Out West, Back East

east-westI’m still not quite sure what it really means to “be from” a place, and especially what it means to be from the East Coast. Technically, I’m not even from “the East Coast,” since my lovely landlocked state touches no saltwater with its shores (shore), just the tides of Lake Erie way up north, but those people are practically from Ohio, anyway. If you call it “pop” and you’re not from Pittsburgh, then congratulations, you’re basically a Midwesterner. But no: I am not from the East Coast, no matter how many times I’ve said that whilst traveling or in everyday conversation (German: “Where in America are you from?” Me: “Oh, Pennsylvania, on the East Coast.” [Thinks: “Wuahaha they’ll never know, those silly Germans and their geography. Spoiler alert: They usually know.] I am not from the East Coast, but I am from the East. Dammit, I was raised in one of the 13 original colonies, the Keystone State, and hell–my hometown was even the capital of the US of A for a brief (ie: very brief) period of time (you’re welcome for the Articles of Confederation, friends. You’re welcome). I call it soda and have a general sense of allegiance to New York, or Philly, or Baltimore, or even Boston, if I’m feeling like it. DC was a day trip; never anything more. I know when deer hunting season starts and that some people actually do live and look like Ralph Lauren models. I’m familiar with the great American suburb, and I have taken various turnpikes to navigate the conglomerate of people, places, and cultures that is Boswash. I am from the East.

I am from the East; to many though, I am from “back East.”

I do not know yet what it means to be from a place, to be unable to abandon that deeply ingrained, nearly-tribal sensibility that I think each human being has when it comes to home and where he or she was raised. I never loved my hometown for itself, but I loved it for what it made me and its own special tendencies and specialties: the farm stands around the corner, the rolling green hills that flame orange and red in autumn, the smell of manure in the spring that actually, horrifying, makes me nostalgic for home when I smell it elsewhere, the prevailing love of the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates–oh, those poor Pittsburgh Pirates for all those years. My hometown, as hometowns tend to do, thoroughly made me. Growing up in a place where a lot of people don’t leave very often made me want to do so even more. Growing up in a place where people honestly think that President Obama is a terrorist and where people fly Confederate flags from their trucks pushed me even more left in my thinking, but even more so forced me to be well-informed and passionate about my opinions, because if I dared have them and express them, then I damned well better have back-up.

This is the East Coast, and soon I will call it “back East.” Because I am moving “out West.”

I can’t pinpoint my deep love for all things West Coast, or when the ache I feel in my heart for the forests of the Northwest and the smell of the Pacific Ocean began to settle in my psyche. Maybe it was all the historical fiction I read (and still read) as a kid, this concept that still persists of the West as a place of opportunity, as a place to reinvent yourself, a place that was, at least temporarily, free from the stodgy societal restraints of the East, where family roots tended to run deep and social prejudices even deeper. There’s a collective American fascination with the West, and I have always wholeheartedly participated in that dream. Perhaps I’m putting too much on this coastal relocation; perhaps it’s mostly the same, except that people are nicer and use canvas bags at the grocery store more. But something tells me that’s not true, that living in Portland for a year will radically change the way I live my everyday life.

Being from “back East” feels like a bit of a birthright, and I’m still not sure what comes with it. Even more than that Northeast birthright, I’m still not sure what it means to be from a place like York, Pennsylvania. Most of my peers would never dream of moving somewhere as far away as Oregon. But such a move feels so right, and I know that I wouldn’t be nearly as excited by a move to an Eastern city. The change needs to be big, or I won’t be able to fully realize its effects.

What will I find “out West”? I know I’ll find mist, and rain, and more shades of green than I knew could exist. I hope I find something in the air, something in the water, something in the Oregon coast if I’m lucky enough to venture out there. My soul needs a little feedings that it doesn’t get with all these suburbs and endless miles of asphalt and strip malls. I need a city that always feels like the wild is nearby if I need it, that I can escape into the woods if they call me. In my dreams, Portland is a place where people just are, and just be, in a way that is hopefully kind to each other and to the planet. I’m probably idealizing it, but I hope not too much.

Soon, the East Coast, will be “back East,” and “out West,” will be my new home, even if only for just a year. I’m ready to simplify, and keep the good parts of the East “Coast” while shedding the bad.


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