Long Conversations

One of the advantages of working for a weekly paper is that I can have long conversations. Like on Monday, when I arrived at a house on Western Avenue that had a fire over the weekend. The owner showed up, then the tenants, and I spent probably an hour talking to them about what had happened.
Or the car dealership general manager, who I showed me the clunkers stored in the back lot.
Or the police detective, who explained the difference between a class A felony and a class B felony.
I enjoy my job, and I’m grateful I found it.
The only hard part is where many of these conversations go.
Berlin residents have a dim view of the city. There is a pessimism in many of the people I talk to, which spills out whenever they discuss the city.
I’ve talked a lot about “interesting conversations,” and they are probably the best part of my day. But they are also the hardest part. I used to work on an ambulance, picking up ill and injured people and trying to diagnose their problem on the way to the hospital. I would sit and ask questions and try to whittle away the extraneous information to discover the cause of the problem. It was challenging but engaging work.
I do the same thing in Berlin. “What is wrong with this city?” I ask, trying to diagnose the issue. And I get a range of answers, from “It’s the out-of-towners,” to “It’s the mill mentality,” to “It’s the city council,” to “It’s the city manager.”
It’s no secret, the patient is ill. Some people would prefer no one said the word “depressed,” but most cancer patients would rather they never heard the word “cancer.” Denial doesn’t solve the problem; acknowledging the situation and finding a solution solves it.
So what is it? Poor marketing? Poor infrastructure? A lack of community investment? What? Why do so many of the conversations go so sour?
Berlin simply hasn’t tipped, and it’s a matter of when.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book about the tipping point, where a fad reaches a critical mass and goes global. Once that happens, it becomes an overwhelming force, a tidal wave people can’t resist. It is only a matter of time until Berlin is that wave.
Why? Because the federal prison. Because the ATV park. Because the rafting company. Because Clean Power. Because the Gill Building. Because the Main Street Program. Because Tex Mex, IRS Sports, Morin’s Shoes, Rumorz Boutique, Wang’s Restaurant, the blue line and 1,000 other reasons.
When it comes, I’ll be out of a job, but there will plenty more of them in Berlin.
Why am I so confident? Because I’m not from Berlin. Because I don’t live in Berlin. Berlin residents have been living in Berlin so long they’ve forgotten how to recognize a good thing. The city is beautiful, with a perfect location and an infrastructure that maintains the aesthetic cities nationwide are working to recreate. It is a community, not a city, and that is a valuable asset.
I wasn’t in Portsmouth when it was transformed from a blue collar shipbuilding town into an upscale commercial center, but I imagine it was a rough time. Most people there probably felt similar to how Berlin residents feel. Maybe there were a few who still had hope, like a few do in Berlin, but most probably rode their city, hard.
My perspective is that of an outsider. I’m 27, married, and familiar with what upper class people want in a destination. Berlin has it, and it will get out. True, the city may not be as effective at marketing those traits as well as it should, and there may be more press about fires than there is about tourists, but the fact remains: Berlin will draw.
Go to Conway and see what it has to offer. To many, not much. It’s overdeveloped, and on weekends its overwhelmed with out of state plates. Berlin isn’t, which is exactly why it will be.
Out-of-staters are buying properties further and further up the Maine coast. Why? To leave the other out-of-staters behind. They do the same thing in New Hampshire. What was Conway like 20 years ago? And what happened?
When will it tip? I don’t know. As Max Makaitis said, Berlin has the product people want, people just don’t know about it yet. All it takes, in the language of Gladwell, are some connectors. Berlin needs people out there spreading the word.
And the residents of Berlin need to take part in this. They need to change the tone of their conversations and their view of the city to recognize the reality around them. The city isn’t a dump, so get over calling it one. No matter your poor experiences there, the world is going to recognise it for what it is: a beautiful place with a low cost of living. People will see it after taking another look, and then they’ll tell their friends. All of the sudden, before anyone knows it, everything is going to change. Right about then, the world, as far as Berlin is concerned, will tip.

One thought on “Long Conversations

  1. Here is a topic I would like to see some discussion about. At a time when Berlin needs to be welcoming new business, why does it impede business with unreasonable and unnecessary code enforcement? Talk to businesses that have had the pleasure of dealing with the city fire code officer or building code office. These 2 offices have cost the city more money then anyone will ever know. It’s unfortunate that at a time when Berlin should be progressive in finding ways to work with business, instead they send out the Gestapo to greet business with an iron fist of regulations that do nothing more then impede progress. I am not talking about throwing away the regulations. I am talking about doing what is fair and meets the minimal State or Federal regulations. Not some made up regulations by someone on a power trip. Berlin must become more business friendly in the terms of code enforcement, or it will drive away the very small business entrepreneur that is what made America great. And is exactly what Berlin needs right now.

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