them in the library but more often in the coffee places all over town. They are hungry, they want coffee, they demand all the stuff a student needs to function. And the city lives on them, is dependent on their money and their desire for instant satisfaction of their needs.

We have been told that the city of Athens and the whole county only survive because of Ohio University. However, it's not the institution itself that is important here. It's rather the student crowd it attracts, a crowd that helps to sustain the fragile economic infrastructure of the whole region. Numerous restaurants, bars, bookstores, coin laundries, liquor stores, and convenience stores only exist because of the student crowd. They represent some of the rare places in the region where people can still find a humble job today.

If you leave the city of Athens, if you step out of this fragile, glistening college bubble, you are stunned breathlessly. You discover that you live on a petty island surrounded by poverty and decay. Ramshackle buildings on the verge of collapse, trailers so old that you wonder how people can manage to live in them; they all try to affront the cold and wet winter weather of southeast Ohio. Abandoned factory buildings and huge, brick-built churches overtower fading villages and towns. They remind me of ancient fortresses and castle, mere remains of a once glorious past. The streets are deserted, lifeless. The rotten signs of shops abandoned for years hint at the former liveliness of these places which is long gone.

As I travel through this American wasteland on my way to Pittsburgh, I close my eyes and try to imagine how life in this region once must have been. I can hear the whistle of the factory sheering in the evening. I can see coal miners drinking in a bar after a long day without sunshine. I can see their wives doing the weekly grocery shopping in shops where everybody knows their names. I can see their children playing on the streets, always watched by the glazed eyes of the churches they helped building. I see a vivid city and I see life. Once I open my eyes, however, I see the harsh reality surrounding me.

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