The Length of the Story

I have a hard time expressing everything I see, everything I hear, everything I think is of value. It is almost a physical impossibility to get it all across.

Think about it: my job is to go around and talk to people all week, to find out what is going on in Berlin, and to put it down on paper. How many conversations do I have? And how many come to nothing? Lots, that’s the answer for both.

There is so much there. It is unlike anywhere else I’ve been. There is a sense I get every time I drive north on Route 16 that I’m traveling back in time to an era when neighborhoods where connected. It’s an entirely unfair feeling, since lots of people in Berlin are transient or recent emigres, but it’s what I feel nonetheless.

And every random five minute conversation tells me something more about the city. Every time I stop by the police station is see a small town going through growing pains, and I don’t know how to get that across.

Growing pains—a funny way to refer to it in a city that has lost more than half its population. But that’s what it is. Prior to the pulp mill closing, people didn’t move to Berlin. It was largely left alone to flourish, and only the resilient Berliners had what it took to live beneath the stacks.

But today, with the smell gone and the jobs gone with it, there are lots of reasons to move there. Most of them wind up in people’s pocket at the end of the month, saved from what they would have had to pay in a rental unit downstate.

Berlin is attracting an influx from away, and it isn’t the kind every resident wants. But what kind is the kind every resident wants?

I’ve heard people talk about how the smell from the mill used to be called “tourist repellent.” I grew up on the coast of Maine, so I can understand that sentiment, but I wonder how that impacts today’s environment. I have heard people express their support for ATVers visiting the area, but what happens when a different style of tourist discovers the city?

Berlin is blue-collar, and that’s largely how it wants to stay. The people flocking there now, mostly to take up residence in the slums, are not welcomed by residents. What about the other end of the spectrum? I know that isn’t currently Berlin’s problem, but I do wonder how people would like BMWs, Audis and Volvos clogging the city streets instead of ATVs and lifted four-by-fours.

Those are the things I can’t get across. Those are the feelings, the details, that tell me so much about Berlin, that make it dear to me. It is working class, maybe to the point there is too much class struggle in residents’ identities. But how does that impact them in the 21st century, when the Great North Woods no longer shelter them and no longer provide the economic engine they once did?

I am looking for a way to tell that story. That’s the one that needs to get out.

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